McDaniels calls out Broncos' inconsistent offensive line

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- Broncos coach Josh McDaniels called out his offensive line, holding them accountable for Denver's troubles running the ball.

Their response to the reproach?

Silence.

The Broncos offensive linemen prefer to keep their mouths zipped out of concern for their wallets. If they do talk, they fine each other. When they don't, they subject themselves to NFL fines.

Talk about a dilemma.

They were especially reticent to chat this week after McDaniels again defended his running backs by blaming the blockers for the lack of production. The team is averaging 4.2 yards per carry heading into the season finale Sunday against Kansas City.

It's a pedestrian number for a franchise that hasn't finished with an average that low since 2001.

"If we're not winning the line of scrimmage, like I said before, it doesn't matter what back you have, doesn't matter who you're handing the ball to, you're not going to do a whole lot," said McDaniels, whose team is teetering on the edge of playoff elimination after a 6-0 start. "I'm not taking blame off the backs because they certainly can do a better job of reading certain plays and all the rest of that, but it starts with what we do up front."

It's been a long time since a coach in Denver called out his offensive line.

So, what do they have to say about all this?

Chris Kuper announced he wasn't talking.

Russ Hochstein insisted he would answer no football questions.

Ben Hamilton promised to talk next week.

And Ryan Clady said he had to go get treatment.

That left offensive line coach Rick Dennison to explain the inconsistent play in a conference call Thursday -- the Broncos don't have their assistants meet face-to-face with reporters.

"As an offense, we need to do a better job," Dennison said. "That's a group thing, an entire offense in my opinion. We're coaching them up, they're accepting the coaching and they're working hard at it."

Granted, the line has been dinged up this season with only Clady and center Casey Wiegmann starting every game this season, a year after the entire starting unit played all 16 games.

The Broncos also had to place two starters on injured reserve. Right tackle Ryan Harris (toe) was lost for the season in early December, while Hochstein, who supplanted Hamilton at midseason, was lost to a knee injury last week.

Undrafted second-year pro Tyler Polumbus has taken over for Harris, and Hamilton's back in the lineup with Hochstein out.

McDaniels acknowledges those could all be factors in the struggles on the offensive front.

"Any time you're working that closely together and you're counting on one another, you know, it does affect things," McDaniels said. "That's not an excuse for us. I don't think anybody would use it as an excuse. We still have to do well."

The Broncos have relied on rookie running back Knowshon Moreno to carry the bulk of the workload this season. The first-round pick leads all rookies in yards rushing (897) and yards from scrimmage (1,062), although he has yet to top 100 yards in any game and owns just two runs over 20 yards.

His counterpart, Correll Buckhalter, is averaging 5.5 yards a carry, but has been plagued by injuries.

"Until we win the line of scrimmage, which we've done this year a number of times, you're not going to run the ball very well. That's just the bottom line," McDaniels said.

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The last time the Broncos dominated the line of scrimmage was against the Chiefs four weeks ago, when they rushed for a season-best 245 yards.

"We've done some really good things in the running game, had some really great days this year," McDaniels said. "And it's kind of been some inconsistencies. And there's no real one thing, you know what I mean? ... It's that we've got to be more consistent with everything we're doing."

Clady has been quite consistent for Denver, earning his first trip to the Pro Bowl this week. He arguably could've gone last season as a rookie, too. He was that solid, allowing only a half sack all year.

He was advised that the media would want to talk to him after he made the Pro Bowl and he agreed. But when reporters gathered around, he dodged them just like the rest of his linemates had.

"He's not afraid to say anything. He just doesn't say very much," Dennison insisted. "I called him up to congratulate him (on the Pro Bowl) and he was watching TV. Then he wanted to get back to his TV."

Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press

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