If you’ve been watching the NFL for the first two weeks of the season, you would think the sky is falling. Whether it’s playoff teams from last season starting 0-2, or certain players looking washed out, as was the case for Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning through the first seven quarters of the season. That has been covered to death, including by Grantland on why Manning should retire. I’d rather focus on the backfield and what is going on.
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The Broncos running game is not running well. Being a consensus top-10 fantasy running back coming into the season, C.J. Anderson has underwhelmed. Anderson is currently averaging 2.33 yards per carry, rushing for 56 yards on 24 carries. Sure it’s a small sample size but compared to last season in games which Anderson had at least double-digit carries, he averaged 4.82 yards per carry. Ronnie Hillman averaged 4.27yards per carry last season on double digit touches. So what happened?
According to Football Outsiders, last season’s offensive line ranked 12th in run blocking, with an ability to help running backs get to the second level. Going into week 3, Denver ranks 26th in rushing DVOA, and 31st in runs up the middle. So far, Anderson and Hillman have 13 carries of 5 yards or more. That stat dump is basically letting us know that the offensive line is struggling.
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Denver’s offense struggled against the Baltimore Ravens and the Kansas City Chiefs are the 3rd best run defense in this young season. With the signing of Evan Mathis, most people would say that the Broncos were trying to reinforce the line with experience, but that signing was more for protection of Manning than to bolster the running game. Let’s not go into panic mode though. There is hope.
The Broncos are going on a stretch of games that could make us forget that the offense struggled to start the season. The Lions (19th in rush defense), Vikings (29th), Raiders (25th) and Browns (26th) lead the Broncos into their week 7 bye week, where they can prepare for a Sunday night showdown with Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers in week 8. The Broncos could get back on track a lot sooner than we think but we know that there are limits to what this team can do.
Manning can show flashes of brilliance, like what he did on the final drive against the Chiefs. It helps when you can throw anything in the direction of Demaryius Thomas and short routes to Emmanuel Sanders. But Manning doesn’t have much left in the tank. Keep an eye on the running game in the next few weeks to see if there is an improvement. If there is not, there is no way Manning can carry this team to the promise land.
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