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A tale of two Broncos running games, part 1: destruction in Vegas

Comparing and contrasting the performance of the Denver Broncos running game over the past two games.

Denver Broncos v Las Vegas Raiders Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images

The Broncos running game was fairly bad against the Raiders and then quite good against Dolphins.

Denver’s running backs carried the ball 18 times versus Las Vegas and 31 times versus Miami. They gained 61 yards on the ground versus the Raiders (3.39 ypc) and 166 yards on the ground versus the Dolphins (5.35 ypc).

This is part one of a two-part series and will focus on what happened against the Raiders and why. Part two will discuss the Dolphin game with what and why.

On Denver’s 18 RB carries against the Raiders, the backs were hit behind the line of scrimmage on nine of them. Despite that, only two were stopped for a loss and two were stopped at the LOS.

Here is a chronological listing of the running back carries against the Raiders with a description of the number of defenders in the box, whether the running back got hit behind the LOS, and how many TEs were in the game for the Broncos.

In general, it is easier to run when you have more TEs in the game.

Quarter Time Down ToGo Location Detail Yds Defenders in box Runner hit behind LOS 2TE or more?
1 14:44 2 10 DEN 3 Melvin Gordon right tackle for 4 yards (tackle by Nick Kwiatkoski and Trayvon Mullen) 4 8 no yes - 3
1 9:28 2 1 DEN 35 Phillip Lindsay right tackle for 2 yards (tackle by Nick Kwiatkoski) 2 8 yes no
1 7:57 2 10 RAI 32 Phillip Lindsay right guard for no gain (tackle by Arden Key) 0 7 yes no
1 5:38 1 10 DEN 7 Melvin Gordon right tackle for 3 yards (tackle by Arden Key) 3 9 no yes - 3
1 3:44 1 10 DEN 21 Melvin Gordon left end for 8 yards (tackle by David Irving) 8 9 yes yes - 2
1 3:33 2 2 DEN 29 Melvin Gordon left guard for 1 yard (tackle by Johnathan Abram) 1 7 yes no
1 2:57 3 1 DEN 30 Melvin Gordon right guard for 6 yards (tackle by Nick Kwiatkoski) 6 8 no no
1 2:18 1 10 DEN 36 Phillip Lindsay right guard for -4 yards (tackle by Maxx Crosby) -4 7 yes yes - 2
2 14:38 1 10 DEN 2 Melvin Gordon left guard for 3 yards (tackle by Maliek Collins) 3 10 no yes - 3
2 13:59 2 7 DEN 5 Melvin Gordon left tackle for 6 yards (tackle by Nicholas Morrow and Erik Harris) 6 8 (7) yes no
2 9:48 2 10 RAI 23 Melvin Gordon right guard for 7 yards (tackle by Erik Harris and Maliek Collins) 7 7 no no
2 1:18 3 1 DEN 34 Drew Lock right guard for 2 yards (tackle by Maliek Collins) 2 8 no no
2 0:59 1 10 RAI 37 Melvin Gordon right tackle for no gain (tackle by David Irving and Maxx Crosby) 0 7 yes no
3 9:08 1 10 DEN 26 Melvin Gordon right guard for -3 yards (tackle by Clelin Ferrell) -3 6 yes no
3 0:36 1 10 DEN 25 Phillip Lindsay left guard for 4 yards (tackle by Nick Kwiatkoski) 4 7 yes no
4 9:03 1 10 RAI 42 Melvin Gordon left guard for 11 yards (tackle by Johnathan Abram) 11 7 (6) no no
4 1:54 1 10 DEN 25 Royce Freeman right guard for 9 yards (tackle by Nick Kwiatkoski) 9 7 no no
4 1:15 1 10 DEN 43 Royce Freeman right guard for 2 yards (tackle by Lamarcus Joyner and Nick Kwiatkoski) 2 6 no no

Melvin Gordon had a great game because of the number of tackles that he broke - many of which were behind the LOS. He was credited with six broken tackles in the game. He came into the game with seven.

This is 2nd and 10 from the LV 32 in the first quarter. The Raiders only have six in the box so we should be able to run here. Graham Glasgow is supposed to pull and either blast Carl Nassib if he plays this well or turn up and block a LB or S if Nassib runs himself out of the play. Both Dalton Risner and Lloyd Cushenberry are supposed to block down. Calvin Anderson is supposed to get to the second level. Troy Fumagalli is supposed to cut block the defensive end/OLB, #94. Risner and Cushenberry both get whipped on this play and the defensive tackles blow this up both hitting Phillip Lindsay behind the LOS and stopping him for no gain. LC3 basically blocks no one on this play.

On this next play Melvin Gordon gets hit behind the LOS and still gains 8 yards. There are 9 defenders in the box, or eight if you don’t count the safety who is cheating down toward the line. LC3 has a difficult task to block a front-side 3-tech. He gets beat and his defender is the first guy to hit Gordon.

This next play is first and 10 at the Denver 2. The Raiders have 10 in the box and we have three TEs in the game. By and large the line blocks this fairly well, although Calvin Anderson is unable to disengage from his double team with Nick Vannett to get up to the LB level. Gordon bends this back and ends up tucking in behind LC3 who gets a nice push on the LB.

LC3 does a good job on this play of helping Glasgow on the double team and then getting off the double to get to the LB.

On the very next play, the Broncos hand off to Melvin Gordon again. This time Melvin Gordon makes something out of nothing. The Raiders have 8 in the box (arguably only 7) and we are in a single TE 3 WR set. This appears to be a zone stretch run to the left with two receivers moving right to sell the bootleg fake. LC3 gets beaten across his face and Gordon has to break the tackle of his defender who also ends up knocking over Drew Lock in the process so that he can’t carry out his boot fake. The lack of boot fake means that the DE can crash down and hit Gordon behind the LOS. Gordon breaks that tackle as well and gains six yards on the play. This is all Melvin Gordon.

On the next play on 3rd and 1, the Broncos would try to throw off playaction instead of trying to run again. Lock would get sacked and fumble, but recover his own fumble. I would have liked to run on 3rd and 1, but I can understand Pat Shurmur’s call of a playaction fake on 3rd and 1.

This next play is 1st and 10 at the LV 37 with 59 seconds left to play in the first half. The Raiders have a light box (6) expecting the Broncos to throw. Noah Fant is only TE we have in the game. This play is set up nicely to gain big yardage, but Anderson gets beaten and it blows up this play as Risner has to block his man and the DE is there unblocked to tackle Gordon for no gain.

Good call, good play design - poor execution from our RT. There is a reason our running game was much better vs Miami with Demar Dotson playing RT.

The final play that I am going to review from the LV game is below. It was 1st and 10 from the DEN 26 with 9:08 to play in the 3rd quarter. The Raiders are showing a light box with only 6 defenders. They still hit Gordon behind the LOS. Both LC3 and Anderson get pushed three yards into the backfield by their defenders. Gordon avoids both defenders, but he is tackled by the defender that beats Fant across his face. When the opposing defense is able to destroy a running play while using a light box, there is not much an offense can do to counter that.

The stats from our rushing attach against LV are not terrible, but this mainly because Melvin Gordon was having a great game breaking tackles and making something out of nothing. With 50% of our RB runs getting hit behind the LOS. Running the ball more vs LV was not going to solve anything in this game. The Raiders front 7 was owning the LOS. Calvin Anderson was playing poorly, but he is far from the only offensive lineman who has blame for the terrible blocking in the rushing attack vs LV.