ENGLEWOOD - There is one game remaining in the Denver Broncos' season. The biggest goal might be getting quarterback Jay Cutler to the offseason without more bodily harm. Cutler has been sacked nine times in the past two games. He limped to his postgame interview Monday after being sacked four times by San Diego and hit on other pass attempts. He said his injured left knee won't keep him from playing Sunday against Minnesota.
The offensive linemen aren't pleased with how they've blocked.
"Hopefully we can turn it around and protect Jay better," left tackle Matt Lepsis said. "You never want to see your quarterback on his butt that many times."
Like the rest of the offense, the line has been inconsistent. After allowing only one sack in each of its first two games this month - against Oakland and Kansas City - Denver gave up five to Houston. All San Diego's sacks came in the first half as the Chargers built a 16-0 lead.
The blame for some of the sacks doesn't lie entirely on the line. Tight end Chad Mustard gave up a sack to Houston end Mario Williams, injured tight end Daniel Graham gave up a sack Monday and another sack came when Chargers safety Clinton Hart blitzed and ran through running back Travis Henry.
Protecting Cutler is easier when the Broncos can run the ball effectively. In the past two games, Denver fell behind and had to pass on most downs.
"Once you get down early in the game, everyone knows you're one dimensional," center Chris Myers said.
On Monday, running backs Selvin Young, Cecil Sapp and Henry combined for 50 yards on 16 carries. The lack of a running game also can be attributed to poor play by the line.
Denver had 15 yards on three rushing attempts in its first drive before a fumble by Cutler - who started to scramble because he was under pressure - led to a change in the offensive plan.
"You've got to establish the run, especially against this football team," coach Mike Shanahan said. "We tried to run it early, got a couple of first downs and had that turnover, and that was the last time we could get a whole lot going in the running game."
Cutler led the team with 42 rushing yards because he scrambled a few times when the pass blocking broke down.
"I would have done the same thing," Lepsis said. "Guys were coming at him left and right. I would get out of there too."
The line is young. Myers and guard Chris Kuper joined the starting lineup because of season-ending injuries to veterans Tom Nalen and Ben Hamilton. Right tackle Erik Pears is in his second year as a starter.
The lack of continuity and the inexperience has led to ups and downs.
"One game we'll have no sacks, and then the next game we'll give up four," Myers said. "We've got to be more consistent. Next week against Minnesota, that's our last chance to make a statement."
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