Following his solid rookie campaign last season, there was plenty of optimism in Bronco Nation that Knowshon Moreno would have a huge year in 2010. Halfway through the season however, fans, and the Broncos, are still waiting for Knowshon--and the rushing attack as a whole--to break out.
Denver is averaging 67.2 rushing yards a game - which has ranked them dead last in the NFL. Knowshon leads the team in rushing yards with 252, earning him an ugly 3.3 yards-per carry average. Following Moreno is CorrellBuckhalter with 82 rushing yards (2.2 avg.), Laurence Marouney's 74 (2.1 avg.) and Kyle Orton with 90 yards on 18 carries, a 5.0 yards per-attempt average that is second only to Eddie Royal's 13 YPA average, and Royal has only rushed once.
Those disgusting numbers have been discussed and dissected all season long, while playing a large part in the Broncos 2-6 start. One of the reasons for the Broncos lack of running game is the inexperienced/injury prone offensive line. Another is the Broncos pass-first offense that uses running backs more for screens than rushing attempts. So while there are a few legitimate reasons why the Broncos rushing statistics aren't impressive, there's also many areas that could use improvement, and other areas that never should have been fiddled with, as I'll explain below;
The Broncos changed their Running Back coaches, schemes in 2009 As does every new Head Coach when he arrives, Josh McDaniels brought in new coaches with him, and let several of the old coaches leave. Among those who came and went were former Offensive line coach/Offensive coordinator Rick Dennison (now with the Texans) and former running backs coach Bobby Turner (now in Washington). To replace Turner, the Broncos signed the Bills former Running backs coach Eric Studesville. With the Broncos consent, Studesville employed Buffaloes' power blocking scheme, abandoning Turner's proven zone scheme.
Since that time, Turner's Redskins have averaged nearly 100 yards rushing a game and newly found starter Ryan Torain has pounded 391 rushing yards in his four starts. Down in Houston, the Texans, and new offensive coordinator Rick Dennison, boast of one of the best rushing attacks in the NFL. The teams starting running back, Arain Foster, leads the NFL in rushing yards (with 864), and has scored 10 touchdowns this season, while gaining an average of 5.5 yards a carry.
The saying "You don't know what you've got until it's gone" rings through loud and clear in this case. The Broncos rushing attack may be a little different today if Turner and Dennison were still in Denver.
Denver let brilliant Backs slip through their hands in 2009, and again in 2010
The Broncos let more than just assistant coaches move on over the past two years. Meet Ryan Torain. Drafted by former Broncos Head Coach Mike Shanahan in the 5th round of the 2008 NFL Draft, he was another dark horse coming out of Shanahan's secret running back factory. Unfortunately, Torain fractured his elbow in Training Camp that year and was not able to go until November. By that time, the Broncos backfield had been so depleted due to injuries, Torain got the start in week 9 against the Cleveland Browns. Not even halfway through the game, Torain had rushed for 68 yards and a score on 12 carries. Then disaster struck. As he was tackled on a play in the 2nd quarter, he suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) was placed on season-ending injured reserve.
The next season he was waived/injured by McDaniels the Broncos and eventually released with an injury settlement. He sat out the 2009 season and recovered from his serious injury that kept the Broncos, and every other team in the NFL, from giving him another shot. When Mike Shanahan became the Redskins new Head Coach, he signed Torain, only to release him a few weeks later, then sign him again - this time to the practice squad. After the Redskins went through multiple running backs, Torain was activated to the 53-man roster and thrust into the starting role. Rushing in Bobby Turner's zone scheme, Torain has averaged 4.3 yards a carry and rushed for 391 yards and 3 touchdowns in four starts.
The Denver Broncos could really use Torain right about now. They wouldn't have even needed him though if they had kept Peyton Hillis. After being drafted by Shanahan in the seventh round of the 2008 NFL draft, Hillis was the replacement to Torain after he torn his ACL in week nine. Taking advantage of his opportunity, Hillis went on to rush for 343 yards off 68 carries (5 yards a pop) and scored five touchdowns while leading the Broncos in rushing yards that year. The next season, McDaniels only gave Hillis 13 rushing attempts (which he turned into 54 yards and a touchdown), and only started him twice - each start as a fullback.
The Cleveland Browns then traded for Hillis earlier this year in exchange for quarterback Brady Quinn. You probably know how the rest of the stories goes. Quinn looks like he'll forever be a backup in this league and Hillis looks like he is on his way to the Pro Bowl. Starting in all but one game for the Browns this season, Hillis has rushed for 644 yards off 133 carries (a 4.8 YPA avg.), caught thirty passes for 229 yards and scored 8 touchdowns.
So what does all this mean? Don't try to fix what's not broken.
The Broncos have literally self-destructed their rushing attack by dismantling the coaching staff and giving up on young running backs. They now have one of the worst rushing attacks in the NFL, and it doesn't look like there's much hope of that turning around this season. Hopefully McDaniels and the Broncos learned from their mistakes and can make better decisions in the future. If they don't, the Broncos ground game could end up eternally grounded.