After three years of dominant offense, it's the defense now leading the way for the Denver Broncos during a run to Super Bowl 50. But the team's offensive struggles are pronounced by the loss of offensive tackle Ryan Clady, who tore his ACL in May and missed the entire 2015 season.
With Ryan Harris starting at left tackle and Michael Schofield at right tackle for most of the year, the Broncos finished the season No. 19 in the NFL in points scored after finishing in the top two in each of the three seasons prior.
Of course, that has largely been attributed to a significant decline in the play of Peyton Manning along with a foot injury that forced Brock Osweiler into action. The pair combined for just 19 passing touchdowns and 23 interceptions during the regular season.
But the loss of Clady didn't initially sound alarms and panic in Denver.
In 2013, Clady played in just two games before a Lisfranc injury ended his season. With the team's star left tackle on injured reserve, the Broncos relied on Orlando Franklin and Chris Clark at offensive tackle and the pair performed admirably during a record-breaking year for the Broncos that ended with a trip to the Super Bowl.
Then Franklin joined the San Diego Chargers in free agency and the Broncos traded Clark to the Houston Texans before the 2015 season. Ty Sambrailo was slated to fill the absence left by Clady's injury but he also got injured. Harris and Schofield couldn't recreate the magic that Franklin and Clark were able to make during a 2013 run.
Only three players allowed more quarterback hurries than Schofield, according to Pro Football Focus. The second-year tackle gave up 40 hurries and was credited with allowing nine sacks, the second-most in the NFL. While Harris was only credited with three sacks allowed, he gave up 29 hurries.
For comparison, Clady allowed just one sack and 15 hurries in 16 starts in 2012 despite a torn labrum suffered near the end of the season that he played through during a postseason run.
With Clady's salary set to eclipse $10 million in the final two years of the five-year, $52.5 million deal signed in 2013, there has been speculation that the ACL tear in May meant the end of his career with the Broncos. With so many injuries, the team could move on without the 29-year-old offensive lineman and save $9.5 million of cap space by releasing him. But after a year of poor protection -- and with Clady willing to redo his contract -- his value to Denver is more apparent than ever.
The team the Broncos will face in the Super Bowl also lost a key offensive player before the season started. The Carolina Panthers have played all season without wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin, who tore his ACL in August. However, their offense was able to lead the NFL in scoring without a No. 1 receiver thanks to an MVP performance from quarterback Cam Newton and strong support from Ted Ginn and Greg Olsen, who both had career years at age 30.
While players stepped up for the Panthers in the absence of Benjamin, the Broncos never come close to replacing Clady and the offense struggled as a consequence.
If the Broncos are able to win Super Bowl 50, it will be in spite of the fact that Harris and Schofield haven't been anywhere near strong replacements for the four-time Pro Bowler who will watch on Sunday from the sideline at Levi's Stadium.