NFL Denver Broncos: It's Not Madden Football At All

     I grew up watching the Broncos play long before computers were found in nearly every home, before the internet became the information highway, before Madden football became the  premier football video game and before fantasy football leagues abounded like dandelions during Iowa summers.

     Unfortunately, I'm inclined to believe that many fans perception of the game the NFL plays has been largely influenced by the Madden games and fantasy football leagues. Your team doing poorly? No problemo. Just make a trade or change a starter and your team will instantly improve without missing a beat. While it is true that, on very rare occasions, this will happen in the NFL, by and large, it takes time for new teammates to mesh and execute plays as a single entity. This is why the NFL has Organized Team Activities, Training Camp and the Preseason -- to give teammates a chance to better master their playbooks and learn to function together instinctively. Consistency is the key.

After the jump, we'll look at an example of how this true by looking at the Broncos' 2010 running game.

     First, the good news. Denver is no longer dead last in rushing offense in the 2010 NFL season. The Broncos now rank 28th in yards with 1398, placing themselves ahead of Washington, Indianapolis, Arizona and Seattle. They are 26th in yards per attempt at 3.8, ahead of Baltimore, Indianapolis, Miami, St. Louis, Seattle and Cincinnati. Denver is currently tied for 15th in rushing touchdowns with twelve.

     Does this mean our rushing game is good? Not hardly. Does it mean we've improved? Absolutely. What has keyed the improvement? IMHO, it is that we now are seeing consistency along the offensive line.

     Let's remember that the Broncos started the season with all three of the projected veteran starters (Clady, Kuper, Harris) coming off of injuries, as were our #1 and #2 running backs (Moreno and Buckhalter). Add in the fact that the back brought in to be the "smash mouth" back (LenDale White) was placed on injured reserve prior to the start of the season. Did this all have an effect? You betcha. Let's take a look at these first fifteen games of the season (changes are marked in bold and italics):

Game 1 - Jacksonville

LT LG C RG RT RB
Clady Daniels Walton Kuper Beadles Moreno
25 attempts 89 yards

 

Game 2 - Seattle

LT
LG
C
RG
RT
RB
Clady
Daniels
Walton
Hochstein
Beadles
Moreno
38
attempts

65
yards

 

Game 3 - Indianapolis

LT
LG
C
RG
RT
RB
Clady
Daniels
Walton
Kuper
Beadles
Maroney
18
attempts

47
yards

 

Game 4 -Tennessee

LT
LG
C
RG
RT
RB
Clady
Daniels
Walton
Kuper
Harris
Maroney
20
attempts

19
yards

 

Game 5 - Baltimore

LT
LG
C
RG
RT
RB
Clady
Hochstein
Walton
Kuper
Harris
Maroney
13
attempts

39
yards

 

     It is important to note that the starting running back did not earn all of the yards in any given game. The starter is included just to show how consistency can be affected by the running back as much as the offensive line. It is also important to note that the offensive line did not start the same five players in the same positions any two week in a row during the first five games of the season.

     During this span, the offense had a high of 89 rushing yards (Game 1) and a low of 19 rushing yards (Game 4). During the first five games, the offense had 114 rushing attempts that gained 259 yards, or 2.2 yards per attempt.

     In Game 6 against the New York Jets, the offense had a break out game, amassing 145 yards on 37 attempts, or 3.9 yards per attempt. The starting lineup remained stable for the next three games.

Game 6 - New York Jets

LT
LG
C
RG
RT
RB
Clady
Hochstein
Walton
Kuper
Beadles
Moreno
37
attempts

145
yards

 

Game 7 - Oakland

LT
LG
C
RG
RT
RB
Clady
Hochstein
Walton
Kuper
Beadles
Moreno
17
attempts

75
yards

 

Game 8 - San Francisco

LT
LG
C
RG
RT
RB
Clady
Hochstein
Walton
Kuper
Beadles
Moreno
17
attempts

59
yards

 


     Games 6 (NY Jets) and 7 (Oakland) represented the first time in 2010 that the same five offensive line players started in the same position two weeks in a row. Game 5 also saw the return of Moreno as the starting running back. This line up started strong, then slumped a bit, but still amassed 279 yards on 71 attempts for a 3.9 yards per attempt average. It should be noted that in these three games, the offense gained twenty more yards than the previous five games combined, and did it using 38% fewer rushing attempts.

     The next seven games marked another step in the consistency of the starting offensive line and the starting running back. Once again, we can see that there was improvement as a result.

Game 9 - Kansas City

LT
LG
C
RG
RT
RB
Clady
Beadles
Walton
Kuper
Harris
Moreno
31
attempts

153
yards

 

Game 10 - San Digo

LT
LG
C
RG
RT
RB
Clady
Beadles
Walton
Kuper
Harris
Moreno
15
attempts

63
yards

 

Game 11 - St. Louis

LT
LG
C
RG
RT
RB
Clady
Beadles
Walton
Kuper
Harris
Moreno
18
attempts

119
yards

 

Game 12 - Kansas City

LT
LG
C
RG
RT
RB
Clady
Beadles
Walton
Kuper
Harris
Moreno
23
attempts

161
yards

 

Game 13 - Arizona

LT
LG
C
RG
RT
RB
Clady
Beadles
Walton
Kuper
Harris
Moreno
31
attempts

132
yards

 

Game 14 - Oakland

LT
LG
C
RG
RT
RB
Clady
Beadles
Walton
Kuper
Harris
Moreno
33
attempts

106
yards

 

Game 15 - Houston

LT
LG
C
RG
RT
RB
Clady
Beadles
Walton
Kuper
Harris
Moreno
33
attempts

126
yards

 

     During these last seven games, the Broncos had only a single game with less than 100 yards rushing. They had four games where they topped 125 rushing yards. In two of those, the Broncos topped 150 yards rushing. During that span, the Broncos gained 860 yards on 184 attempts, a 4.7 yards per attempt average. This marked an increase of 601 yards over the first five games combined, and an improvement of 322 yards over the first eight games combined.

     There are three keys, then, as we begin looking at 2011 -- and yes, I'm firmly of the belief that the NFL and the Players' Union will figure out that they will both lose big if they end up in a lockout situation and will resolve their issues at the last possible second --  when it comes to talking about the running game:


(1)The Broncos must commit to a consistent set of starters along the offensive line and at running back.

(2)The Broncos must work to keep their starters healthy all season long -- including the OTAs, Training Camp and the Preseason.

(3)The Broncos need to find a "smash mouth" back to give the offense a change of pace and the ability to dominate short yardage situations. Given his history, LenDale White could be that back, should he be able to bounce back from his injury.

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