Ravens prep for Broncos' three-headed monster

OWINGS MILLS -- When it comes to an aggressive commitment to running the football and grinding for supremacy at the line of scrimmage, there are few football teams in the Denver Broncos' class. Between a three-headed hydra at running back and a gritty offensive line that specializes in cut blocks, the Broncos feature the second-ranked running game in the NFL.

Whether it's Mike Anderson, Tatum Bell or Ron Dayne lined up in the backfield, the result is typically uniform: lots of yards, lots of touchdowns.

Heading into Sunday's game at Invesco Field against the Ravens (4-8), the Broncos (9-3) are averaging 162.8 rushing yards per game.

"If we don't stop the run this game, they're going to run us right out of the stadium," Ravens outside linebacker Terrell Suggs said. "They've got a three-headed monster at running back. We are definitely going to have to bring it this week, or it's going to be pretty ugly."

Led by Anderson, a burly former Marine at 6-foot, 230 pounds, the Broncos' backs have piled up yardage. Anderson leads the team with 850 yards on 200 carries and nine touchdowns.

Bell is a smaller scatback type at 5-11, 213 pounds, and he ranks second in rushing with 686 yards on 11 carries, a 6.2 average, with five touchdowns. He owns the longest run with a 68-yard scamper.

And Dayne, the former Heisman Trophy winner at Wisconsin who didn't live up to lofty expectations with the New York Giants, has made timely contributions with 177 yards on 28 carries and one touchdown.

When asked how the Broncos dominate on the ground, outside linebacker Adalius Thomas replied: "Just by cutting defenses in half. Their style of running the ball, they have been that way for years since Terrell Davis and John Elway were there.

"The offensive line's style is to get you off your feet and cut you in half. We have to play real technique football, be sound upfront so we can stay on our feet and not get cut up."

The Ravens have faltered recently against the run.

They've dipped to 13th overall in run defense, allowing Jacksonville's Greg Jones (106 yards), Cincinnati's Rudi Johnson (114 yards) and Houston's Domanick Davis (155 yards) to eclipse the century mark in three of the past four weeks.

As a team, Denver has generated 1,953 yards and 18 rushing touchdowns. Although the Broncos lack an All-Pro running back, they are getting All-Pro production.

"Each offers a defense a different look, Tatum more than the other two," Broncos quarterback Jake Plummer told Denver reporters. "They are coached to run the same track and read the blocking of the offensive line after a handoff."

The runners' job is made simpler by an athletic, intense blocking corps headlined by center Tom Nalen. Between left tackle Matt Lepsis, left guard Ben Hamilton, Nalen, right guard Cooper Carlisle, who reneged on a verbal agreement to sign with Baltimore in the offseason, and right tackle George Foster, it's a highly-respected unit.

"The offensive line, certainly, you have to begin with that," Ravens coach Brian Billick said. "They do an excellent job with their scheme. They are wholly committed to what they do.

"They don't vary from it. They've done a great job matching up with their running philosophy."

Since 1995 when Mike Shanahan was named the head coach, the Broncos have rushed for more yards than anyone in the NFL with 24,441 and own an impressive winning record of 110-62.

"When you're young and you're calling plays for the first time, you always want to throw it deep, show everybody how smart you are," Shanahan said last week. "Then you get a little older, call a few games, win some, lose some, and it's pretty clear: If you can't run the ball, none of the things you want to do are going to work that well.

"And to run the ball, you have to commit to it. It isn't a part-time thing, it's full time. It takes commitment."

The Broncos aren't unstoppable, though.

They were slowed down a bit in a 31-27 loss last week to the Kansas City Chiefs as Anderson was held to 46 yards on 14 carries although he did take a 66-yard screen pass for a touchdown. Bell ran five times for 46 yards and Dayne ran for 26 yards on eight carries.

"Well, it didn't work in Kansas City because we lost," said Bell in reference to the three-man rotation.

That appears to be an aberration, though.

Anderson and Bell each have four 100-yard rushing performances, and Dayne set up a game-winning field goal against the Dallas Cowboys with a 55-yard run.

"It's all about that offensive line," Ravens defensive tackle Kelly Gregg said. "It's a tough group. It's going to be a big challenge for us. Their backs find the lanes and they hit it hard. We got to hunker down for the Broncos."


In addition to being a long time contributor to RavensInsider, Aaron Wilson writes for the Carroll County Times in Westminster Maryland.

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