Russell Wilson's protection continues dwindling as offensive line injuries mount

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Denver quarterback Russell Wilson was battered in Sunday’s 17-10 loss to the Tennessee Titans in Nissan Stadium, and the Broncos can expect the defenses to keep hammering against an offensive line that is now playing third-stringers and recent practice squad additions.

“It’s a combination of a lot of things,’’ said Broncos coach Nathaniel Hackett. “We wanted to max protect, we wanted the quick game, [to] do as much as we could to keep the defense off and protect those guys and at the same time protect Russ and it just wasn’t coming together.’’

Wilson was sacked six times -- a season-high -- and hit 18 times total by Titans defenders on pass attempts, also a season-high. Wilson’s grass-stained uniform at the game’s end was a fitting symbol of the loss.

“It was definitely a physical game,’’ Wilson said. “ … We knew they were going to be physical.’’

The Titans had five of their sacks in the second half as Wilson threw for just 98 yards after halftime. Even without two of their best pass rushers in the lineup -- Jeffery Simmons and Bud Dupree, both inactive Sunday -- the Titans had three different defenders (Mario Edwards Jr., former Broncos draft pick DeMarcus Walker and Rashad Weaver) hit Wilson at least three times as nine different Titans defenders overall hit Wilson at least once.

It was the 13th time in Wilson’s career he had been sacked at least six times in a game, but the first since the Los Angeles Rams sacked him six times in Week 10 of the 2020 season.

The Broncos came into the game with left tackle Garett Bolles (fractured leg) and center Lloyd Cushenberry III (hip) already on injured reserve. Then Sunday, center Graham Glasgow, already in the lineup for Cushenberry, left the game with a shoulder injury, and right tackle Billy Turner left the game with a knee injury.

Turner, who had only entered the lineup four games ago, missed the team’s offseason program, training camp as well as the first five games of the season with knee troubles. Quinn Bailey, who was elevated from the practice squad Saturday and had appeared in six games in the previous three seasons combined, found himself in the lineup in Turner’s spot because Calvin Anderson, Turner's usual backup, was already at left tackle for Cam Fleming (thigh).

The Titans’ relentless pressure combined with OL struggles limited how Hackett could run the offense.

“We wanted to do some things to help them along the line and still be able to get the ball out and still be able to try to win the game,’’ Hackett said. “It’s hard sometimes because you want to be aggressive, you want to attack, you want to do certain things throughout the game, but at the same time you have to take in some perspective, there’s some guys who haven’t played a lot together out there and you want to put them in the best positions as possible to be successful. So, we tried to mix it up, some things hit, some did not.’’

Wattenberg even struggled with the snap early on, as well as with the added rushers the Titans sent at the middle of the formation, given he had not had much practice time with the starters as the Broncos tried to prep Glasgow to be ready.

“I’ve got to clean that up," Wattenberg said.

The Broncos were also forced to put the target on Wilson so often -- 42 attempts on the day -- in a game they led 10-0 at one point and was a one-score affair much of the time because they couldn’t create any running room. The Broncos rushed for 65 yards on 25 carries (2.6 average yards per carry). Latavius Murray and Melvin Gordon III each finished with 24 yards rushing. Murray had 10 of his yards on one carry with Gordon gaining 11 of his on one carry.

The Broncos’ next two opponents, the Las Vegas Raiders and Carolina Panthers, came into the day 32nd and 21st in the league in sacks. But the Baltimore Ravens and Kansas City Chiefs follow after those two games, and they're tied for sixth in the league in sacks (27).

"An L is an L, it sucks, whether you lose by close or a big margin. We could win by a half point, it doesn’t matter … we would love that win," Gordon said.