Oct 19, 2014; Denver, CO, USA; Denver Broncos running back Ronnie Hillman (23) in the fourth quarter against the San Francisco 49ers at Sports Authority Field at Mile High. Mandatory Credit: Chris Humphreys-USA TODAY Sports
About a month ago, I wrote that the Denver Broncos should release running back Ronnie Hillman and move on from an immature player. Thankfully the Broncos chose not to listen to me because believe it or not, Hillman is now a key part of an offense that is starting to hit on all cylinders.
Before Hillman took over as the starter following the injury to Montee Ball, the Broncos could not run the ball to save their lives and it was hurting the consistency of the offense. The Broncos are a passing team but they are much more dangerous when defenses have to respect the running game.
There’s little doubt that the Broncos have played better as a unit as it relates to the running game but there’s a direct connection between Hillman starting, and the improvement. Hillman has infused life into the Broncos running game and that cannot be ignored.
In the two games that Hillman has started, the Broncos have ran the ball very well including a 37 yard touchdown run that showed off Hillman’s ability. He made one cut and once he hit the secondary, Hillman was gone.
He finished the night with 75 yards and two touchdowns but more importantly, Hillman forced the San Francisco 49ers to account for him. The Broncos don’t need Hillman to run for 100 yards, they need him to take some pressure off of the passing game and that’s exactly what he’s doing.
Hillman has proven through two weeks that he’s the better fit for this offense, and should remain the starter even after Ball returns. The Broncos offensive line is not built to open up huge holes in the running game, but they can open up creases and Hillman gets to those creases faster than Ball.
It should also be pointed out that Hillman has done this versus two of the better run defense in the league. Both the New York Jets and 49ers have been excellent versus the run in 2014 and Hillman gashed both of them for big runs
Before my article last month on why Hillman should be released, I spent two years telling people that his skill set was perfect for the Broncos offense. He’s quick, he can catch the ball out of the backfield and he stretches a defense laterally.
If defenses are forced to account for Hillman on outside runs, then the play action to Julius Thomas and Wes Welker over the middle is going to be even more effective. Linebackers are going to be forced to chase Hillman and the space behind them is going to open up, and no one is better at the play action game than Peyton Manning.
Hillman has also shown an ability to run inside over the last two weeks and is turning one yard gains into three and four yard gains. That tells me that his confidence is growing and he is thinking less. That’s not to say Hillman should be the guy on third and short, those responsibilities should go to Ball when he returns or Juwan Thompson.
Hillman recently told (paraphrasing) Les Shapiro, a long time Denver sports media member, that he finally gets it. He understands why preparation is so important. We can continue to criticize him for the past or we can accept the fact that the light bulb is now on, and his role in this offense is only going to grow.
As for Ball and Thompson, they have a role in this offense. Hillman is not built be an every down back and they all do things that can help this offense. However when the starters are introduced, it has to be Hillman that runs out of the tunnel.