Since the Denver Broncos loss in St. Louis versus the Rams, there has been a bit of a change in the way the Broncos run their offense. With the offensive line hitting rock bottom, especially as pass protection goes, in that game, offensive coordinator Adam Gase called upon the run game to help fix the creases of the offense.
We all know the story by now; the Broncos only ran 10 time against the Rams, one being a kneel down by Peyton Manning. The Rams upset the Broncos, who were only able to squeak out one touchdown, which would be their only score of the game.
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It’s kind of hard not to plead for more running back carries when you have a pass-to-run ratio of 27-5, even when the quarterback is Peyton Manning. Passing that much puts more pressure on the quarterback, a ton of pressure on the pass protection, and it makes the offense more predictable, making it an easier job for opposing pass rushers.
In the next two games, the Broncos made it a point to run the ball. Against Miami, they had a pass-to-run ratio of 1 (35 and 35). This was the first time the Broncos rushing attempts were equal to their passing attempts since week seven in their blowout win over the 49ers (27). In Kansas City, the Broncos had a pass-to-run ratio of 34-45. This was the first time the Broncos exceeded their number of passes with their number of runs since week 12 of last year in their overtime loss to the Patriots. You know, the one with the six-degree wind chill and 22 mph winds (according to Pro-Football-Reference). The last time the Broncos exceeded passes with rushes in a win was in week 17 of 2012 in a 38-3 route of Brady Quinn’s Chiefs.
In short, it hasn’t been often when the running back’s number has been called more than Peyton Manning, for obvious reasons. But with the offensive line struggling to pass protect and the emergence of C.J. Anderson, it would have been irresponsible to not utilize the run.
In last week’s 29-16 win over the Chiefs, the Broncos rode Anderson to 29 carries. Gase’s game plan for this game was beautiful and he rarely strayed from it. Granted, the Broncos red zone offense was utterly inefficient, but that can be fixed with the return of Julius Thomas.
Sep 7, 2014; Denver, CO, USA; Denver Broncos offensive coordinator Adam Gase and quarterback Peyton Manning (18) speak in the second quarter against the Indianapolis Colts at Sports Authority Field at Mile High. The Broncos defeated the Colts 31-24. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports
The last two weeks the Broncos have faced some of the best pass rushing defenses with some of the best pass rushers in the league. Miami and Kansas City have the 7th (33) and 8th (32) most sacks in the league, respectively. The Dolphins have the 10th best pass rusher in terms of sacks in Cameron Wake (9.5). K.C.’s Justin Houston leads the league in sacks with 14. The Broncos countered these defenses by ramming C.J. Anderson at them. In the last two games combined, Anderson totaled 59 carries for 335 yards and a touchdown.
With the defense more on their heels in these games, Manning was only sacked an average of one time, hit 1.5 times, and hurried 3.5 times. That’s an improvement from the two sacks, five hits, and seven hurries the Rams were able to get on Manning. It’s a testament to Peyton that he’s able to get the ball out quick but credit also goes to Gase for recognizing an adjustment he needed to make to protect Manning and help the offense. And of course it’s a credit to the offensive line too. They’re not the most talented group, but with the lack of pressure on them the past couple weeks, they’ve been able to open up some more holes for Anderson and Juwan Thompson (as if he needs them… okay he does, but still.)
This Sunday the Broncos will be facing the Bills. This may not sound like a tough matchup, but it could be if the Broncos revert back to their old ways of attack through the air on almost every play. The Bills are similar to the three defenses they’ve faced the last three weeks in terms of pressure. The Bills are tops in the NFL in sacks with 48. They also have two of the top 10 sack getters in the league in Marion Williams (4th with 12) and Marcell Dareus (t-8th with 10).
So what should the Broncos do?
Keep doing what you’re doing Broncos. C.J. Anderson hasn’t proven to be human yet (knock on wood), and until he does – multiple times – you keep rolling with him.
Nov 23, 2014; Denver, CO, USA; Denver Broncos running back C.J. Anderson (22) runs the ball during the first half against the Miami Dolphins at Sports Authority Field at Mile High. Mandatory Credit: Chris Humphreys-USA TODAY Sports
The Bills defense hurt opponents in more ways than just sacks, however. They’re 2nd in the NFL in takeaways, with 15 interceptions (4th in the NFL) and 10 fumble recoveries (6th). They’re also 8th in the league in points off of turnovers with 72, according to SportingCharts.com. Before Denver’s renewed focus on running the ball against Miami, Peyton had a three-week streak of throwing two picks. The Broncos have shown running the ball is a great way to prevent turnovers; the Broncos only turnovers the last two weeks was an Isaiah Burse fumbled punt and a Payton Manning strip sack.
Also, in Anderson’s 127 touches as a pro, he has yet to fumble the ball (knock on wood Part 2). And since it’s harder to find individual fumble stats for college players than watching the Oakland Raiders attempt to play football, I have no idea how many times, if ever, C.J. fumbled in his two years playing at Cal. However, it’s easy to see by watching him that he actively takes care of the football by holding the ball high and tight and bringing his off arm to cover up his other arm while he runs through traffic.
Where Buffalo’s defense starts to differ from those of the Dolphins and Chiefs is that they have a good track record stopping the run. Where Miami and K.C. rank 20th and 30th in the league, respectively, against the run, the Bills are 7th. And for what it’s worth, Buffalo is 5th in the league in pass defense. This is just an all-around good defense the Broncos are about to face. The good news is that they have allowed over 100 total yards rushing to the Jets and Browns the last two weeks.
The bottom line is that C.J. Anderson seems to be the answer to the Broncos (potential) problems once again. With more effective running back play this week, it should help the entire offense and keep this swarming Bills defense off their game.