It was running back Knowshon Moreno who had to step up and out of the backfield and really make a name for himself in week 3 of preseason play. He managed 16 yards on 5 carries, but the back that really stole the show looked more like a wide receiver. It was 4-year pro out of Maryland, Lance Ball.
Ball left the game in the second half with a rib injury, and he had just 1 carry for 3 yards, but as a receiver, Ball had two big receptions for first downs on back-to-back plays in the first quarter.
On the second offensive drive of the game, Ball caught a 4-yard pass from Peyton Manning on 3rd-and-3. Then he reeled in a 38-yard pass to put the Broncos in scoring position.
“In training camp, we have put [Lance Ball] outside at wide receiver a few times, and heck, actually thrown that particular pattern actually a couple times,” Manning said. “So, it’s always nice when you can take something that you’ve worked on in practice and take it to the playing field. I thought it was a really good route and a good finish by him today.”
It was three plays after Ball’s big catch that Manning had his first touchdown pass as a Bronco when he threw a 10-yard pass to Eric Decker.
The Broncos running backs may not be touching the ball as much this season on the ground (of Denver’s 16 first half first downs, 14 came through the air), but that doesn’t mean that they’re any less important. Their hands will be relied upon heavily in this offense.
“I thought Willis [McGahee] did a good job with the passing game, getting open out of the backfield along with some good pass protection,” Manning said. “Those backs are going to play a huge role for us this year, and it’s good to see them make some plays today.”
McGahee had 7 carries for 27 yards, and he added a 14-yard reception as well.
“If I run less, I hope it’s more yards I have,” McGahee calmly said.
Often times, people downplayed the ability of the Indianapolis Colts‘ running backs when Manning played with them. After all, they were frequently the worst rushers in the league.
“I’m not doubting the running backs they have,” McGahee said on how the Broncos’ running game compares to the Colts’. “But we’re not Indianapolis.”
Sure, Tim Tebow helped the Broncos to being the league’s best rushing team last season, but McGahee, Ball, etc. helped attain that status as well. They’re not going to let themselves drop that much.
“That’s a good defensive front we played against, particularly in the first half,” head coach John Fox said when speaking about the Broncos’ running game. “It was a good challenge. We get a chance to look at the tape and go through every guy’s grade and whatnot tomorrow, but all-in-all, I liked our production.”
The 49ers were ranked 2nd in points allowed (14.3), and they had the best rush defense in the league last season. The Broncos showed Sunday afternoon that they could go against the best and still be productive. They worked their way to 30 rushing yards and put up 17 points in the opening quarter.
In the battle of starters vs. starters, the Broncos win this one, and for once they don’t have to do it entirely on the ground.