Battered Broncos piling up injuries with all those losses

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. (AP) — John Elway bounded with optimism over his 53-man roster just three weeks ago, declaring he was “excited about the football team we have.”

And why not?

Veteran pass rusher Von Miller appeared primed for a big bounce-back season, Courtland Sutton was the gem of a deep wide receiving group and running back Phillip Lindsay was coming off his second straight 1,000-yard season.

The Broncos GM had acquired defensive lineman Jurrell Casey and cornerback A.J. Bouye via trades and lured running back Melvin Gordon in free agency.

Altogether, that group sported a combined 18 Pro Bowl appearances.

Three weeks in, the only one left standing is Gordon, a two-time all-star, after news Monday that Casey tore a biceps tendon in Denver’s 28-10 loss to Tampa Bay on Sunday.

That’s three defeats and three sidelined stars — Miller (ankle), Sutton (ACL) — for the snake-bit Broncos. Out with less serious injuries are starting QB Drew Lock (shoulder) and starting defensive end Dre’Mont Jones (knee).

“We have sustained a lot of injuries, there’s no denying that,” said Vic Fangio, the first coach in franchise history to post back-to-back winless Septembers. “But we’re going to keep fighting and keep preparing and have guys go out there and give it their all and do their best to try and get us a win.”

The Broncos visit the New York Jets (0-3) on Thursday night and Fangio said he’s still undecided who will start at quarterback, Jeff Driskel or Brett Rypien.

Newcomer Blake Bortles isn’t in the mix yet.

“Blake was here two days last week and to expect him to be able to play on a short week where practice is very limited would be unrealistic,” Fangio said.

WHAT’S WORKING

Stadium operations at Empower Field at Mile High, for successfully allowing 5,700 socially distanced and masked fans to attend the game alongside 1,800 cardboard cutouts of characters from “ South Park ” that were placed in the south stands.

WHAT NEEDS HELP

The offensive line has allowed 13 sacks and 29 QB hits the past two weeks, yet the Broncos keeps spreading out the formations with three-receiver sets to play catchup. That doesn’t help rookie C Lloyd Cushenberry III, RG Graham Glasgow and RT Elijah Wilkinson.

Fangio said he’s not considering benching any O-linemen because the blame is spread to receivers not running crisp routes, passers failing to get rid of the ball fast enough, you name it.

“It’s been a little bit of everything,” he said, “that has caused a lot of problems.”

STOCK UP

DE Shelby Harris sacked Tom Brady twice, hit him four times and broke up a pass.

STOCK DOWN

The Broncos’ second botched punt in two weeks led to the Bucs’ first points.

INJURED

Casey and ILB Austin Calitro (hamstring).

KEY NUMBERS

8 for 24. That’s Gordon’s carries and yards, not nearly enough to help out the struggling O-linemen and battered, hurried quarterbacks.

NEXT STEPS

Multiple tight end sets are one way the Broncos could ease their woes up front, but they deactivated Nick Vannett, their best blocking tight end, against Tampa Bay along with rookie Albert Okwuegbunam.

Fangio said Vannett was the victim of a numbers game because of special teams. “It wasn’t a move that I was happy to make,” Fangio said. “Hopefully it’s not something that we have to do a lot.”

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Follow Arnie Melendrez Stapleton on Twitter: http://twitter.com/arniestapleton

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