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Time for the Ronnie Hillman experiment to end

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Could C.J. Anderson lead the Broncos out of this two-game funk?

Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

The play was harmless enough.

The result has been anything but.

When C.J. Anderson rolled his ankle at the end of the first half against the San Diego Chargers and limped to the sideline, one thought the Denver Broncos would survive. Ronnie Hillman and Juwan Thompson would carry the load while Anderson took time to heal.

Two-and-a-half games later, the Broncos running game is stuck in the mud. When it comes to the final 30 minutes, the same holds true for the entire offense.

Over that time, Anderson got four carries and Denver went 1-2.

Coincidence?

Perhaps, but it shows Hillman is incapable of carrying the load. He spends more time dancing in the backfield, hesitates and runs with no confidence. Oh, and his knack for fumbles has returned.

If Anderson can walk this week, he should be the No. 1 running back for Denver. Give him the bulk of the carries and only use Hillman as a receiver or change of pace back.

"If I can run, I can play," Anderson told the media on Wednesday. "If I'm out there, I'm going to give it my all. With the opportunities that I get, I'm just trying to make the best of them."

The experiment of Hillman as a suitable, reliable back has failed. We've now witnessed two coaching staffs who have, for whatever reason, accepted that he's a good option for short yardage situations. But at no point has he produced in those key moments in games. More often than not, he fails ... or fumbles.

At this point, it's beyond perplexing why he gets so many opportunities to fail and put his team in even worse situations.

Anderson hasn't been able to stay healthy, but at this point a hobbled Anderson is the far better option than a healthy Hillman. Despite the fact Anderson only got four carries against the Pittsburgh Steelers, he still is hard on himself. Another reason he needs to take control of the running game for the Denver offense.

It's been said since the season started: If the Broncos want to make their goal of a Super Bowl a reality, the running game must take them there. That means when you have a 14-point lead in the second half on the road, you don't call fewer running plays than the first half when you got the lead.

It's not far-fetched to see why that happens. The Denver coaches have no faith in the running game. They shouldn't have any faith in Hillman, either.

What isn't a coincidence is in the comeback win against the New England Patriots, the running game played a huge role in sealing the victory. The coaches didn't abandon it as they did the last two games. As Mike Shanahan always said, success need not come every carry. More importantly, wear down the opposition so you can have success late in the game.

Did Gary Kubiak and Rick Dennison forget all of that the last two weeks? It's impossible to have success in the running game when you scrap it from offensive play calls.

It's also no coincidence that the running back who helped crush New England was Anderson.

Hillman had moments of brilliance this season, but he's too unreliable - you never know when he will fumble or lose six yards.

With two games left, and the most important game of the season set for Monday Night, the time for testing is over. The Broncos running game is at its best when Anderson is the guy, not Hillman. This is a playoff game for Denver. If the Broncos lose to Cincinnati the hopes of making the playoffs fall to slim and none.

John Elway made it clear what he wants from his team following the disappointing end to the last three seasons. He wants Denver to go out kicking and screaming.

If you want a refresher on what that looks like, watch the effort Anderson put forth in the playoff debacle against the Indianapolis Colts. He was one of the only players to do so in that embarrassing performance.

That's what the Broncos need now more than ever. When it matters, Anderson has shown he will deliver - kicking and screaming.

"No, we don't feel pressure," he said. "It's kind of the situation that you want to be in. You get a chance to play for something. It might fire some people up. That's how I look at it. It's fun."

Anderson's also helped his team win games this season - something Denver hasn't done the last two weeks. Two games in which he didn't play.

That's not a coincidence. It's a statement.