ENGLEWOOD | The Denver Broncos eluded a crushing collapse thanks to Shelby Harris. Trevor Siemian dodged injury — no thanks to his new tackle tandem.
A restless few hours after watching Siemian get clobbered in Denver’s 24-21 win over the Los Angeles Chargers, coach Vance Joseph called out his offensive linemen for their poor pass protection.
“Our backs ran north-south and found some open space to run. That part was very impressive as far as the running game. The pass protection was not that good,” Joseph said Tuesday. “Again, we were facing two elite rushers in (Melvin) Ingram and (Joey) Bosa. We knew it was going to be a chore, but we have to be better there.
“It was too much pressure on Trevor. There were too many whiffs as far as blocking those speed rushers. It’s got to get better.”
Siemian was hit nine times, not what general manager John Elway envisioned when he reshaped his O-line this offseason by drafting left tackle Garett Bolles in the first round and signing free agent Menelik Watson along with guard Ronald Leary in free agency.
Watson had a particularly tough night.
“Again, the pass protection was not where it has to be for us to be a good football team,” Joseph said. “We were facing two elite edge rushers last night and most people don’t have two. But in our division, every team has two. We’ve got to improve there. There are no excuses there. We’ve got to play better on the edge as far as blocking speed rushers.”
One of the reasons the AFC West is so tough is their pass rushing duos. The Raiders have Khalil Mack and Bruce Irvin and the Chiefs feature Dee Ford and Justin Houston.
The Broncos watched their 24-7 lead whittled to 24-21 after Philip Rivers converted two takeaways at midfield into touchdowns. Denver was at the Chargers 13 before back-to-back sacks pushed the Broncos back to the 32, and Brandon McManus was wide right on a 50-yard field goal attempt with four minutes left.
Only Harris’s blocked field goal with a second left kept the Chargers from forcing overtime.
Siemian finished with two TD passes and a touchdown run in which he juked Bosa to go with his interception and four sacks.
“I think Joey got me one other time, so we’ll call it even,” Siemian said. “We’ll see him again, so I’m sure I don’t want to see myself in that situation where it’s me and him too often.”
The Broncos’ biggest offseason addition was Leary, who left the Dallas Cowboys for a four-year, $36 million deal in Denver. But he exited his first game with the Broncos with a concussion and his availability is unknown for this weekend’s game against Dallas.
Connor McGovern, who filled in at center in the offseason while Matt Paradis recovered from double hip surgery, replaced Leary at right guard.
Max Garcia and Allen Barbre rotated at left guard to counter the Chargers, who moved Bosa and Ingram inside on some downs.
“Again, I think that is a weapon for us to have two guys that can play at the left guard,” Joseph said. “Max is a big, physical guy who can move guys in the run game. Barbre is an excellent pass protector. Having both guys, in my opinion, is like having two backs. You can kind of push them in and out as the game proceeds.”
MILLER MUFFLED: Von Miller had four tackles and a quarterback hit but was held without a sack.
“We went into the game with a clear game plan to free Von up, but they wouldn’t let us,” Joseph said. “They double-chipped both sides. They chipped both rushers. When that happens, in my opinion, the coverage has got to take over. In the past, there has been great pass rush here. But now we’ve got to kind of reverse it. We’ve got to play tighter coverage to get the rush home more often.”
PREPARING FOR ELLIOTT: Joseph said Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott’s legal woes won’t affect the Broncos’ preparations this week.
“It does not. He is a part of their football team. As we watch tape from last week, he’s out there. That is what we will prepare for. He’s a Cowboy,” Joseph said. “That is not our concern. He is on their football team and we’re getting ready to play whoever they put out there.”