Sep 21, 2014; Seattle, WA, USA; Seattle Seahawks defensive end Cassius Marsh (91) tackles Denver Broncos running back Montee Ball (28) during the second quarter at CenturyLink Field. Mandatory Credit: Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports
A lot has been made of the Denver Broncos running game the last few days.
Everyone has a theory as to what is wrong and how to fix it. A few fans don’t think it’s a problem.
On Wednesday, I said Denver needs to say “bye” to center Manny Ramirez before the bye week ends. He’s the weak link on the offensive line and an experiment that has failed.
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This isn’t so much a “how to fix it” story as it is a “what is the problem?” story. Some blame the conservative play calling or the running backs. That’s part of it but it’s not the problem.
The problem is the offensive line. Those five guys play and look as if they have never run blocked before. In the first three games, the Broncos averaged 75.3 yards per game on the ground for an average of 3.2 yards per carry. Not bad but not great either.
Here’s the stat that tells you the most about the state of the Denver ground game: According to Vic Lombardi, out of 63 rushing attempts, 25 have resulted in the ball carrier hit behind the line of scrimmage.
That bears repeating: Close to 40 percent of Broncos run plays result in the back hit behind the line of scrimmage. There is only one running back who could succeed with that awful play from his offensive line, and he ain’t walking through that door. I would venture a guess even Barry Sanders would fail with this line.
There is no way Montee Ball is to blame for that. You can question his style or vision, as I have, but when he’s hit behind the line scrimmage 40 percent of the time, he can’t succeed. By now you should know I have a “man crush” on Juwan Thompson. I think he needs a chance to prove what he did in the preseason wasn’t a fluke. But given how the offensive line performs, he couldn’t improve the run game either.
Sep 21, 2014; Seattle, WA, USA; Denver Broncos running back Montee Ball (28) carries the ball against the Seattle Seahawks during the first half at CenturyLink Field. Seattle defeated Denver 26-20. Mandatory Credit: Steven Bisig-USA TODAY Sports
According to Lombardi and former Broncos tight end Joel Dreessen, Denver doesn’t put much emphasis on the run game during practice. How then do John Fox and Adam Gase expect that aspect of the offense to perform well? Magic?
Regardless of what the Broncos do to fix this mess – bring in a former back or coach – if the line doesn’t improve and remember how to run block, it doesn’t matter.
Benching Ramirez is a start since the center is the position that gets the initial push when teams run. Once that happens, the rest of the line must improve. Ryan Clady and Louis Vasquez are all pros. Orlando Franklin should have no problem with how ginormous of a man he is. That leaves Chris Clark at right tackle. Along with Ramirez, he’s been far from impressive.
If Fox wants to send a message, he should bench both Ramirez and Clark. Put Will Montgomery at center and rookie Michael Schofield at right tackle. They can’t do any worse than the guys there now.
Despite what some believe, the Broncos need to be able to run the football if they want to win a Super Bowl. Through three games, it’s been a disaster. Denver needs to fix it and better do so before it plays the Arizona Cardinals who also have a very good defense.
Whatever solution Fox and the Broncos pick, if their running backs are hit in the back field 40 percent of the time, it won’t matter.
As has been the case since the dawn of football, the key to success is the play of the line. If that doesn’t improve, the run game will continue to remain a huge problem – no matter who carries the ball or tries to fix it.
Aug 23, 2014; Denver, CO, USA; Denver Broncos running back Juwan Thompson (40) breaks the tackle of Houston Texans defensive end Lawrence Sidbury (91) in the fourth quarter at Sports Authority Field at Mile High. The Texans defeated the Broncos 18-17. Mandatory Credit: Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports