No one cares if the Denver Broncos achieve an undefeated regular season, break all of the offensive records, or win all of the late season awards. It is truly Super Bowl or bust in Denver this year. However, as most football fans know, the biggest football game of the season this year will take place at the Meadowlands in early February 2014. This means cold air, inclement weather, and likely a game won by possession and field position – not exactly Peyton Manning and the high-flying Broncos’ forte.
The Broncos’ offense is built to attack secondaries and score in bunches (they average 44.7 points per game). Their defense is built to pressure opposing quarterbacks forced to throw in order to keep up Manning. However, as Broncos fan saw in the divisional round of the playoffs last year, Manning is no longer a young colt, and pushing the ball through wind or precipitation to the sideline is not a strong suit. As a result, if the Broncos are to make a deep postseason run, they must make improving their rushing attack a priority.
An improved run game becomes even more paramount when you realize that the Indianapolis Colts play in a dome in the AFC, and every Broncos’ playoff game will very likely be open to elements.
There are currently three backs splitting carries in Denver’s backfield this year, and each brings a diverse array of running styles to the table. The problem, however, is that none of them have been overly effective, especially in short yardage. Ronnie Hillman has continued to struggle in pass protection, as well as fighting for tough yards, rookie Monte Ball has been held to a meager 3.2 yards per carry, and Knowshon Moreno continues to be inconsistent.
Through four games, most of the Broncos’ successful rushing plays have been based off draws, and essentially reverse play-action. Instead of physically dictating their will upon a defense and effectively running the ball when want/need to, the Broncos have spread defenses with the team’s passing prowess, and surprised opposing teams with the run when they are focused on Manning and the team’s talented receivers. In the first four games. the Broncos have only rushed for 26 first downs and four touchdowns while fumbling the ball twice.
Thanks to this lack of production and reliability, the Broncos have become rather one-dimensional, attempting 159 passes to only 110 rushes, in blowout wins no less. However, when defenses, injuries or weather slows down Manning and the Broncos’ offense, this type of unbalanced play calling will greatly hinder the Broncos’ chances. If they are going to make a deep postseason run, the Broncos desperately need one of their backs to demonstrate the ability to be a dependable every down back.
In his fifth year, it is time Moreno takes the reigns of this position group and assert himself as a legitimate NFL starter. However, the first four games of this season have been a perfect replication of his inconsistent career. In two games, he has averaged 6.8 yards per carry for 171 yards and three touchdowns. In the other two games, he averaged 3.2 yards per carry for 67 yards and no touchdowns.
At 5-foot-11, 220 pounds Moreno is an ideally-sized NFL back with elite agility, trustworthy hands, and an endless motor. However, he has struggled with injuries, can be dreadfully indecisive, and appears to lack explosiveness at times, causing him to lose yards.
The Broncos do not need an Adrian Peterson type back; all they need is someone who can consistently gain positive yardage, covert short yardage situations, and not turn the ball over. Does this sound familiar, Willis McGahee fans? If Moreno can separate himself from the pack and develop into a reliable every down back, he should be extremely productive and become a major part of this offense.
Written by John Spina. Follow him on Facebook or on Twitter @jsspina24