I realize that the NFL considers the top rushing team to be the one with the most yards rushing. Using that definition we certainly were this year. The problem is that total yards are the least effective (but easiest) way of determining who has the best running game. The fact is, we were the top rushing offense only because we chose to run more than almost anyone else. That doesn't make you the best at something, only the most perseverant.
I realize this post will be contrary to what many fans believe about the 2011 Denver Broncos. Many fans hang their hat on the fact that Denver was "#1" in the NFL in rushing, and they believe that we only won because of our running game, given that the passing game was so anemic. I've argued with various folks on MHR that our running game really isn't as good as it looks, at least in the areas that matter. Let me illustrate after the fold.
|7 Wins||7.2 Wins||7.8 Wins||7.2 Wins|
Looking at the above categories, "total yards" had the poorest correlation to winning of these categories for the 2011 NFL season. The category with the best correlation to winning, was TD% of attempts. Denver was one of the worst teams in this regard, and without Tebow would have been. What made this season difficult on offense, was Tebow would have to score, whether it was on the ground or through the air. There was very little production in terms of scoring from the other skill players. The old adage that "a running game is a QB's best friend" is true, except maybe if the QB is a big chunk of it. I don't want to diss McGahee's season--it was a real achievement. We haven't had a 1000 yard rusher in a while and he resurrected his career in the process. There were times where he showed a fantastic burst to the second level, but only a couple times did he get into the endzone on a big run. When we did get down to the goal line, he wasn't able to punch it in and for the most part we depended on Tebow to bang it in from short.
Our short running game wasn't very effective for stretches of the season. We win the Tennessee game if McGahee gets it in from the Ten 1 yard line. Any running game at all would have helped us win the opener against Oak too. Later in year we had quite a few 3rd & <2 situations where we couldn't convert. Overall, we were successful on 3rd & <2 62% of the time running the football. That sounds good when you're a 30% 3rd down team, but we need to better next year. Teams that convert that 8 or 9 times out of ten can keep drives going. That would be the easiest way to improve on third down--run better on 3rd and short!
We ran a hell of a lot on first and second downs this year. At times we were very effective but for the most part, we had way too many 3rd and longs. Yes, part of that was because Tebow had such a low completion percentage. But if you look at the play-by-plays, there were many drives that stalled because we ran running plays that didn't produce. Our running game was feast or famine, and when it was famine, we either kept doing the same thing or tried to depend on Tebow to suddenly light on fire. Over a third of our 3rd down situations were 3rd and >8 to go. We converted 13/73 of such situations (18%).
I don't know what all the solutions are to get more efficiency from the running game, but I think we need someone who can get to the second level quicker. I myself don't believe Moreno is the guy. Johnson may have some of that burst but he didn't get enough playing time to get a good look this year. Likely we need a speedy draft pick. Older or even mid age free agents probably won't cut it. We need more speed at the position.
We also need someone who can be a bulldozer in the short yardage situations. We need that to be automatic. McGahee converted 7 of 12 3rd down attempts when under 2 to go (heck Lance Ball was 5/5!). That isn't good enough. We need someone else because Tebow wasn't much better (4 of 7).
In summary, I think we need two things to fix the running game--a speedy devil and a bulldozer. Rarely is this the same human being. Many of the mock drafts have us going for a speedy runner. I totally agree but I think we need the bruiser also, from somewhere. Thoughts?