Oct 23, 2014; Denver, CO, USA; Denver Broncos running back Ronnie Hillman (23) runs the ball during the first half against the San Diego Chargers at Sports Authority Field at Mile High. Mandatory Credit: Chris Humphreys-USA TODAY Sports
The Denver Broncos are going to beat the Oakland Raiders on Sunday and if they don’t, then we have a whole new story on Monday. The Broncos could go out and beat the Raiders easily by throwing the ball all over the field, but would that really help them down the road?
Before I get too far into this, let me make one thing clear. I am not suggesting that the Broncos should all of the sudden turn into a running team. They are going to win or lose with their passing game, that’s their identity but the running game needs to be better and that will require them to work on it at some point.
I submit that the game versus the Raiders provides the perfect opportunity for the Broncos to work on a struggling running game. Now if the Broncos want to use the passing game to get a two score lead early, then that’s fine. After that, however, the Broncos need to work on their running game even if it means they win by less than expected.
Offensive coordinator, Adam Gase admitted on Thursday that he is frustrated by the Broncos inability to run the ball and his frustration reached a boiling point in the loss to the New England Patriots. Based on Gase’s frustration I fully expect the Broncos to feature a run heavy game plan versus the Raiders.
There are also unconfirmed rumors that there are going to be major changes to the offensive line. Those changes include Louis Vasquez moving from left guard to right tackle, Manny Ramirez moving from center to right guard and Will Montgomery taking over at center.
In the loss to the Patriots, Ramirez was manhandled by Vince Wolfork and that led to problems in the running game and consistent pressure on Peyton Manning. The game last Sunday was the worst of the year for Ramirez but he has struggled all season, and might but better suited at his natural position of guard.
Right tackle has been a problem going back to the Super Bowl versus the Seattle Seahawks when Orlando Franklin was dominated, and it has not improved much in the early part of 2014. The Broncos tried Chris Clark there for a while but eventually replaced him with Paul Cornick. Cornick is now hurt and unlikely to play on Sunday.
Vasquez played right tackle with the San Diego Chargers and also filled in for Franklin in a game last season. Outside of Ryan Clady, Vasquez is the Broncos best offensive linemen and would represent a huge upgrade.
The wildcard in this scenario is Montgomery who has not played a meaningful down for the Broncos, although he was a starter for the Washington Redskins. When the Broncos signed him as a free agent, it was believed that he would compete with Ramirez for the starting center position. That battle never materialized but Montgomery may get his chance now.
It could be the simple fact that Montgomery needed this much time to truly grasp the Broncos offense. The center position is a difficult one on any team as they are responsible for the line calls, but it is even harder with the Broncos. Manning makes almost all of his play calls from the line of scrimmage and Montgomery will have to be able to keep up.
The frustration from Gase combined with what might be a big shakeup on the offensive line leads me to believe that the Broncos are going to run the football more than usual on Sunday.
Let’s be clear on one thing, though, the Broncos are not going to risk losing the game by being stubborn when it comes to the running game. If they need to throw to ensure a win, they will but if they get a lead then look for a big dose of Ronnie Hillman, Montee Ball (if he plays) and others.
Most believe that the Broncos will win this game easily and score 40+ points in the process but I’m not sure about that. I could see the Broncos winning 28-17 simply because they decided it was more important to work on their running game, than winning by a big margin.
The Broncos obviously need to make sure they win the game but they also have bigger goals in mind and they will need the running game to accomplish those goals. Sunday’s game might provide the perfect opportunity to get some much needed work done in that area.