Reuben Droughns sure doesn’t run like a fullback.
The Broncos traded Clinton Portis, a Pro Bowl running back, to the Washington Redskins over the winter for cornerback Champ Bailey and a draft pick. Early returns on the deal appear to favor Denver, which has jumped out to a 5-1 record behind Portis’ replacements and a renewed vigor on defense.
Quentin Griffin began the year as the starter at running back before an injury sidelined him two weeks ago, opening the door for Droughns. With 369 yards on 68 carries, Droughns, used primarily as a blocking back earlier this season, has recorded the best two-game start as Denver’s primary ball carrier in the 10 years Mike Shanahan has been coaching the Broncos.
He had 38 carries for 176 yards and a touchdown Sunday as Denver buried Oakland 31-3. The carries were the most ever by a Denver back in a regular season game that didn’t go to overtime.
Coming into the season, Droughns had carried the ball just 40 times during his four-year career.
“He loves carrying the ball,” Shanahan said. “Any time you carry 38 times and still look fresh, that means you’re enjoying what you’re doing. The game’s not too big for him, and hopefully, he’ll keep it going.”
Denver has won four straight to take command in the AFC West, but Shanahan wants to make sure his team doesn’t forget how meaningless strong starts are without solid finishes.
Denver started with an identical 5-1 record last season, but lost four of its next five before exiting in the first round of the playoffs. Two seasons ago, Denver opened 4-1, but finished 9-7 and missed the postseason.
“Obviously, things have been going pretty good,” said Shanahan. “We’ve been able to do it four weeks in a row. Now, the question is, can we do it over the long haul?”
The Bengals will surely get a steady dose of Droughns on Monday.
Cincinnati’s run defense has been abysmal, allowing more rushing yards than any other team in the NFL. Browns running back William Green ran for 115 yards as Cleveland beat Cincinnati 34-17 last Sunday.
“They can’t worry about what’s written about them or said about them,” said Bengals coach Marvin Lewis. “And right now, they’re going to be attacked — somewhat deservedly so. We’ve earned it. The only way we’re going to get out of it is to go and fix it.”
The Bengals were hoping for a better record heading into their first Monday night appearance since 1992.
“In training camp, if you would have asked us to write down where we’d be at this point, I wouldn’t have said 1-4,” offensive lineman Eric Steinbach said.