The most impressive aspect of the Denver Broncos‘ victory over the Kansas City Chiefs on Sunday was not the second half turnaround or even Eric Decker’s four touchdown receptions; it was the way second round rookie Montee Ball ran the rock.
In his first nine games Ball averaged 3.2 yards per carry with a long of 15 yards. Moreover, during that same stretch he only recorded five receptions. However, in the last two contests Ball has averaged 7.2 yards per carry, including one run of 45, and four receptions. Against the Chiefs Ball had only 13 carries but ran for 117 yards. He has become more decisive, which in turn has made him more explosive, he has been running through arm tackles, and he has protected the football.
After Ronnie Hillman, the Broncos’ presumed starter at the beginning of the season, severely disappointed fans and coaches alike, the attitude, work ethic, and most importantly the progression of Ball has been a saving grace.
Though Knowshon Moreno has had his own breakout year this season, he simply cannot carry this team’s rushing offense entirely by himself – especially when you consider his history with injuries. Consequently, Ball’s contributions have been paramount. They have added another weapon to this diverse offense and truly transformed this backfield into one of the NFL’s best — a feature that will make the Broncos incredibly hard to stop during postseason play.
Everyone knows Peyton Manning‘s arm is not what it used to be, and he struggles at times cutting the ball through strong winds. As a result the Broncos’ running game will be absolutely critical during the playoffs.
If the running game is working Manning will have shorter third down conversions, less defensive pressure in his face, as well as more open receivers thanks to play action. It also limits the defense’s ability to use nickel and dime personnel groupings designed to slow the Broncos’ dangerous passing attack.
If the rushing attack is being limited, the defense can focus entirely on stopping Manning and his cadre of talented receivers. They can blitz more, press receivers, and play three or even four cornerbacks. However, Ball’s play alongside Moreno’s will make this very difficult to accomplish.
It is uncertain as to what exactly brought about Ball’s sudden progression. Perhaps he just needed time to adjust to the size and speed of NFL defenders, perhaps his hard work and dedication finally synced and he now has a better understanding of both defense and offensive schemes, or maybe he just needed the coaches to show some confidence in him so he could play confidently. Either way, Ball’s incredible progression this season has completed the Broncos’ offense and proven to fans, critics, and coaches alike that his future in this league is a bright one.
Written by John Spina. Follow him on Facebook or on Twitter @jsspina24