Running game rebounds, sets up success for Broncos
DENVER ” Jake Plummer faked the handoff, Mike Anderson ran into the line, then Plummer took off around left end with nary a Kansas City player there to keep him out of the end zone.
The simple, one-yard touchdown came courtesy of something the Denver Broncos did better than anyone during their Super Bowl seasons and beyond, but had struggled with early this year: Using their patented running game to make quarterbacks, receivers and everyone else in their offense more effective.
“We ran the ball well, which opened up the boots and the play action,” Plummer said. “I didn’t do much but just guided them down the field.”
Denver defeated the Chiefs 30-10 on Monday night to pull into a first-place tie in the AFC West. Gone are the memories of the season opener, a 34-10 loss to Miami, and even the Week 2 20-17 win over San Diego during which the offense was mediocre.
Replacing all that was the offense that showed up for the Chiefs. The Broncos ran for 221 yards and their effectiveness on the ground allowed Plummer to turn into a caretaker more than a playmaker. He went 13-for-18 for 137 yards, a solid-if-not-spectacular effort that nonetheless drew the ultimate praise from teammate Trevor Pryce.
“I think Jake played one of the best games I’ve ever seen here from the QB position,” Pryce said. “He looked so poised.”
It is, of course, much easier for a quarterback to look poised when the defensive line he’s facing has no idea what’s coming next. For the first time this season, Denver’s running game allowed that to happen.
The Broncos opened the game with a misdirection play, a 17-yard triple reverse to Ashley Lelie. Effective on their own, those plays often help down the line too ” momentarily freezing defenders when they see a receiver come in motion, passing behind the quarterback just as the ball is snapped. That type of formation and movement allows a zone-blocking offensive line like Denver’s to ease defensive linemen out of the way and open holes.
Exhibit A came 12 minutes into the game, when Anderson burst through a hole untouched en route to a 44-yard touchdown and a 10-0 lead. At first look at the play, it appears center Tom Nalen and fullback Kyle Johnson should get most of the credit for their upfield blocking. A closer look, however, shows they’re both going after the same player because the rest of the Chiefs defense has already been swept aside by the Denver line.
“We didn’t want to sit back,” Anderson said. “We wanted to go right at them. That’s why the first score was so important. We had to run the ball to make the play action so effective.”
Anderson finished with 98 yards. Lelie ran around end for gains of 17 and 39. Tatum Bell carried five times for 47 yards. The 221 yards were 53 more than the Broncos gained combined in their first two games.
“We did have four games in the preseason where we ran the ball pretty good,” coach Mike Shanahan said. “We just have to get back to that form. It was about time that we were productive running the ball.”
Of course, with the running game going, it makes the passing game that much better. Plummer was smooth, in control and never came close to making the mistakes that have troubled him in his first two seasons in Denver.
Which brings up a touchy question.
Back in Denver’s Super Bowl seasons, many Broncos fans were offended by the notion that John Elway’s skills were diminishing, but he was still productive ” maybe even more productive ” because the passing game was so positively affected by the run and play action.
The Broncos have failed to win a playoff game in the six seasons since Elway’s departure, leading many to believe ” probably correctly ” that simply crediting the running game for the late-career success of one of the best quarterbacks in NFL history was probably stretching it.
Still, given Plummer’s performance and the performance of the entire offense Monday night, it’s easy to see how good that running game can make everyone look.
“We just did what we were coached to do,” Plummer said. “Last week, we started fast and went into the tank. This week, we started fast and kept it rolling. Hats off to the guys around me.”
Summit Daily News, Summit County, Colorado
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