ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- The preseason is supposed to be the time to work out the kinks, kick the tires on some ideas and see what needs to be repaired and then go about the business of the repairs.
But with staying healthy through training camp and the preseason on the front burner for every NFL team, including the Denver Broncos, some of the issues just might take a little more time to fix. Especially in a makeover of the offensive line, where the Broncos' starting five played together in a game for the first time Sunday against the Baltimore Ravens.
The Broncos were able, with four Brandon McManus field goals and a get-after-it defense, to grind out a 19-13 victory over the Ravens. The win was not without some peaks, more than a few valleys and everything in between from the offensive line. The group included two players making their NFL regular-season debut in center Matt Paradis and rookie left tackle Ty Sambrailo to go with a player in his first game with the Broncos in guard Evan Mathis.
"I think I was the worst of the group," Mathis said. "I would've liked us to run the ball a little better. Overall we were inconsistent."
"I see some growing pains, is what I see," said Broncos coach Gary Kubiak Monday. "Three guys in there who have never played a game for the Denver Broncos … think we understand we're not even close to where we want to be."
Trouble is the Broncos get all of 72 hours or so to get it right, or at least more right than it was against the Ravens' physical front, as they will face the Kansas City Chiefs Thursday night in Arrowhead Stadium. The Chiefs' defense finished with five sacks in Kansas City's win over the Houston Texans Sunday.
Like the Broncos' preseason game against the San Francisco 49ers, when NaVorro Bowman had two sacks in a span of four snaps, the Broncos often allowed too many Ravens' rushers to "come clean" -- or untouched -- in their path to Peyton Manning. The Broncos quarterback was sacked four times in a game for just the second time in his Broncos' tenure. Manning was hit by an unblocked Kyle Arrington on his interception, which was returned for a touchdown, and Ravens linebacker C.J. Mosley came untouched on one of his two sacks in a five-play span in the second quarter.
"They got a lot of guys free on us (Sunday) with a lot of blitzes, sometimes they're going to bring more than you can handle," Kubiak said. "Sometimes you think you're getting a protection right and you're still not perfect, the ball's got to go. The key is when you are right, you've got to make plays. That was quite the disappointing thing (Sunday) is we were right and had a chance to make some big, big plays that make up for the ones that don't look so good and we just didn't make them."
Manning did have two plays in particular that would have resulted in big gains, possibly touchdowns, to Emmanuel Sanders when Manning let the ball go early because of contact, or impending contact, from a Ravens defender. Like the Ravens, the Chiefs play a 3-4 scheme on defense, albeit their own look, but with Justin Houston and Tamba Hali at the two outside linebacker spots, the Broncos' protection schemes will again be tested on the edges.
The Ravens had particular success when they added a rusher to the mix after a small delay following the snap, often as the Broncos' linemen had moved into double-team situations and didn't adjust when the late rusher came through.
"That kind of stuff is very valuable for it to happen," Mathis said. "Where you can learn from it and not let it happen again. And to be able to escape against a team like Baltimore with a win … it doesn't take away from the fact there are lessons to be learned."
The Broncos did take some solace in their 17-play, 81-yard field goal drive in the fourth quarter that ate up 10 minutes, 56 seconds off the clock. As the Broncos used a two-tight end set more on that drive than they had previously in the game, they carved out 43 yards rushing in that possession and converted three third downs.
"The late drive … just to see the entire group, the entire offense, come together and do that, that was probably the best," Mathis said.