2010 Broncos: Run Game and Defensive Issues

| by Broncos Zone

After the Broncos first two games, it's clear they have some issues in the running game, both stopping it on defense, and making it an effective part of the offense. To discuss this subject in our 5th Blogger Blitz, we welcome in Sayre Bedinger of Mile High Report, Bryan Douglass of Broncos Stable, and Ian Henson of The Orange Page.

I first asked Sayre why Knowshon Moreno, who shows streaks of greatness and nifty moves, is struggling so much, especially in short yardage, averaging 2.8 yards a carry and just 50 yards rushing a game? Then I preceeded to inquire of Ian why the run defense has looked so vulnerable at times, and what can the Broncos do to address it? Lastly, I asked Bryan to grade the offensive line through the first two weeks of play. Here are the fellas answers:

Sayre --Why is Knowshon Moreno struggling so much?

That question is actually pretty simple. Knowshon Moreno and Correll Buckhalter are both struggling because the Broncos are just not a good run blocking offensive line right now, and won't be until their offensive line is fully healthy and they can start building some cohesiveness up front.

It's not because of Moreno's fault, though somet of it could be attributed to rust from missing most of training camp and all of the pre-season, but he is running hard and I like what I have seen out of him. One thing I've noticed is Moreno's abilities in the passing game. I think he will take a ton of snaps away from Buckhalter throughout the season because he's shown an ability to catch passes, while Buckhalter had three drops in a row in the Seattle game.

As for his ability to run the ball, I think you can look at a few different things in regards to the yards per carry ordeal. It took the Broncos three runs to get Moreno in from one yard out at one point, and their running in the second half, particularly at the end of the game when they were trying to run out the clock, was putrid.

Seattle did a great job of bottling up Frank Gore in their week one performance as well, and then you saw Gore bust out a good performance against the New Orleans Saints. I think Moreno played well in the first game against Jacksonville on limited carries, gaining four yards per touch, and I think as the season progresses, he will continue to get better.

Again, I don't think it's so much a deficiency of Moreno's as it is the line's inability to run block very effectively right now at all. You see our biggest runs coming off the outside where we have Graham, Quinn, or Gronkowski getting guys on the edgs, and allowing Moreno to use his burst and quickness in more open space.

Ian -- Run defense, the run defense has looked really vulnerable at times, what can the Broncos do to address it?

On paper the Broncos defense is bottom tier in the NFL (22nd overall), their run defense does have a lot to do with it. It looks like the easiest thing to blame, but how soon we forget. In the Broncos game against Jacksonville, Jaguars' quarterback David Garrard threw for three touchdowns; Maurice Jones-Drew, one of the best backs in the NFL, rushed for less than 100-yards.

This isn't the 2005 Denver Broncos defense, it looks like the team is again focused on a bend, but don't break philosophy (BBDBP). Here's a bit of information on the BBDBP, in this defense the goal is to not allow anymore than four yards per play. The philosophy being that an offense will need to put up 20 good plays in a row without a score. They burn themselves up, burn themselves out and your defense pounces when there's a mistake. This defense is of course very dependent on the defensive players themselves having little to no mistakes themselves.

So keep that in mind when observing Denver's run defense. Yes, it may look like it is struggling, but more than likely it's exactly what Josh McDaniels is going for.

Bryan -- The offensive line after two weeks... forced to give a grade, I'd have to say "Incomplete". To be fair, it's WAY too early to put forth a grade. However, for the Broncos it is especially difficult to determine how the line is doing. Those two games offer flip sides of the same coin.Against the Jags the Broncos were atrocious, giving up three sacks on 11 quarterback hits. Defenders were in the pocket all day long, and while Orton pulled it together for a respectable individual performance, the results were disappointing.

Against the Seahawks the Broncos allowed only one sack on one quarterback hit. I'm not sure how much credit the offensive line gets for those numbers, but it certainly appears to be a performance worthy of praise... and again, the results speak for themselves.
Put it all on the rearview, put the numbers away, and I come away with three bullets based on observation:
- The guard positions are still a point of concern and they remain unsettled. At this poing I'd have to say it's a position being run by committee... we've seen rookie Zane Beadles line up at three different positions including (if I'm corrrect in my notes) both guard spots and at right tackle. Stanley Daniels is getting starts at left guard and seems to have tied down Josh's respect there (at least for now). Chris Kuper, the leader of the pack, was supposedly healthy but aggravated his injured knee in Week 1, he failed to contribute in Week 2, and we have no idea where he's at heading towards Week 3 except to say all signs indicate it's not getting better any time soon. I labeled this as one of the top concerns heading into the season and it continues to cause headaches, especially when you consider...
- The Broncos can't run the football. They are averaging a woeful 2.4 yards per carry, they have yet to break a run over 20 yards, and the running backs have been the most injured part of a roster dealing with durability woes on all fronts. Worst of all, I'm not sure the Broncos have seen a true test from a capable run defense yet. The Jags haven't relinquished a single individual performance of note on the ground, but the Chargers averaged 5.0 yards per carry against 'em last week... and Ryan Mathews was only around for five carries before he left with injury. This team has dedicated a ton of time and more than a few dollars to running the football and thus far they are failing to bring it to fruition. Take a look at the upcoming schedule and I doubt you would come running (bad pun, sorry) to suggest they'll improve.
- At this very moment, rookie center J.D. Walton is the best offensive lineman on the team... and yes, I'm including Ryan Clady in the discussion. Like it or not the vaunted left tackle hasn't done so well in the Josh McDaniels system. He was schooled by Tamba Hali (twice) and Richard Seymour last season, he relented 2.5 sacks in Week 1 versus Jacksonville, and he continues to battle for health. Walton, on the other hand, has been every bit as good as advertised... if not better. He's still limited in his defensive recognition contributions (something that needs to improve for the Broncos to avoid the repeated second-half slide this year) but the kid is doing a wonderful job of anchoring the point, of working down the field with the play to contribute when the Broncos do get the ball past the line of scrimmage, and he's been a key source of force on the goal line. I discussed this recently with your buddy Kyle (of BroncoTalk) and we agree... as it stands today, Walton is the shining star of Josh McDaniels era of drafting football commodities for the Denver Broncos.
We will see, Jon... it's cliche to throw health out there as the crutch of hope, but that's the reality for this offensive line. They need Ryan Harris back and healthy. They need Kuper back and healthy. They need Clady healthy and performing at the level we know he can achieve. If they can pull those fates together, we MIGHT see an improved effort to run, and thus we might see the Broncos avoid the same downfalls that produced last season's frustrating end.

After all... the division certainly looks wide open, but we still have a ton of football to play.

A big thanks to the guys for taking the time to share your expertise! Be sure to check out there blogs for more insightful Bronco news and notes!