Reid Fischer's World of Rants

Looking at the sports world through orange colored glasses

Where Is the Running Game?

Posted by mizzou1028 on October 5, 2010

I know the Broncos won in Tennessee, and it was a very nice win at that.  Anytime you pull out a victory on the road, you are doing something right.  Kyle Orton has performed amazingly well (so well that his 1,485 yards passing is the second most through four games in the NFL modern era, trailing only Kurt Warner).  I’m not going to say I told you so about Orton and the Pro Bowl.  The special teams came up with a huge turnover late, and the defense did a phenomenal job shutting down Chris Johnson.  The Broncos even got a couple of red zone touchdowns (although they still settled for too many field goals and misfired another time on downs).  At 2-2, they are certainly in the pack in the AFC West.

It is amazing really that the Broncos won on a day when they provided one of the worst rushing outputs in franchise history.  The Broncos as a team rushed for just 19 yards on 20 carries.  For those of you who are math challenged, that’s an average of less than one yard per carry.  What’s worse is that 11 of those 19 yards came courtesy of Orton, which means they came on scrambles and not on designed runs.  Taking out Orton’s rushing totals, Correll Buckhalter and Laurence Maroney combined for 8 rushing yards on 16 carries.  Needless to say, the running game simply did not work.  The Titans are an outstanding rushing defense, but even against a great team you obviously need your running backs to rush for more than eight yards.  Through four games, the Broncos have yet to have any rusher collect more than 60 yards rushing in a game, and as a team the Broncos are averaging just two yards a carry through the first four games.  No other team is averaging less than three yards a carry.  The Broncos also rank dead last with 220 rushing yards through four games.

The fact that the Broncos rank first in the league in passing offense through four games has so far compensated for their lack of running game.  (That point makes me feel rather strongly that Kyle Orton is in fact a better quarterback than the one he was traded for, Jay Cutler, but that’s another discussion).  The Broncos in fact did not call for a single rushing attempt in the final ten minutes of the game against Tennessee.  Eventually, this will stop working if teams don’t feel need to worry about the Broncos running the football.  Even the great passing teams of NFL history have had some small semblance of a running game to keep the defense off balance.  I have no doubts that Orton will continue to pass the ball well and spread it around to different receivers, but if the Broncos don’t start running the ball, it won’t matter how well they are passing it, especially in short yardage and goal line situations.

It should help that Knowshon Moreno will return to the lineup soon after missing time with a hamstring injury.  He might even be ready to return Sunday in Baltimore.  While his presence will help, it is clear that the offensive line still needs a lot of work.  The Broncos made a real point of addressing the line in the draft, but it is clear that the rookies still are trying to get acquainted with playing at NFL speed and learning the game.  All-Pro left tackle Ryan Clady is still recovering from his offseason knee injury, and Ryan Harris has missed time at the other tackle spot, although he did return to the lineup against Tennessee.  The bottom line is the Broncos will need the line to play with a lot more consistency if they are to figure out how to run the football.

The Broncos rigorous stretch of their schedule continues the next two weeks with dates at Baltimore and at home against the Jets.  After that, it does get a little friendlier, although the London trip will be brutal, even if that game is against the highly disappointing 49ers.  I think given the way the AFC West has unfolded so far, it is not unreasonable to think the Broncos can find themselves in the division race in December.  Kansas City is certainly not going to stay undefeated, and the Chargers have been up and down through their first four games.  If the Broncos can figure out how to run the ball, they can be in the race.  If they don’t, their season will end up looking a lot like last year or worse.

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