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As Broncos’ ground game goes, so goes its win-loss record

As Phillip Lindsay would say, it’ not that complicated.

Miami Dolphins v Denver Broncos Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images

There’s a pretty interesting stat as Broncos’ wins go.

When Phillip Lindsay gets more than 100 yards on the ground, Broncos win.

Lindsay didn’t quite make 100 yards, and he wasn’t even the top rusher against Miami, but Denver still got the W Sunday and the theme remains accurate - if Broncos have a good day on the ground, the offense is having a good day on the scoreboard.

“I’ve always said a quarterback’s two best friends are a running game and a good defense - and, for the most part, we had that going tonight,” head coach Vic Fangio said after the game. “It reflected in Drew’s [Lock] play after he threw the early interception. I think he was pretty solid after that. It was a great team win.”

In fact, the running game was so good, the team was able to include a few new running plays from the playbook.

“We had a couple new runs because of the types of fronts (Miami) plays. It was good game planning by the coaches,” Fangio said. “A couple of them popped nicely. We had a 20-yarder by Phillip, a 25-yarder by Mel, just some big plays. We were able to stay with it too and that’s two-fold. Part of the problem in the Atlanta game was we got too far behind. It’s hard to run it when you’re behind. Then in the Raider game, we ran it but were going three-and-out a bunch and that cuts down on your opportunities. Having success with it helped the early-down passing game too.”

The running backs agreed.

“I think we just had a great scheme. I thought coaches did a great job with scheming up the fronts and the looks and being able to check some great looks for the runs—so I think that’s what it came down to,” said Melvin Gordon III. “Then, honestly, everyone executed. I think the line did a phenomenal job. Garett was out there being a bouncer—bulldozing guys over. He was making some really great lanes for us and then all we had to do was make a couple guys miss, so that’s what we did. It was a great team effort.”

In addition to scheme and execution, Lindsay figured something else helped the run game too.

“We came with attitude,” he said, adding another plug that a team has to remain consistent with the run game. “That’s what it comes down to. When there’s a bad play, you still do it. When there’s a good play, you go back to it. You’ve got to stay consistent no matter what you do because you never know when you’re going to break one. Plus, it gets your offensive line in a groove.”

The pitbull running back believes that sometimes the simple solution is the best.

“We can win all the rest of these games. It’s the NFL. We all do the same thing. It’s about executing. There’s no science to this. You can put all the cute things together, the pass plays here and try to hire people, but at the end of the day, can you beat them in the front? Can you get five yards? Can you get 10 yards? Can you get 15? Can you get a touchdown? Can you make those first downs turn into touchdowns?” he said. “You do that, that’s all there is. This generation, we make things too complicated.”

No. 30 also had big props for his linemen, who definitely didn’t make it complicated yesterday.

“You guys see Garett Bolles out there? The stuff he is doing is Pro Bowl. He’s having a hellacious year. His partner-in-crime Dalton [Risner] doing his thing, [Lloyd] Cushenberry doing his thing and [G] Graham [Glasgow] and [Austin] Schlottmann, all of them are out there doing their thing. That shows you that if you go and trust the run game and you go out and give it everything you’ve got, it’s going to open up.”

Drew Lock definitely realized that too.

“They were awesome,” he said of his running backs. “Phil is—I don’t really know how much Phil gets talked about in the media or if he gets pumped up or shot down, but he deserves a whole lot of credit for this run game and this offense. You guys see the plays on the field but him in the locker room—him in the huddle from last year to this year—it’s a completely different Phil. I’ve been extremely impressed with how he’s progressed as a leader for this offense and just as a football player in general.”

Lock also understands how much he needs the running game - which tallied 189 yards between Gordon’s 84, Lindsay’s 82 and Lock’s own 23 addition.

“Without a doubt. A balanced offense is always the best offense. There are games where we start slow and we get down, the offense on the other side scores, and we’ve got to throw the ball a little more. That’s just the game of football,” he said. “It’d be ideal to be super balanced all the time and attack and mix things up on a defense sometimes. But like I said, you get down and you’ve got to throw it more than you’d like.”

In fact, the quarterback had a lot of compliments to spread around for the good day.

“Our run game tonight exploded and that’s a testament to ‘Munch’ [Offensive Line Coach Mike Munchak] and [Offensive Quality Control Coach Mike] Shula and [Offensive Coordinator Pat] Shurmur and all the guys—[Running Backs Coach Curtis] Modkins—all those guys planned their butt off this week,” he said. “We had awesome planning going into this. When you see that game plan come rolling in and you do a little Monday and a little Tuesday, you’re like, ‘OK, here we go. We’re going to roll this week.’ I’m really proud of the guys tonight.”

