We heard it all offseason, "We're going to get the running game more involved" or "We're going to have a much more balanced attack." Hooray, that sounds amazing, right? Well, this season has been anything but sunshine and rainbows when it comes to the Broncos running game. But who's to blame?
I admit it, I'm a Montee Ball fanboy. I loved him in college and I was ecstatic that the Broncos selected him in the draft. Man, the hype machine known as Pete Baron (Big_Pete) was in mid-season form from the get go. 1,000 yards? Bah, that's for losers. 1,500 yards for Montee? Pft, what, is he gonna be sitting out half the games because of blowouts? 2,200 yards for the all time record? Now you're talking baby!!!
However, even I have to admit that I'm severely underwhelmed by Montee's performance this year. He has looked mediocre at best. Even Montee Ball himself has admitted as much when he told Denver Broncos columnist Andrew Mason, "Right now, we need a lot of work in it," said running back Montee Ball. "It starts up front, it starts with the tight ends, and especially with the running backs too. Collectively, we all need to sit down and really focus on it. And we will."
Bingo! Montee hit the nail on the head when he said it starts up front. For how underwhelmed and disappointed we all are in the Broncos running game, can we really point a finger at Montee Ball? Sure, you have to consider the source of this question (me), but think about it for a second. How much success can Ball or C.J. Anderson or even Ronnie Hillman have if they are getting blasted behind the line of scrimmage? What running back in the history of the NFL not named Barry Sanders has had amazing success when he gets hit behind the line?
Furthermore, it isn't like it is just Montee who is struggling. If C.J. Anderson was averagingt 4.5+ yards on an equal number of carries and Ronnie Hillman were averaging 4.5+ yards, then sure, maybe we should all be pointing the finger at Ball. But that simply isn't the case, now is it? Lets pull up our handy dandy stats sheet and find the first Denver Broncos running back when we filter by yards per carry for "qualified" (meaning 25+ carries) players ... scrolling .... still scrolling .... (hmm, did I pass someone up? Cause we're getting pretty low on the list)... still scrolling... bingo! Wait, that can't be right. The highest ranked Broncos running back by ypc is Montee Ball coming in a paltry 36th in the NFL with a 3.4 ypc average? No! I refuse. Lets carefully scroll through that list again... Wow, yes, #36 is where a Broncos running back first appears.
Yes, when I click on "all players" to see the people with a carry here and a carry there, we will see C.J. Anderson with a 5.0 ypc average on 11 carries coming in at #53, but that proves my point all the same. It isn't necessarily a lack of talent at the running back position, it's the lack of a chance given by the offensive line and tight ends. Sure, Barry Sanders can get smashed 3 yards behind the line and then do a quadruple spin move with a Matrix triple reverse somersault en route to an 87 yard touchdown, but that was Barry Sanders, and there has never been a running back like him since.
The offensive line needs to give our running backs a chance to succeed, plain and simple. On paper, the Broncos should have enormous success, but with the harsh reality of Louis Vasquez having a back injury (worst kept secret in the NFL), and Chris Clark ultimately proving me correct, it's plain to see that the Broncos can't win a game that is played on paper. Is a shuffling of the offensive line in order? I contend that yes, yes it is, especially with Vasquez's back issues. Perhaps he needs to rest and recover. Does that mean that Kyle Jr. (Will Montgomery) gets inserted at Center and Manny Ramirez slides to guard? Or perhaps Monty can just play guard while Vasquez gets healthy? I'm not sure, but something has to be done. Perhaps Orlando Franklin needs to move back to Right Tackle and Clark tries his hand at Left Guard?
All I know is that the offensive line isn't good. They aren't even close to being passable. If the Broncos and their fans want to pound their chests about being in 1st place in the AFCW and Super Bowl favorites, a lot of things need to happen because right now, the Broncos are nowhere near the caliber of a Super Bowl team, and it all starts up front. Blame the running backs? I don't think so!