King: The Eagles must 'take the air out of the ball' in Denver
Montee Ball (left), Ronnie Hillman (middle), Knowshon Moreno and the Broncos average 30 carries per game. (AP)
It’s the Broncos’ secret weapon: Running the ball.
The Broncos’ offense is not all Peyton Manning. It’s mostly Peyton Manning, but the Broncos want to run the football and like to run the football, and they’re actually not bad at running the football, and it’s one more thing for the Eagles to worry about Sunday afternoon in Denver.
In their win over the Raiders Monday night, the unbeaten Broncos rushed for 164 yards, including 109 in the second half.
Overall, only 10 NFL teams have run the ball more than the Broncos, who are averaging 30 carries per game.
It’s just that because Manning has been so insane, you never hear about it.
“The running game is a huge part of this offense and will continue to be a huge part of this offense,” Manning said. “If we can run the ball -- this is from the beginning of time -- it just opens up so many things in the passing game and hopefully keeps the defense off balance. We still try to be balanced every single week.”
Central Jersey native Knowshon Moreno has been the Broncos’ primary ball carrier, but Montee Ball and Ronnie Hillman give Denver a decent three-headed monster.
Moreno has the most rushing yards of the group (160), but Hillman (9-for-66) and Ball (11-for-61) did the most damage against the Raiders Monday night.
“It’s whoever has the hot hand,” Hillman said.
The Broncos use the running game mostly after they build a big lead. They’re not much of a first-half running team, with just 107 yards on 33 carries before halftime so far.
After halftime, they’re 54-for-229.
So that’s 3.2 yards per carry and an average of 36 yards in the first half and 4.2 yards per carry and 76 yards per game in the second half.
In the second half against the Raiders, the Broncos actually had more rushing yards (109) than passing yards (108).
Believe it or not.
“I think we made some strides last week,” Broncos offensive coordinator Adam Gase said. “It was good seeing us get some more chunks as far as our 10-plus (yards) running game. We hadn’t been doing that. We were kind of sticking to that three-, four-yard range per rush.
“We were 5.2 ... if you take away the kneel downs. It was good to see for us.”
Manning won’t hesitate to check out of a pass and into a run if he recognizes a defense deploying most of its resources in coverage.
“Peyton right now at the line of scrimmage is checking in and out of run games and pass games on what you present to him,” Eagles defensive coordinator Billy Davis said.
“When you have the light box, he's running the ball. When you have the heavy box, he's throwing the ball. Sometimes he's throwing you off. You can have a heavy box, he can still run it. He's calling the plays at the line in a great fashion. We have to stop that run equally well as a pass.”
The Chargers and Chiefs both ran the ball enough against the Eagles the last two weeks to keep the chains moving and the clock running, especially late in the game after they built a lead.
The Eagles held the Redskins to 74 rushing yards, but the Chargers and Chiefs combined for 272 yards on the ground.
Ironic that Andy Reid of all people ran the ball 38 times against the Eagles. But teams know that the best way to slow down the Eagles’ offense is to keep the clock rolling, and the best way to keep the clock rolling is to keep the football on the ground.
The Chiefs’ 38 carries are second-most against the Eagles in the last five years. The last 60 times a team has run the ball 38 or more times against the Eagles, they’re 55-4-1.
The Eagles have been solid against the run for the most part, but the Chiefs wore them down late, pounding out 83 rushing yards on 15 carries in the fourth quarter against a tired defense.
That’s the risk of a hurry-up offense. When the offense isn’t clicking and the defense has to play 40 minutes, stopping the run can be an issue late.
The Broncos might not run the ball quite that many times. After all, they have one of the most high-powered passing games the NFL has seen in a long time.
But they did run 35 times against the Raiders.
“I don't think it gets overlooked by us,” head coach Chip Kelly said of Denver’s ground attack. “I think obviously the notoriety goes to Peyton and the receivers (but) they're running the ball very effectively.
“Doesn't matter whether which back is in there -- Ball, Hillman, Knowshon. They're still running the same plays. It's not like they have a package just for this guy and they're featuring these certain type of players. Seems like they’re running their game, doesn't matter who the back is.
“When we defend them or we're defending everybody, we're looking at everything.
“There may be more stories written about the [Broncos’] passing game, which is understandable. I know our defensive coaches are not saying, ‘Let's not worry about the run game, let's concentrate on the pass.’”