DENVER -- The Denver Broncos are not protecting their quarterbacks.
After surrendering no sacks to the Tennessee Titans in the season opener, the Broncos have been swarmed under. The Broncos have given up 13 sacks in the past two games, including six in Sunday's 28-10 loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and that ties them with the Houston Texans for second-most allowed, one behind the Cincinnati Bengals.
All three of those teams are winless, and for the Broncos it is their second consecutive 0-3 start after starting 0-4 in 2019.
"You need to look yourself in the mirror and you need to address the reality of the situation," Broncos guard Graham Glasgow said. "I know that we have a young group, and not even just on the offensive line, but on the offense as a whole. I think that we are not where we can be. Frankly that is a case for optimism, but at the same time the reality of the situation is that we are underperforming and we're underachieving and that's something that we need to work through as a group and as an offense."
The Broncos still seem to be trying to adjust to right tackle Ja'Wuan James' decision opt-out for the season due to concerns over COVID-19. Elijah Wilkinson has struggled plenty in James' spot -- Wilkinson was flagged for holding on the Broncos' second offensive snap Sunday -- but the Broncos have been attacked by both the Steelers and Buccaneers in almost every down-and-distance situation.
Against the Steelers, who had seven sacks in Week 2, outside linebacker T.J. Watt and defensive end Cameron Heyward each had four quarterback hits in the game, showing the extent of the pressure both inside and outside the Steelers generated. The Buccaneers did the same as five different Tampa Bay players had sacks Sunday, led by former Broncos linebacker Shaquil Barrett, who had two. The Buccaneers had three sacks by linebackers, two by defensive backs and one by nose tackle Vita Vea.
In addition to the sacks, the Broncos have surrendered 29 hits on the quarterback in the past two games combined. The Buccaneers also had two sacks on first-down pass plays by the Broncos, three on second-down pass plays and one on third down.
"We've had a tough couple weeks here in regards to the amount of blitzes and the type of blitzes we've been getting," Glasgow said. "Stuff that requires a lot of people to bump stuff up, come back, pick up guys that aren't their guys essentially to help make the quarterback not hot. And when you're running into that type of stuff, 10, 12, 15 times a game, that's something that's very tough for us and that's something that we're working through and getting better at."
Broncos coach Vic Fangio said the protection issues were "a little bit of everything." And in an effort to pick up the pace by the quarterback getting the ball out at times, Fangio replaced Jeff Driskel with Brett Rypien with 9 minutes, 56 seconds left in Sunday's game. Rypien, who was promoted to the active roster from the practice squad this past week, had some early success as the Broncos went to a no-huddle look on his first seven passes.
But he was sacked on the eighth dropback and fumbled, though the Broncos recovered. Rypien threw an interception two plays later to end his day, on a fourth-and-1 at the Buccaneers' 13-yard line, when he tried to squeeze a throw into Jerry Jeudy in the end zone.
"We were running a little slant play over the middle and it's usually good versus man coverage, especially when you're getting pressure," Rypien said. "When you get down into the red zone obviously the safeties are going to play low and he was kind of just sitting right in the middle of the field, so I tried to look him off. Then when I came back to him, I thought I had a chance to fit it in there to Jerry and [Buccaneers safety Mike Edwards] just made a great play."
Driskel was already starting in place of the injured Drew Lock. Driskel was the eighth different starting quarterback to open a game for the Broncos since the start of the 2017 season. Fangio wouldn't commit to Driskel, Rypien or Blake Bortles, who was signed this past week, for Thursday night's game against the Jets.
"We'll make that call quickly," Fangio said. A decision probably would have to come before Monday evening, given the Broncos will return to the practice field Tuesday afternoon.
Fangio expects the Jets and everyone else on the Broncos' schedule to follow the leads of the Steelers and Buccaneers, and send waves of rushers after the Broncos quarterbacks until the Broncos find a way to carve out a big play or two against that aggressiveness.
"[The Buccaneers] were bringing a lot of people, sometimes we weren't on the right people," Fangio said. "I think most of the time we were. We were either getting beat or we weren't getting it out quick enough. It was a combination of everything. Until we solve that problem, teams are going to continue to pressure us down after down until we can make people pay for it."