Where Have We Been Running? (The Rushing Game by Play Direction)

BALTIMORE, MD - OCTOBER 10: Laurence Maroney #26 of the Denver Broncos runs the ball against the Baltimore Ravens at M&T Bank Stadium on October 10, 2010 in Baltimore, Maryland. Players wore pink in recognition of Breast Cancer Awareness Month. The Ravens defeated the Broncos 31-17. (Photo by Larry French/Getty Images)

     Raise your hand if you think there is not a problem with Denver's run game . . . I'll wait for the laughter and snickering to subside before I continue. The Broncos have definitely struggled with the run through the first five games. We have watched the rushing totals plummet across four weeks -- 89 yards, then 65, then 47, and then 19 -- before finally taking a step upwards -- 39 against Baltimore. But then, I'm not telling you anything you didn't already know, am I?

     Many different reasons have been advanced -- from injuries, to inexperience, to wrong personnel, to wrong coaches, to poor play calling. Certainly the results speak for themselves. There have been many solutions proposed in response to the situation, from bringing in new o-linemen/running backs, to changing the playbook, to firing coaches. Wouldn't it be  nice to have a crystal ball that would show the best path to follow?

     Last week, we took a look at how many times the Broncos have run on each of the downs and in each of the quarters. This week, there are a couple of things that might be worth considering as we ponder the future of Denver's running game.  Take a look after the jump.

Experience is not to be taken lightly


     In 2009, NFL.com began posting a statistics page called "Offensive Line." This thumbnail sketch of the 32 offensive lines looks at a number of statistics:

1)Experience. This is the total career starts for the two guards, two tackles and center on the team with the most starts in the current season.

2)Attempts, Yards, Average. These three are self-explanatory: the number of rushing attempts, yards amassed and the average yards per carry.

3)Touchdowns. Touchdowns scored on running plays.

4)First Downs. The number of first downs achieved by runs.

5)Negative Yardage. Rushes that resulted in negative yardage.

6)Ten Yard runs. Rushes that resulted in a gain of 10 or more yards.

7)Power. This reflects the percentage of runs on 3rd or 4th down with 2 or less yards to go that resulted in a first down or a touchdown. This stat also includes those runs that were 1st or 2nd down and goal to go from within the opponent's 2-yard line.

When we compare Denver's offensive line to the rest of the league, several things leap out at us.

First, Denver's experience rating is 95 combined starts.
     This is dead last in the NFL for 2010. The next higher team (San Francisco) has 124 combined starts -- or 30% more than the Broncos' line. The league average for combined starts is 276. Nineteen teams are above this. Denver is 181 games below this average.

     Think about this for a moment, in the first five games, only Clady and Walton have started all five games at the same position. Daniels and Hochstein have both started at left guard (Daniels 4 times, Hochstein 1). Kuper and Hochstein have both started at right guard (Kuper 4, Hochstein 1). Beadles and Harris have both started at right tackle (Beadles 3, Harris 2). The Broncos have not started the same five men on the offensive line two games in a row. The impact of this cannot be stressed enough. From what I've read, the ability of the offensive line to function with a single mind is crucial to the success of the running game. That ability comes through practice and game experience. The Broncos' line does not have it, at this point in time.

Second, Denver ranks 20th (114) in rushing attempts, 32nd (259) in yards, 32nd (2.3) in yards per carry, and tied for 13th (3) in touchdowns.
     The teams immediately on either side of the Broncos, in terms of attempts (New Orleans 116 and Detroit 113) have 119 and 151 more yards respectively, and yards per carry averages that are 1.0 and 1.3 yards better than Denver's. Denver has two more touchdowns than New Orleans and one less than Detroit. It is interesting to note that the Saints have 240 combined starts and the Lions have 393.

     It is also interesting to note that the next least experienced team (San Francisco - 124 combined starts) has nine fewer rushing attempts but 130 more yards, and an average that is 1.4 yards/carry better. Denver has one more touchdown than San Francisco.

Third, the direction of the runs matter (Running to the Left)
Here is a breakdown of the Broncos' runs to the left side through the first five games:

Direction
Plays
Yards/Carry
Left End
17
1.71
Left Tackle
23
1.22
Left Guard
4
3.75
TOTAL
44
2.23



     Some things to notice. The Broncos rank 31st in first downs to the left. They are tied for 4th in negative yardage plays when running to the left. Denver is tied for 31st in runs of ten or more yards. The Broncos are tied for 29th in power on the left side.

Fourth, the direction of the runs matter (Running up the Middle)
Here is the breakdown for runs up the middle:

Direction
Plays
Yards/Carry
Middle
28
2.57

 

     The Broncos rank 11th in first downs up the middle. They are tied for 22nd in negative yardage plays. Denver is tied for 26th in runs of ten or more yards. The Broncos are tied for 10th in power up the middle. All categories are markedly better than those for runs to the left (and as we will see, better than runs to the right).

