The Denver Broncos are known for their high-powered passing game led by quarterback Peyton Manning. Something I wanted the Broncos and Adam Gase to do in the offseason was make it a point to get the running game involved a bit more. Wearing down the defense right from the beginning is a dimension that this offense rarely sees. Usually the M.O. is pretty much to get the defense out of breath, to get ahead, and then beat up the opponent with the running backs.
This is a great plan on paper, but on the field the Broncos have shown the propensity to let upper echelon teams back into the game and coasting instead of keeping the tempo at a high level – like what happened against the Colts.
To me, there are two solutions to this: either stay with the passing game and bypass running down the clock when there’s a substantial lead OR implement your running game more in the first half and wear down your opponent for the second half.
Both of these things are plans I believe the Broncos can execute. If it were up to me, I’m using the run game more consistently in the first half. I think this ensures the Broncos a legit second option should the areal attack stall, as we saw in the loss against the Chargers last year.
Nov 10, 2013; San Diego, CA, USA; Denver Broncos running back Knowshon Moreno (27) signals a first down during the closing minute of the Broncos win over the San Diego Chargers at Qualcomm Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sports
After Knowshon Moreno left for Miami in free agency, it was up to Montee Ball to replace the 1,000-yard rusher’s starting spot and toughness. On Sunday night against the Colts, Ball averaged just 2.9 yards per rush, albeit with a touchdown. The Broncos as a whole averaged 3.2 yards per carry. The stats don’t tell the whole story, however.
When/where the runs were called and how they were executed contributed to the problems the Broncos had running the ball last Sunday. Ignoring it on the first red zone possession was one thing that stood out as a missed opportunity.
However, I thought they did a good job last week of staying away from the specific problem of relying on it more in the second half, running Ball and Anderson 16 times (or 46% of their plays) in the first half and 11 times (39%) in the second half. Going forward, it seems the only problem the Broncos have to deal with in terms of the run game is the execution and not lack of insertion into the game plan. Still, it’s something to be aware of, as basing a pattern off of one week is shortsighted.
Even though I would like to see more plays for the running backs, everyone on the offensive side can improve in this area of the game from last week. This may sound contradictory, however, it makes sense considering the Broncos have capable players on the offensive line. I’m talking about Pro Bowlers Ryan Clady and Louis Vasquez first and foremost. Franklin I’m more willing to be patient with since he’s making the transition to a position he hasn’t played since college. He had one of the more impressive plays on Sunday on the first run of the game, pulling and sealing and outside defender to clear space on the outside for Ball to run.
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Vasquez was called for three holding penalties after just being called for four in all of 2013 – to be fair, one of them was in attempt to prevent Manning from being creamed. Clady also didn’t have his best game as a run blocker. I also recall the both tight ends – Virgil Green (surprisingly) and Julius Thomas (unsurprisingly) – missing assignments.
The culmination of all these problems were seen on the very first play of the second half: Julius Thomas and Clady both got beat clean off the line on the backside, Virgil Green whiffed on a on a block while leading Ball to the lane from the fullback spot, and Vasquez was called on a hold on the second level which washed out the whole disastrous play. All of this after coming from the locker room after halftime. That’s inexcusable; I don’t care what week of the season it is.
Granted, this was just one play, but it tells you how much the offensive line, tight ends included, were responsible for the struggles of Ball on Sunday. I constantly saw Ball having to escape a defender at the line of scrimmage – not ideal. Ball led all runners in Week 1 with nine missed tackles forced.
Sep 7, 2014; Denver, CO, USA; Denver Broncos running back C.J. Anderson (22) runs the ball during the first half against the against the Indianapolis Colts at Sports Authority Field at Mile High. Mandatory Credit: Chris Humphreys-USA TODAY Sports
Moving away from all the bad news, C.J. Anderson showed a lot of promise on Sunday, squirming through tight spots and rushing four times for 27 yards. What consistently impresses me about Anderson’s game is his vision. It seems like he always knows where the optimal hole is about to open up, even if that’s not what was intended for that specific play. Ball on the other hand struggled on a couple plays with indecisiveness.
With Ronnie Hillman reportedly in the doghouse, I’d look for Anderson to continue to get his normal share of carries since he’s shown he can hold his own and the coaches trust him, for all we know. Depending on how deep into the doghouse Hillman is, I’d love to see some carries for undrafted rookie Juwan Thompson, whom I’ve dubbed “The Anvil.” However, I get that there’s only one football to go around and the receivers and tight ends get first dibs.
With the Broncos facing the Chiefs on Sunday afternoon, I’ll be looking at their first possession in the red zone and what they do with the running backs. What they did last week on their first red zone trip was horrid – though I’m not terribly upset with a fade to Demaryius Thomas on first down. The second and third down plays just knocked the wind out of my sails.
In any case, the Broncos need to keep the peddle to the metal with the pace. Running the clock down won’t work unless you beat up your opponent with it in the first half. Balance shouldn’t be ignored until you come out of the locker room.
The fact of the matter is the Broncos as a whole need to work on the running game so that they can utilize it earlier and more often. This doesn’t have to become a run-first team, because it’s obviously not set up this way (they have Peyton Manning duh). But it can and should be a little more balanced to further exhaust opposing defenses. Execution from here on out is the key.