Could it be happening again to Montee Ball?
The conventional thought before last year was that the Broncos drafted Montee Ball in the 2nd round to be Peyton Manning’s workhorse RB. However, it became clear that Ball wasn’t nearly up to speed in pass protection and Knowshon Moreno took over starting duties and never looked back. Moreno went on to have by far his best season as a pro running in the record-setting, Manning-led offense.
Fast forward one season, Moreno is in Miami and, pass protection issues rectified, Montee Ball is once again expected to be Manning’s workhorse RB. However, through the 3 and a half games before Montee Ball’s injury the Broncos rushing attack was a big disappointment, to say the least. Montee Ball was averaging a paltry 3.1 yards per carry and had managed only 1 Touchdown.
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Many blamed the reshuffled offensive line and shoddy run blocking, and it seemed like a valid excuse. However, then came yesterday’s game with the same offense, same offensive line, a matchup with the stout Jets run defense, but minus injured Montee Ball and Ronnie Hillman in his stead. Peyton Manning said after the game that the Jets dared them to run, and run they did.
Ronnie Hillman responded with a 100 yard day (something Montee Ball hasn’t come close to doing thus far) and Juwan Thompson chipped in 38 yards on 8 carries of his own for a nice 4.8 yards per average. Overall, the Broncos rushing attack went for 138 yards on 33 carries for 4.2 yards per attempt. The 138 yards representing their highest rushing total of the year.
Oct 5, 2014; Denver, CO, USA; Denver Broncos running back Ronnie Hillman (23) runs the ball during the second half against the Arizona Cardinals at Sports Authority Field at Mile High. The Broncos won 41-20. Mandatory Credit: Chris Humphreys-USA TODAY Sports
Simply watching the games without getting into advanced stats and good blocking attempts and that sort of thing, both Hillman and Juwan Thompson are noticeably quicker and more explosive to the hole. Montee Ball seems to be more of a downhill runner who needs a nice hole to gather momentum. Without a well-developed hole and good blocking, Ball seems to struggle to get anything moving forward because he lacks the suddenness that Hillman and Juwan Thompson possess.
Ball doesn’t seem like an ideal fit for a Peyton Manning offense where the QB is rarely under the center and the RB is standing next to the QB and is handed the ball with very little to no forward movement. Ball needs a head of steam to be as effective as he can be. He seems better suited for an offense where the QB is under the center and perhaps even a FB lead blocking, where he is handed the ball as he is moving towards the line of scrimmage already.
Hillman and Juwan Thompson are better suited to take the ball from Manning while nearly standing still and yet still get to top speed relatively quickly and get through holes faster, which is incredibly important in this type of offense.
It will be interesting to see how the Broncos handle the RB situation when Montee Ball is healthy. How Hillman and Juwan Thompson play over the next few weeks will have a lot to say about the situation as well. With the third ranked 49ers rushing defense next week and the eleventh ranked Chargers rushing defense the week after that, if Hillman and Thompson can show well, they may make Ball a backup once again.