Fifth, the direction of the runs matter (Running to the Right)
The runs to the right break down very closely to the runs to the left:

Direction
Plays
Yards/Carry
Right End
17
4.65
Right Tackle
15
1.80
Right Guard
8
1.88
TOTAL
40
2.78

 

     The results of runs to the right are very similar to the left also. The Broncos are tied for 28th in first downs. They are tied for 5th in negative yardage plays. Denver are tied for 26th in runs of ten or more yards. The Broncos are tied for 22nd in power to the right. One question that arises is that given the fact that the Broncos' yards per carry is higher when running to the right than either the middle or left, why aren't we seeing them run to the right more? My guess would be that the right side also has the higher percentage of runs that resulted in negative yardage than either of the other directions.

There are multiple factors that can, and most likely have affected Denver's running performance.


Offensive Line
     Experience is the primary factor. Not only overall NFL experience but also experience in working together as a unit. Not only did we have players miss OTAs, portions of training camp and preseason games due to injury, but we have also not had a stable line up on the starting offensive line in 2010.  Consider this:

Opponent
LT
LG
C
RG
RT
Yards
Yds/Carry
Jacksonville
Clady
Daniels
Walton
Kuper
Beadles
89
3.6
Seattle
Clady
Daniels
Walton
Hochstein
Beadle
65
1.7
Indianapolis
Clady
Daniels
Walton
Kuper
Beadles
47
2.6
Tennessee
Clady
Daniels
Walton
Kuper
Harris
19
1.0
Baltimore
Clady
Hochstein
Walton
Kuper
Harris
39
3.0



     As mentioned above, we have not started the same 5 players two games in a row. Only Clady and Walton have started all 5 games at their position. It would seem, with the return of Clady, Kuper and Harris all to the starting lineup, that the coaching staff has decided that Daniels was not to be part of the solution.

Running Backs

     Moreno, Buckhalter have both missed practice/game time due to injury. Moreno has missed more games than he's played in. Buckhalter has not looked like he did last year as a runner. LenDale White was brought in to be the #3 back but went down to injury in the preseason. Maroney was brought in to add depth and provide someone who was familiar with the playbook -- he has not yet brought the kind of immediate impact that we might have expected. Andre Brown has not added much to the running game either.

Rushing Defense of Opponents
Some may wonder if the quality of the opposing defenses have played a part in Denver's struggles. Obviously it has, but it is not sufficient to explain the Broncos' running problems. Our opponents, when measuring yards surrendered break down as follows:

Opponent
Rank
Yds/Game
Yds/Carry
Den Yds
Den Yds/Carry
Jacksonville
16
102.8
4.4
89
3.6
Seattle
2
72.8
2.7
65
1.7
Indianapolis
30
142.2
4.8
47
2.6
Tennessee
15
101.8
4.2
19
1.0
Baltimore
14
101.2
4.2
39
3.0

 

     Overall, our opponents have been pretty much in the middle of the NFL when it comes to giving up yards. So while it obviously has played a role, it is not simply a case of having played the best rushing defenses in the league.

Coaching
     Some have suggested that the problems reside in the coaching that the players are receiving. That may be true. Without being privy to the practices to see the type and quality of training, it would be nearly impossible to determine to what extent coaching is helping/hindering the running game.

     Something to consider: it is not like our offensive line coach and our running backs coach are without experience. The offensive line coach -- Clancy Barone -- had seventeen years as an offensive line coach at the collegiate level, one year as an assistant offensive line coach in the NFL, and spent the four years prior to joining the Broncos as a tight ends coach in the NFL. The running backs coach -- Eric Studesville -- has fourteen years experience as an NFL coach, including the last ten as a running backs coach. Does success in one area or level automatically equate to success in another? Not necessarily. But I would think that it would be better than no experience. In any event -- as mentioned abov -- there is no way, IMHO, to validly assess the degree to which the coaching is helping/hindering the running game.

Playcalling
     When we look at play direction, we can see that it is fairly well balanced.  44 to left, 28 to middle, 40 to right. 17 to each end, 23 & 15 behind the tackles, 12 behind the guards, 28 behind the center. Playcalling will be further reviewed in part three of this series as we look at where on the field runs were called.

Other factors
There are most likely additional factors that have not been addressed in this article. Feel free to toss them out for discussion in the comments section.

Final Thoughts

IMHO, the factor that has had the greatest negative impact on our running game has been the lack of experience -- both individually and collectively -- on the offensive line. Ninety-five career starts and never starting the same five twice in a row is not a recipe for success. A close second has been the injuries to the running backs. The loss of Moreno in games has been keenly felt, and the backups have not risen to the occasion.

X
Log In Sign Up

forgot?
Log In Sign Up

Forgot password?

We'll email you a reset link.

If you signed up using a 3rd party account like Facebook or Twitter, please login with it instead.

Forgot password?

Try another email?

Almost done,

Join Mile High Report

You must be a member of Mile High Report to participate.

We have our own Community Guidelines at Mile High Report. You should read them.

Join Mile High Report

You must be a member of Mile High Report to participate.

We have our own Community Guidelines at Mile High Report. You should read them.

Spinner

Authenticating

Great!

Choose an available username to complete sign up.

In order to provide our users with a better overall experience, we ask for more information from Facebook when using it to login so that we can learn more about our audience and provide you with the best possible experience. We do not store specific user data and the sharing of it is not required to login with Facebook.

tracking_pixel_9341_tracker