DENVER — Offenses, like diets, are better when they are balanced.
When the Broncos throw caution to the win, they almost never win. While developing a young quarterback in Drew Lock, the Broncos' success is rooted in the ground. Sunday drove that point home as the Broncos perfectly sprinkled in a run-pass mix to deliver their first victory against a team with a winning record.
For three hours, the blueprint came to life. After a suspect start — 0-for-6 passing with an interception — Lock completed 18 of his final 24 passes for 270 yards. There was no reason to let it eat with big throws. The punishing running attack created open receivers, leading to more high percentage throws and better ball security over the final three quarters.
This is how the Broncos can succeed, if not win.
The problem is doing it consistently. The Dolphins entered the game ranked 22nd against the run (128.1 yards), leaving them vulnerable to gashing if the Broncos avoided an early deficit. The Saints have yielded the fewest yards on the ground, and lowest yards per carry (3.3) this season.
Trusting the run is paramount. Even if it requires patience. But that will be impossible if the Broncos fall behind, changing the formula. Sunday, the Broncos, in essence, asked Lock not to lose the game rather than win it, a more fair expectation given his relative inexperience and 7-6 career record.
"As a team yesterday, we ran the ball better, and played good defense for the most part. And to me those are a quarterback's best friends. And he had them yesterday," coach Vic Fangio said Monday. "The more we can do that as a team, the more Drew will be able to develop in a more logical progression."
When Lock throws 40 times in a game, he is 1-3. Prior to Sunday, he averaged 39 passes per game, if you subtract his one-quarter cameo against the Steelers. Last season, when he went 4-1, Lock averaged 31 passes per game. It proved a prudent formula. Lock wasn't exposed to high-risk passes, he learned from mistakes and developed confidence.
The hope is that Sunday can serve as a catalytic moment. Yes, the pass can be used to set up the run. But Denver is better off the other way around. It is proven that offensive lines gain rhythm when allowed to run with regularity. It creates a mindset, one on full display Sunday.
"We put on the work gloves before we came to work today. It was about the guys on the other side of the ball and it was about winning that battle," left guard Dalton Risner said. "It was personal."
Melvin Gordon, pictured above, rushed for 84 yards on 15 carries with two touchdowns. Phillip Lindsay added 82 on 16 carries. One play in particular revealed the proper execution. Lock took the shotgun snap, and handed to Lindsay on his left. Tight end Noah Fant blocked inside, right tackle Demar Dotson kicked outside and center Lloyd Cushenberry pulled and won his one-on-one. Lindsay bolted for 20 yards.
"At the end of the day, we came with attitude. You have to be able 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," said Lindsay, who ranks third in the NFL among running backs at 5.4 yards per carry.
"Plus, it gets your offensive line in a groove. 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 doing his thing, Cushenberry doing his thing and 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.”
In their four wins this season, the Broncos average 137.2 yards and 29.2 attempts on the ground. In their losses, they average 100 yards and 24 attempts. Following Sunday's 33 attempts, the goal should remain 30 rushes per week.
Realistically, it might not pay off against the Saints. There is no crime in that. But leaving the season with an offensive identity and an improving quarterback are paramount to this team's health moving forward.
The idea of Von Miller returning is starting surface as he is more than two months removed from surgery to repair a dislocated ankle tendon. Miller has said repeatedly that he plans to come back. But there is no timetable yet. "I think he's progressing well. I think it's too early to say if he will play or not. He hasn't had medical clearance to practice. Until he does that, it is a moot point. I know he wants to play. We would love to have him out there, but would only have him out there when he's ready," Fangio said. ...
Right guard Graham Glasgow left Sunday's game with a lower leg injury as Austin Schlottmann filled in for 10 snaps. "It might not have been his calf that was bothering him. He may have sustained -- maybe altered his gait or something -- but he’s got a little soreness in his lower leg. I don’t think it’s anything serious.” ...
Taysom Hill is the first Saints quarterback since 1971 to post 50 rushing yards and two rushing touchdowns in a game. Archie Manning was the last to do it.