Improving the Denver Broncos Run Game

Through three games, the Denver Broncos run game has been extremely poor. All areas; run blocking, play-calling and running backs, are to blame. MHH Analyst Erick Trickel gives his take on how they can improve their poor performances. Image from GettyImages.com Photo by: Doug Pensigner

During the offeseason, the Denver Broncos were focused on improving their run game so they didn’t have to be as one dimensional as last season. So far, the run game has been worse. There are three factors that play into this, the offensive line’s run blocking, the play-calling, and the running backs themselves. To get the game on the ground going, changes need to be made with all three aspects, or do they?

First up let’s take a look at the offensive line. It is clear when re-watching the games that the offensive line is not generating any kind of push, except for the rare occasion. To prove that, on nearly 40% of the Broncos runs, the running backs are being met behind the line of scrimmage. That is not an acceptable number at all.

The main issues in the blocking up front comes from Ryan Clady and Orlando Franklin, both of whom have struggled consistently. Clady is coming back from an injury, so it is understandable that he is struggling. As for Franklin, it is inexcusable. He was a great run blocker as the right tackle for the Broncos, and moving inside should have helped him.

So, what can the Broncos do to help the offensive line? Would benching some players help? That answer to those are, give them more time and benching someone would do more harm than good. For the first question, the offensive line essentially has three new starters from last year. Clady missed most the season, Franklin was at right tackle and Clark at left tackle. Yes Franklin and Clark were starters, but that fact they are at a new position is what makes them effectively new starters.

As for the second question, Clady is coming back from an injury, but is an All-Pro when at 100%. You cannot bench him without getting questioned. Also, despite his struggles in run blocking he has been excellent in pass protection. Franklin has struggled in both areas, but he is still learning a new position. What keeps him as the starter is that benching him would cause the offensive line to take a step back. Ramirez for Montgomery wouldn’t be a drop off in run blocking, but would be in pass protection. Vasquez has been doing great, some struggles but nothing worth even considering benching him. Finally, there is Chris Clark. He has struggled in both aspects, so if anyone were to be benched it would be Clark. However, continuity is needed on the offensive line. Constant shuffling doesn’t help. Also, there is no reason to believe Paul Cornick would do any better than Clark and Michael Schofield showed he would be a step back.

Well, maybe you’re thinking they could look for outside help? They could, but there isn’t anyone available that screams, “sign me now, I am an upgrade.”

The next aspect is the play-calling. To put it simply, the play calls consistently put the running back in a bad position by using them in their weakest area. Calling a stretch run for Montee Ball is going to fail, he simply doesn’t have the speed or burst to execute it. Calling a between the tackles run for Ronnie Hillman is going to fail, he isn’t a power back and goes down on first contact often. The Broncos have gotten predictable with their play calls, even in the passing game, but it is worse for the run game. It is clear to everyone just when and where they will run.

There are a few ways for them to fix this. First step, would be to stop using one running back so much. This isn’t from a lack of faith in Ball, but if they want to keep using stretch runs, then sub him out for Anderson or Hillman who are faster, quicker and/or more agile to effectively and efficiently execute those runs. What happened to Fox’s love for running back by committee? It is time they go back to it. The Broncos have four running backs on roster, all of whom deserve some carries. Now, it doesn’t need to be an even split of 25% of carries between the four of them, but it gives the Broncos a chance to find something that works. Maybe one week Ball explodes and has a great game, but the next week it is Anderson. They need to be willing to switch it up, not just the play calls, but who is in at running back.

Using one running back and not to his strong point is never a good thing. When doing that, you are setting up the running back and offense to fail.

Finally, the final aspect is the running backs. Montee Ball has actually been good for what he has had to work with. Out of 15 running backs with more than 40 attempts, there are only two who have a higher percentage of their yards coming after contact than Ball. However, that is slightly misleading because how of often he has been hit in the backfield. That shows just how tough it is to bring him down. However, he needs to show better decision making when he has the ball. It is hard when the offensive line is doing so bad, but a few times they have opened a hole and Ball decided to go the hard way instead of hitting the hole.

Anderson also has been great, but when watching over the game, he has gotten better blocking upfront. It’s like Ball did something to the offensive linemen which makes them basically give up on him but block for others. That isn’t the case, just seems like it. Despite Anderson’s better showings, he has shown flaws that keep him as the second string, though mainly in the passing game. Hillman and Juwan Thompson both are deserving of opportunities, that doesn’t mean they are mistake free though.

So, what can the Broncos do to fix this? Honestly, just have the coaches work with the running backs more. Work on their flaws and some improvement should be seen. Would outside help at RB be a move? No, there isn’t any running back in the NFL who could have great success behind this offensive line and dealing with the play-calling.

In conclusion, all three aspects are hurting the run game. The big issue though is upfront. The Broncos need to fix the run blocking. Even with bad play-calling, they could see more success if the offensive line executes. Once the run blocking is fixed, then they can work on their play-calling and the running backs. The running game is won and lost in the trenches. That is where everything starts. So far, the Broncos have been losing in the trenches. With the bye week over, they should have that fixed. Only time will tell.

Erick Trickel is an Analyst for MHH. You can find him on twitter AlaskanBronco

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