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Does Royce Freeman deserve more carries? Broncos offense looks to find traction on ground

Posted: 12:48 PM, Sep 20, 2019
Updated: 2019-09-20 17:53:26-04

ENGLEWOOD — No vitamins exist to create balance and regularity for NFL offenses. They are volatile stocks, changing weekly given the opponent. Reasons exist as to why the Broncos have not been in line, throwing 81 times compared to 47 rushes. They have trailed in their games, both losses, leading to Joe Flacco managing the clock late. And the short pass game, offensive boss Rich Scangarello explained, functions as a running play, calling it, "West Coast 101, Bill Walsh back in the day."

OK, but one thing needs to change for the Broncos to win for the first time since Dec. 2. The Broncos must be better on the ground in the first half, showing symmetry that can help improve their disappointing red zone touchdown percentage (2-for-7). In the first halves, they have rushed 19 times for 56 yards, or 2.94 per clip. Compare that to the second half: 28 for 129, and 4.45 per attempt. It illustrates why Denver has three first-half points in two games, worst in the NFL.

The Broncos have proven they can run the ball. But as they find traction, it often must be abandoned because of the score and the clock. Putting the mudflaps on early would help mute the Lambeau Field crowd, and aid a defense that figures to be chasing around future Hall of Famer Aaron Rodgers all day.

"We’re playing against good defenses. That’s what it is. They’re going to try and stop the run. We had a great run game last year so that’s what everybody is looking for right now. If they can stop the run, you one-side people. You just have to give us time. Everybody jumps to conclusions and things like that," said Pro Bowler Phillip Lindsay, who has rushed for 79 yards on 24 carries. "This is the NFL. At the end of the day our job is to get first downs and then first downs turn into touchdowns later on. If we can, as running backs, move the ball -- sometimes in 2-yard runs it doesn’t seem like much, but it does move the chains.”

Royce Freeman has been the Broncos' best threat on the ground, logging 110 yards on 21 carries. He is admittedly more comfortable in his second season after losing the top job to Lindsay as a rookie. For starters, Freeman is no longer bothered by an ankle injury that left him compromised. And his experience has translated to more confidence and decisiveness on runs.

"I try not to go out too much on the past or anything like that, but I think going into this year, I have more exposure to things I've done on the field," Freeman said. "I always want to just improve no what matter what, whether it'll be from last week or last year, going out there every game just trying to improve on my performance or whatever I have to do.”

While the pair are splitting carries, it's fair to wonder if they should be employed differently. Freeman has shown the ability to move the pile between the tackles. Lindsay is more effective on outside runs. The playcalling, at some point, will likely reflect this if Freeman continues his hot start. The Packers are allowing 9.5 points per game, but have been gashed on the ground for 122 yards each week.

"Each week, the plan is whatever is the best way to give the advantageous situation with their personnel and our personnel," Scangarello said. "We'll see how that plays out, but yeah we always want to be balanced.”

Footnotes

Receiver Courtland Sutton (ribs) returned to practice on Friday. ... Linebacker Todd Davis (calf) will make his season debut. ... The Broncos secondary remains without cornerback Bryce Callahan, who continues to be slowed by a foot injury that sabotaged part of last season. ... The Broncos are the only team without a sack this season. The Packers have allowed seven sacks. However, they don't come in one-on-one matchups against tackles David Bakhtiari and Bryan Bulaga. They remain two of the best in preventing pressure. It means coach Vic Fangio likely needs to look for places to get Bradley Chubb and Von Miller lined up against a tight end or following a blitz that creates a seam to Rodgers.