All three phases were on point for the Denver Broncos on Sunday against the New Orleans Saints. The one phase that may have been overlooked is the running phase.
The Broncos averaged 5.5 yards per carry and put up 225 yards on the ground.
Really it all started on the Broncos’ second offensive possession. Willis McGahee got the first four carries of the drive and totaled 26 yards before Peyton Manning made a throw. To show just how much the Broncos’ running game helped the passing game, look no further than those five plays. After McGahee carried the ball four times, averaging 6.5 yards per carry, Manning found Demaryius Thomas for a 41-yard gain.
That drive was capped off by a shuffle pass to McGahee for 14 yards which set up his 1-yard touchdown run.
“That was huge,” Manning said of the first touchdown of the game. “We talked about getting off to a fast start.”
With that touchdown, McGahee tied Maurice Jones-Drew for the second most rushing touchdowns (63) among active players. With his 122 total yards on 23 carries, he became the league’s active leader in 100-yard rushing games.
The rushing game wasn’t only McGahee’s show, however. Rookie Ronnie Hillman got in on the act with 14 carries for 86 yards including a 31-yard run and a 24-yard run in the second half.
“I’ve said all along, Ronnie’s a guy we thought very highly of,” John Fox said Monday afternoon. “That’s why we drafted him. Unfortunately for him and us, he was injured in part of training camp, missed some preseason games, so he’s catching up. He’s worked very hard at it. Eric Studesville, our running backs coach, has worked very hard with him as far as extra time whether it be in the meeting room or on the field. We’re just trying to bring him along and get him better each and every day and each and every week.”
The only dark spots from the Broncos rushing attack was when McGahee fumbled towards the end of the first quarter right after the Broncos forced the Saints to punt on a three-and-out. Then on Hillman’s 31-yard run, he fumbled. Luckily for the Broncos, the ball rolled out of bounds.
“Every time we turn the ball over, it concerns us,” Fox said. “We’ve had our share and really every phase has contributed. Ideally you’d like to never turn it over, but the reality is other teams get paid and practice too. We’ll continue to work on things and emphasize that.”
If Hillman can continue to help McGahee out, and with the Manning-led passing attack, this offense can be the best in the league. The Broncos are already 4th in total offense, putting up 29.1 points per game. The rushing attack is ranked 14th while the passing game is ranked 4th.
Balance is key. An aspect of the offense that can take pressure off of Manning’s shoulders only spells trouble for defenses.