Last Sunday, the Broncos squeaked out a win over the Miami Dolphins 39-36. Even though the Dolphins got a late touchdown to close the gap, the score still mirrored the type of game it was.
The Broncos were down 11 points twice in the game, the second time being at the beginning of the 4th quarter. Even though this game might have been too close for comfort for a lot of Broncos Country, I was proud of the way Adam Gase and the offense stuck with the game plan for the majority of the game. The Broncos won this game unlike they’ve won any game this season: via the run.
Sure, Peyton Manning threw 35 times and had four touchdowns. But both statistics were products of how long the Broncos were able to keep the ball throughout the game because of how well C.J. Anderson ran the rock.
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The Broncos rushed for 201 yards last week, their most yards on the ground since their overtime loss to the New England Patriots last season- a full year and a day prior to their win over the Dolphins. For the last time the Broncos rushed for that many yards in a win, you have to go back to 2012 in an October win over the New Orleans Saints to push the Broncos to 4-3.
Though Peyton Manning chucked four touchdowns on Sunday, he only threw for 249 yards, his lowest output since the Broncos’ week six win against the Jets.
To put how much different the Broncos offense looked on Sunday, they had the ball 34 minutes and 17 seconds of the game. That’s their highest time of possession (TOP) since week five against the Cardinals (35:17). However, that week the Broncos had the ball 16 times. Last Sunday, the Broncos had the ball nine times. Nine. Almost half of as many drives they had against Arizona, yet their TOP were almost identical. The Broncos controlled the ball about as well as I’ve seen in the Peyton Manning era.
The Broncos didn’t win big, but they won in a way no one thought they could. It cannot be stated how huge that is. Manning’s box score looked nice, but he was a bit off on Sunday, missing numerous deep balls to Emmanuel Sanders. When Manning is “off” (for his standards), it’s important for this team to have a running back to rely on. C.J. Anderson has become that back.
Nov 23, 2014; Denver, CO, USA; Denver Broncos running back C.J. Anderson (22) runs for a touchdown during the second half against the Miami Dolphins at Sports Authority Field at Mile High. The Broncos won 39-36. Mandatory Credit: Chris Humphreys-USA TODAY Sports
Anderson also aided other areas of the Broncos’ team as well. The Broncos offensive line has been undoubtedly the most criticized unit of the team. In their loss to St. Louis, when they were called upon to pass protect 54 times and run block nine times, Adam Gase took it upon himself to help them out. Last Sunday, he called more run plays for the offensive line, taking pressure off of them. Anderson also aided them by finding the correct lanes and running decisively.
According to Pro Football Focus (PFF), this was the first game of the season in which each member of the Broncos’ starting offensive line graded out with a positive number. And as regular PFF users know, their grading system can be incredibly tough at times. With the Broncos having a more balanced attack, the Dolphins were more on their heels, not being able to be confident that each play would be a pass. The offensive line didn’t have the burden of handling stunts and blitzes as much as they did against the Rams. It wasn’t just PFF grades either. Anderson rushed for a league season high of 130 yards before contact. This is a credit to both the offensive line and Anderson’s vision and instincts.
Anderson also made it easier on the Broncos’ treacherous kicking game. Unfortunately, even when the Broncos got into field position, now former Broncos rookie kicker Brandon McManus missed a 33-yard field goal in the 3rd quarter that would have made it a 21-20 game in the Dolphins’ favor. Instead, Miami got the ball back, took advantage of an Isaiah Burse muffed punt, and scored a touchdown to put themselves up 28-17. The next time the Broncos had a 4th down in enemy territory, C.J. Anderson converted a 4th-and-2 at the Miami 41and ran for 20 yards.
There should never be another game where the Broncos are called to run nine times anymore. This week, when asked if the run game will be utilized heavily this upcoming week against the Chiefs, Gase said, “Every game’s different.” He said they will feel their way through the game to determine if the pass or run is best for them. Either way, he cannot let Anderson sit idly by; he must be put to use.
Oct 19, 2014; Denver, CO, USA; Denver Broncos offensive coordinator Adam Gase during the game against the San Francisco 49ers at Sports Authority Field at Mile High. Mandatory Credit: Chris Humphreys-USA TODAY Sports
Earlier this week, The Denver Post’s Mike Klis wrote an interesting article questioning the need to have a balanced offense to win the Super Bowl. He cites, among others, the 2007 and 2011 New York Giants and last year’s Seattle Seahawks as offenses that were great in one aspect of the game but poor in the other. When quoting Manning and Anderson in said article, both expressed that the important part of being great in one aspect of the offense is being “efficient” in the other aspect. Coincidentally, this theory is something that those teams that Klis mentioned exemplified in the postseason.
In 2007, the Giants were 4th in the NFL in rushing offense, but 21st in passing. In the postseason, Eli Manning, who threw 20 picks in the regular season, threw only one in New York’s four playoff games (albeit in the Super Bowl – he made up for it). In 2011, the Giants were 5th in passing offense but dead last in rushing. In the playoffs, they were able to rely on their run game rushing for at least 95 yards in three of their four games with no fumbles. Last year, the Seahawks were 4th in rushing but 26th in passing. Russell Wilson did his part in the playoffs by throwing no picks and having a 68% completion percentage in the final two games of the postseason. At this point in 2014, the Denver Broncos are 2nd in passing and 20th in rushing.
While some Super Bowl champs over the past decade haven’t been entirely balanced in the statistical column, it is important to be able to lean on either part when it’s needed, especially in January and February. If Manning and the offensive line are up against it like they were in St. Louis, it’s imperative that the Broncos are able to call upon a guy like C.J. Anderson to pickup the offense like he did last Sunday.