After the Broncos’ first drive - that looked headed to a three-and-out before it ended in Lock’s 11th interception of the season - Broncos fans would have been justified in throwing up their hands over the second-year quarterback who has struggled to control the offense this season.

Lock in no way cleared himself completely of “the jury is still out” category, but the way he bounced back the rest of the game speaks volumes of his resolve.

And Dalton Risner is a big part of that. The left guard went up to Lock after the interception and gave the QB a hug.

“You know, I don’t know how much it helped him. Maybe he could talk to you and he’d say, ‘Man, Dalton’s annoying as heck. I wish he would quit talking to me,’ but that’s my boy and I got so much belief in him,” Risner said. “I knew he could play a great football game today and that’s exactly what he did. He stayed composed. He did some stuff out there that people probably didn’t even notice in terms of play calls. He did a heck of a job, man, so that’s my guy. I’m ride or die with him.”

For his part, Lock is anything but annoyed by his lineman’s support.

“Dalton—we’ve been like this since we got here. ...He knows me better than anyone else on this team—him and ‘Ryp’ [QB Brett Rypien],” Lock said. “I’ve been so appreciative of having those guys around to help me get through some of these things. It’s a testimony to them.”

An offense’s belief in its quarterback is key, but it really starts with how the QB handles the outside pressure. Lock proved more than worthy of handling that pressure on Sunday - in a game he knew all eyes would be on him. And he was “absolutely” ready to show his team and its fans he was up to the task.

“This was a game that was pretty much chalked up before we even played it. In a lot of people’s eyes there was no way we were going to be able pull this one off,” he said, calling that mentality “typical” NFL football. “You’ve got to take it week by week—that’s what I’ve figured out. That was a really hot Dolphins team coming in. They’ve been scoring points on defense, having turnovers and taking the ball away from the offense. I was extremely determined.”

Gordon certainly saw it.

“I just feel like, as a quarterback, you have to be able to have that mindset to where nothing can get to you. You have to go out there and just make a play. When everyone is against you, you have to understand and know that your teammates are with you, and that’s really the only opinion that matters,” said the running back, who has experienced fan angst himself. “He probably ran across some things and probably heard some things, but good quarterbacks block that out and do what needs to be done. ...For him to come out here and be resilient and do what he needs to do to help this team—and lead after he took so much heat last week, it just shows what type of player he is.”

Even for the defense, which had its back to the wall more than once but came through especially big when it counted, saw its quarterback come back after giving the Dolphins a short field and easy chance at a TD. Leading the offense down to the end zone to tie the game early and eventually go ahead so they could play with a lead was huge for the defense.

“I think Drew comes back from bad plays. I think that’s one of his good qualities,” Fangio said. “I don’t think he lets it linger and has a hangover from it. Again, getting the running game going helps the boot game and having the defense play well alongside that turns it to where it’s not a game where you have to throw it every play and they can tee off on the rush.”

Justin Simmons - who had an interception taken back over a penalty - almost saved the offense twice. But after Gordon fumbled away a touchdown that could have put the game out of reach, the defense was called up again to come through.

And come through it did. The Dolphins benched rookie quarterback Tua Tagovailoa in favor of Ryan “Fitzmagic” and it almost worked for the Fins. But Simmons was not going to let the game slip away.

“Fitzpatrick is a hell of a quarterback. I think he’s a guy that is just not afraid to take his shots and his chances,” the safety said. “There at the end of the game, he’s moving the ball really well since he got in and we just kept telling ourselves essentially like, ‘We got to make a play.’ We have to make a sack fumble, couple pass breakups in a row, obviously an interception if we can, but we got to make a play because he’s going to be aggressive.’ I mean, that’s just how he’s made his living.”

Simmons and the Broncos’ defense knew the likely target was going to be DeVante Parker who had been making plays all game. Until the last one.

“They have great players on the receiving end of the football, and great running backs,” Simmons said. “Like I said, it’s just once we have an opportunity to make a couple plays, we’ve got to be able to come down with them. We had our sides a couple of times throughout a couple of those drives there with him and it took it to the very end of it for kind of a thrilling close.”

Thrilling, for sure. Almost aggravating, no doubt. But a complete team win, for once.

“Yes, for sure. I feel like this was the ultimate team game,” said Bradley Chubb, who had five tackles, one sack and one QB hit. “Our special teams played amazing, our offense played amazing and our defense played amazing. Even when the offense made a mistake, or we [the defense] made a mistake, they were right there, and we were right there to fix it up. It was one of the ultimate team games and I’m glad we had this game. It should for sure be one of those games that pushes us forward to more wins in the win column.”