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The Broncos’ running game on Sunday was even better than it looked on paper

Zac Stevens Avatar
September 10, 2018

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — To say the Denver Broncos got the job done on the ground against the Seattle Seahawks would be a drastic understatement.

On a 4.6 yards-per-carry average, the team scampered for 146 yards on their way to a 27-24 victory.

To put it in perspective, if both of those numbers were to hold up all season, the ground game would put up 2,336 rushing yards on the year.

Last season, the Jacksonville Jaguars led the league with 2,262 yards and the New Orleans Saints, and Kansas City Chiefs led the league with a 4.7 yards-per-carry average.

Not only were they effective, they were led, and almost exclusively powered, by two rookies — third-round pick Royce Freeman and undrafted rookie Phillip Lindsay — both making their NFL debuts.

With all of that said, the running game was even more impressive than those stats indicate.

On Monday, head coach Vance Joseph described the “rare” defensive scheme the Seahawks run. Pete Carroll’s defense typically only utilizes a single-high safety in order to put more players in the box to stop posing team’s rushing attack.

“In the run game, it’s hard because the box is loaded every play,” Joseph said, opening up on the challenges of running the ball against Seattle. “So to rush for 146 versus a loaded box is quite difficult in this league. And we did it.”

Credit to offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave, who used a variety of tools to help block the extra defender in the box, including utilizing the ghost and speed motion as well as using Demaryius Thomas to crack the safety.

Along with that, Denver’s rushing attack helped settle down the offense after each of Case Keenum’s three interceptions.

Instead of Keenum feeling more pressure after his mistakes, the running game was able to shoulder a significant portion of the workload and keep the team from being one dimensional.

Of Denver’s 72 offensive plays, 40 were passes and 32 were runs.

Along with the talented young backs, Joseph made a point on Monday to credit the offensive line, which he’s been “really, really pleased” with.

“We ran the ball really well on that last touchdown drive,” Joseph said proudly. “We hit them with two runs, and on the third play to Courtland [Sutton] those linebackers were in the A and B gap, and there was so much space in the middle of the defense.”

In other words, the run set up the pass, just as the coaches drew it up.

Arguably, the most impressive part of the run game in the season opener was that the team was able to find success when it mattered the most.

Late in the fourth quarter, as the Broncos grasped onto a 27-24 lead with 3:28 left, Joseph put the game in the running back’s hands.

The youngsters lived up to the challenge, picking up a first down and draining the clock to 1:01 left in the game.

Even when Seattle knew the run was coming, there was not much they could do as Freeman picked up 37 yards on four carries — including a team-high 17-yard run to go along with a 15-yard run — and Lindsay tacked on five more yards on two carries.

The 42 rushing yards on the final drive were enough to drain the clock, force the Seahawks to use all of their timeouts and pin them deep in their own territory.

Thanks in large part to the running game, that was too much for the great Russell Wilson to overcome against Denver’s defense.

“The running game, to me, helped us control the game outside of giving the ball away,” Joseph stated. “We rushed for 146 yards on a 4.6 average. That’s huge in this league. If you can do that, it makes the pass game a lot easier.”

Any further questions on the importance and future usage of Denver’s backs moving forward?

“Running the football for us is going to be a priority all of the time,” Joseph said. “So far, so good with those guys playing so well for us.”


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