While the entirety of the NFL is fixated on Peyton Manning as the focal point of the Denver Broncos offense, the running game has been performing well. Both of Denver's first two opponents, the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Atlanta Falcons, have very good defenses. Despite that, running back Willis McGahee amassed a total of 177 yards rushing and two touchdowns against them. While he's seemingly well on his way to another 1,000-yard season, the Broncos badly need for someone to step up behind McGahee and produce.
McGahee turns 31 in a few short weeks, and running backs in the NFL usually have a ticking clock inside their bodies telling them how much longer they will be able to play. McGahee had his eighth 100-yard rushing game with the Broncos this past Monday against the Falcons, and that tied him for most 100-yard games in the NFL over the past two seasons with Arian Foster (who just turned 26-years-old). The Broncos need to find a way to keep McGahee productive while still limiting his carries so that he's fresh by the end of the season.
The problem has been finding someone to step up to run effectively when he's off the field. Outside of McGahee and Manning (and if I'm discussing the rushing ability of Peyton at some point in the future, the Broncos are in serious trouble), the Broncos have only given 11 carries over two games to other players (eight to Knowhon Moreno, three to Lance Ball).
Moreno has the talent to be a high-level running back in the NFL (he was taken in the first round by the Broncos back in 2009), but that potential has yet to be realized. He's had a fairly injury-prone career, and is currently coming back from a torn ACL suffered last season. I know the Broncos don't want to put a heavy load on him this early in the season because of the ACL recovery, but Moreno needs to do more when he does get the ball. A total of 15 yards on eight carries isn't going to cut it. Moreno may be the guy with the second-most carries behind Moreno, but he was listed fourth on the running back depth chart at the end of training camp. Many Broncos fans wondered if the Broncos would even keep Moreno on the team, but clearly his potential in this new Manning-led offense is tantalizing enough for the Broncos to want him around.
The Broncos also have Lance Ball and rookie Ronnie Hillman. Ball has actually outgained Moreno on far fewer carries (18 yards on three carries). I don't believe he's ever going to be a first-string running back, but he does offer a more productive option at backup than Moreno right now. Hillman is the guy that many Broncos fans hope is the eventual speedy, explosive option to McGahee. The Broncos, however, haven't even had Hillman active the first two games. Hillman injured his left hamstring in training camp, and it appears the Broncos are still taking it slow with him. They appear to also want him to be fully versed in this new offense before he does play in a game. When he does finally take the field, expect a few fireworks. Hillman is easily the fastest running back on the team, and his speed will most certainly light up a few defenses down the road.
Julie is a featured NFL contributor who covers the Denver Broncos for the Yahoo Contributor Network. A lifelong football fan, she started following the Broncos after moving to Colorado in 2001.
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