When it comes to running the football, nobody does it better than the Denver Broncos – at least since 1995, when Mike Shanahan took over as head coach in the Mile High City.
The amazing thing about the team that can accurately say it gets off the bus running is that it doesn't seem to matter who runs it. In the past four years, the Broncos have had a different 1,000-yard runner each season – Tatum Bell last year, Mike Anderson in 2005, Reuben Droughns in `04 and Clinton Portis in `03 – the only time that has happened in NFL history.
This year's leading rusher, Travis Henry, gained 580 yards in the first seven weeks before a knee injury sidelined him. So undrafted rookie Selvin Young, who followed the Bears' Cedric Benson at Texas, rushed for 109 yards against the Chiefs on Nov. 11, becoming the 12th different 100-yard rusher under Shanahan. Only the Carolina Panthers have had as many different 100-yard rushers over the same time.
But Young also suffered a knee injury last week, so Andre Hall, an undrafted first-year player from South Florida, stepped up and scored on a 62-yard run against the Titans on Monday night. Henry and Young both missed practice Wednesday and Thursday and might not play Sunday. That might not matter.
"You have to say it has a lot to do with the scheme," Bears coach Lovie Smith said. "They've had some good tailbacks play in the system, Terrell Davis being one of them. But the same thing has continued to happen [with] them being able to run the football.
"Even this year [with] Travis Henry going down, Andre Hall steps up, [and] of course Selvin Young. We know we'll have our hands full. They run the football, but I think you would say that they won the game [Monday] night based on what they were able to do throwing the football. [Jay] Cutler is having a heck of a year. [Brandon] Marshall is playing as good as any receiver right now. He's got great size [and] speed. He does a great job after he catches the football, so it'll be a big challenge for our defense."
The Bears defense hasn't played well against either the run or the pass this season, ranking 26th in rushing yards and 22nd in passing yards allowed. The Bears are also 29th in average gain allowed per rush and 31st in interception percentage.
RB Andre Hall
David Zaubowski/AP Images
In just his second NFL season, Cutler is fourth in the AFC with an 88.9 passer rating, but stopping the run will be priority No. 1. Every team in the NFL knows the Broncos are famed for their ability to run the ball no matter who carries it, but they still can't shut down their ground game.
"They've been doing it for 15 years," defensive end Alex Brown said. "I'm not just going to figure it out after a week of watching film. We have to stay in our gaps and tackle. We can't miss tackles. We've got to cut down on the big plays, the big runs that they have."
Part of what has made the Denver running game so good for so long is its offensive line's sometimes-questionable technique of cut-blocking. Defensive linemen hate getting blocked at the knees, which is the reason it's so successful.
"I'm not really worried about any of their blocking," Brown said. "But yeah, they cut, so you have to acknowledge it. You can't just run up the field and [think] they're not going to cut you, but it's not really a concern. You play the game. It's in the game, so play the game."
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