OK, I admit it, I am a huge fan of Peyton Hillis. It started the day we drafted him, and I have not lost faith in the player. I had seen his play at Arkansas and I knew he had the chance to be a special player, a type of RB/FB that we had never had. He appeared to be a cross between John Riggins and Mike Alstott. I thought that Denver got the steal of the draft.
I will also admit I did not think Moreno was the best back coming out of the draft and that where we selected him was too high, I did not see him as the game changing back that a guy like Adrian Peterson or LT was when he came out. I saw Moreno more as a good back, but not a top five back. That being said, I expected far more production from Moreno, he has probably the best RB coach in the league, is surrounded by other playmakers, and appeared to have a great O-line to run behind (more on that part later).
The running game in general has been below average this year. Some would say it is because the tough defenses we have played, others would say it is because the struggles of the offensive line, other say Moreno is a rookie and should be given a break. It may be because of these or a combination of all three, but a top 15 pick should be playing at a higher level. Running back is probably the easiest position to transition from college to pro, don’t believe me, look at the NFL rookie of the year award, it has been handed since 1967, and 31 winners have been RB. Still don’t believe me, lets look at Denver’s recent rookie RB production:
2007 – Peyton Hillis 343 yds for 5.0 yards/attempt
2006 – Selvin Young - 726 yds for 5.2 yards/attempt
2004 – Tatum Bell – 396 yds for 5.2 yards/attempt
2002 – Clinton Portis – 1508 yds for 5.8 yards/attempt
2000 – Mike Anderson – 1,487 yds for 5.0 yards/attempt
1999 – Orlandis Gary – 1,159 yds for 4.2 yards/attempt
1995 – Terrell Davis – 1,117 yds for 4.7 yards/attempt
While our rookie’s current production is 423 yards for 3.7 yards/attempt. As we can see the average per attempt is by far lowest. In addition, we have all witnessed the struggles with blitz pick-ups and ball security.
We could say that the problem is the blocking, and I admit that has been an issue. But I think there is a bigger issue behind the blocking and changing schemes. I think our biggest problem is that we do not have an attitude when running the ball. Any good running team feeds of the attitude of the running back. As amazing as Adrian Peterson is, it is his style that inspires his team and his O-line, how can you not get pumped when you see your RB toss DB away like used tissue. We all saw it last year when Hillis finally got his shot, how the offensive line and the team got excited, when they see him drag a 350 lb NT for 5 yards they wanted to go to work, when they saw him run over a LB and put him on his butt they wanted to hold the their blocks a second longer, and when he would pick up the tough yard on 3rd and short the defense also was inspired by seeing a back with attitude lead the team. This team’s running game has always fed off RB’s with an attitude, whether it was Terrell Davis laying out blitzers, Clinton Portis attitude that he would not be denied, Rueben Droughns running over people, this team needs a RB that can carry the attitude, that will do what it takes to get the tough yard. We are missing that, and that attitude and talent is sitting on the sideline.
I hope that Moreno becomes a better back and improves, but right now, Hillis needs a legit shot. He needs to be let out of the doghouse. He is the type of player the offense can rally around. Buckhalter has a great attitude, but he is frankly not cut out to be a starting RB and cannot wear down a defense. Hillis can pound a defense and open up opportunities for Buckhalter and Moreno later in the game. It is time for an attitude change and a change in thestarting RB, unleash Hillis and let the team follow.