Replacement Running Back for the Broncos: Does it Matter?


With the injury to Willis McGahee, Denver Broncos running back Knowshon Moreno (27) will likely be activated for the first time since week 2 (Ron Chenoy-US PRESSWIRE).

Who doesn’t love a good debate?  In the wide world of sports, debates are all the rage.  Should Ed Reed have been suspended for his helmet-to-helmet hit on Emmanual Sanders?  Should the New York Jets supplant Mark Sanchez with Tim Tebow?  What were the Lakers thinking by firing Mike Brown while Norv Turner is still on the San Diego Chargers‘ payroll.  Heck, there are entire shows dedicated to the art of debating all things sports related.

The “controversy” surrounding who will be next man up to replace injured Denver Broncos running back Willis McGahee is one debate that won’t be settled until Sunday at the earliest.  But why?

Look, it’s not that there is a lack of curiosity of which back the real No. 2, and obviously McGahee’s hard-nosed running and veteran savvy are going to be missed.   Beyond that though, the Broncos need a back who is capable of knowing the play call, altering protections on the fly, gaining 3 or 4 yards at a time, and swinging out to snag a few passes.  This Broncos’ offense is not based on the run; it is following the recent pattern of Super Bowl Champions who are pass first, run because you have to.

The New York Giants and the Green Bay Packers share similarities.  They are the last two Super Bowl champs, they both caught fire after struggling early, and they both have pass-centric offenses that buck the conventional wisdom of how to effectively run the football.  Last year, the Giants had 8 regular season games that the team collected more than 100 rushing yards.  When it was all said and done, they had a 100-yard rusher only twice.  As a team they ranked dead last in the NFL in rushing yards and yards per attempt.  Similarly, the Packers in 2010 had 6 games that the team eclipsed the 100-yard mark and only had a 100-yard rusher once during the entire regular season.  That year they ranked 24th in overall yards and 25th in yards per attempt.  Bottom line: these teams were not good rushing teams, but were still able to win a championship.

The Broncos haven’t really been that stout in the running game either to the tune of 19th in rushing yards and yards per attempt.  McGahee has produced three 100-yard games and as a team, the Broncos have run for 100 yards or more in only 4 of 10 games.  Not to take anything away from McGahee and the great work he’s done in Denver and over the course of his career, but if this were Terrell Davis going down mid-season, the concern would be far weightier.  Think back to the 14-2 team of 1998.  The Broncos averaged 154 yards per game on the ground and John Elway threw for more than 250 yards only four times in the regular season.  Running the ball was the bread and butter of the offense.

In 2012, when the Broncos hand the ball off to the dogs and ponies (mostly ponies), it is purely as a compliment to the all-out aerial bombardment that has been so effective and has put Peyton Manning squarely in the MVP spotlight.  Remember, he’s thrown for 250 in all but one of his games as a Bronco.  So as glorious as it is to pontificate about who should be the new top dog in the backfield, does it really matter?  Ronnie Hillman, Lance Ball, Knowshon Moreno: Can you pick up a blitz?  Can you pick up critical yards?  Can you hold on to the ball?  You’re hired!  It really is that simple.