By Ryan Mayer

(CBS4)- The Broncos 1-3 start to the season isn’t exactly what fans were hoping for coming in. Entering the year with hopes of making a run at a playoff spot, the team has suffered significant injuries and has been missing young starting quarterback Drew Lock since Week 2.

Now, the team stares down a matchup against the New England Patriots after an unexpected bye week following last week’s COVID-19 tests for New England. Lock could be back this weekend, but, even if he doesn’t return until next week, there’s one area that The NFL Today’s Bill Cowher still sees as needing improvement for the team.

“The biggest thing is making sure they have to continue to work and upgrade their offensive line. That’s an area that, for a young quarterback, you need along with establishing the running game,” said Cowher.

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The offensive line has been a bugaboo for the last few years now for the Broncos and the team was hurt this year by the opt out of Ja’Wuan James who was expected to lock down the starting right tackle spot. But, the point still rings true as the Broncos rank last in the league in pass block win rate per ESPN, which measures the percentage of the time that linemen hold their blocks for 2.5 seconds or longer. The Broncos do so at a 38% clip so far this season. For perspective, the top team in the league is the Green Bay Packers at 73%.

The same holds true for run block win rate where the Broncos are last in the league at 68%. As Cowher notes, a good running game and solid offensive line is key in helping a young QB develop. And, he likes the weapons Lock has around him.

“Jerry Jeudy along with Fant, Patrick and Sutton, they have a good group of receivers,” said Cowher.

This Sunday will be a test of that line in the running game as the Patriots are near the top of the league in run stop win rate. But, Belichick’s crew hasn’t been able to get as much of a pass rush this season, so there’s an opportunity for the line to show some growth on Sunday.

Still, an even bigger question entering this game is the status of Patriots quarterback Cam Newton.

“The biggest thing is, where is Cam at? He hasn’t played in a couple of weeks, can they get back to that,” asked Cowher.

Newton hasn’t played since Week 3 against the Raiders and this is really the first time we’ll see a high usage player return from the Reserve/COVID-19 list. How, if at all, does two weeks away affect Newton’s game? He was having a strong start to the year prior to his positive test both passing and running the ball.

“I think it’s a big game for New England to get back on track. Buffalo lost the other night so that was a big plus for them. Looking at Denver, I don’t know if Drew Lock is going to play but if he does, I think it’s just trying to get Drew Lock back into feeling comfortable with that group of young receivers. It’s a game I think for New England, can we get back to establishing those winning ways,” said Cowher.

The Broncos visit the Patriots this Sunday, October 18 at 11 a.m. on CBS4.

Ryan Mayer

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