Broncos' running game still on track

The Denver Broncos don't have many familiar faces at tailback, but they still can be effective running the ball.

Denver turned in a solid performance in the running game against Atlanta, rushing for 124 yards. The Falcons, who were second in the NFL in rushing offense coming into last week's game, rushed for 114 yards.

The Broncos had five tailbacks hurt going into the game against the Falcons. Four were on injured reserve. Selvin Young was inactive with a groin injury.

The Broncos turned to a fullback, Peyton Hillis, as the main ball carrier. He rushed for 44 yards on 10 carries and had a pair of touchdowns.

"It was good to have a good running game," said Hillis, who had two touchdowns. "We ran it when we needed to."

Hillis wasn't the only one to carry the ball against Atlanta. The Broncos wanted to shuttle in fresh tailbacks, so they also used Tatum Bell and P.J. Pope.

Bell was signed last week after being out of football for about two months. The former Broncos second-round pick was selling cell phones at a local mall before he was signed. He showed up in good enough shape to get some playing time, and picked up 34 yards on seven carries.

"I was just so happy to get in there and get my feet wet," said Bell, a former 1,000-yard rusher for the Broncos. "If it would have been one carry or 15, I'm ready for whenever they call me."

Pope's performance was the biggest surprise. He had no NFL carries before playing Atlanta, and was on Denver's practice squad most of this season. He was signed to the active roster after injuries struck, but didn't play until the second half against Atlanta.

When Pope got in, he showed a good burst. He had a pair of 15-yard runs and gained 35 yards on four carries. With that performance, he was hopeful to get more playing time going forward.

"I think I got the coaches trusting me a little more," Pope said.

The Broncos will have another option when Young returns, although he's not guaranteed to come back this week. Denver's backs all bring something different. Hillis, a former fullback, runs hard and appears to be a good option at the goal line. Bell knows the offense and is a slasher who can break a big play. Pope can also offer some speed on the perimeter.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "We're built tough." -- Broncos WR Brandon Marshall.

BY THE NUMBERS: Brandon Marshall has gone seven straight games without breaking 100 yards. He still makes big plays, as he did in the fourth quarter against Atlanta when he grabbed a 47-yard pass on Denver's game-winning drive, but he hasn't had a breakthrough game in a while. This week he gets Raiders cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha, who has rarely been targeted this year. The Broncos won't ignore Asomugha's side of the field because Marshall is a key member of their offense, but Marshall is unlikely to have a huge game against the stellar Raiders corner.

PLAYER/PERSONNEL NOTES

--CB Champ Bailey was inactive against the Falcons. He did practice on a limited basis a couple times in the week leading up to the game, and he could return this week.

--TE Daniel Graham had a game-winning touchdown against Atlanta. He doesn't catch many passes but he has made them count. He has four touchdowns in his last five games. His 9-yard touchdown against Atlanta was his only catch of the game.

--LB Spencer Larsen became the first player in franchise history to start on offense and defense when he started at fullback and middle linebacker against Atlanta. Larsen played only a few snaps at tailback but most of the game at middle linebacker and played well on defense.

--LB Wesley Woodyard had eight tackles in his second NFL start. The undrafted rookie is filling in for D.J. Williams and has played very well.

--QB Jay Cutler did not throw an interception against Atlanta. The Broncos struggle when Cutler turns the ball over, but in back-to-back road wins, he has thrown only one interception.



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