Broncos trying to revive a dead running game
The battle of attrition is emptying the Broncos’ running back room, one player at a time.
Injuries took away Denver’s most effective runners, C.J. Anderson and Kapri Bibbs. A combination of an increased workload, pressure, making the wrong reads, and a lingering shoulder injury have hampered current lead back Devontae Booker.
The result is a running game in desperate need of a spark as Denver embarks upon the fourth quarter of its season, beginning Sunday at Tennessee. The Broncos were counting on their running game to be the core of their offense, making life
easier for their young quarterbacks. That hasn’t been the case.
Newly-signed running back Justin Forsett brought a burst of energy, familiarity and intrigue all week, but at 31 years old it’s unknown how much he has left in the tank. “I’m very fresh,” he said.
Meanwhile, Booker knows his five-game run as a starter has been disappointing. Bibbs looked much better in the past couple weeks, particularly Sunday against Jacksonville. Booker, though, had 18 carries for just 35 yards against the Jaguars.
“I pretty much take credit for all of that,” said Booker, the rookie fourth-round pick out of Utah. “We gotta start running the ball effectively and it starts with me.”
Anderson’s value seemingly has increased during his absence. Before Anderson was placed on injured reserve with a torn meniscus, the Broncos were averaging 111.6 rushing yards per game through seven games on 4.2 yards per carry. They were middle-of-the-pack numbers, but at least their running defense kept defenses honest.
Since Anderson’s injury Denver is averaging 84.2 yards rushing per game on 3.0 yards per carry.
“Sometimes you get the ball and a (defend- er) is coming free and you can’t really do too much. But I’m taught to run the ball hard every time I get it,” said Booker, who has 510 rushing yards on a 3.5 yards per carry average. “This last week, I wasn’t hitting the hole hard enough. I wasn’t giving things a chance. I’d just go and make the wrong read.”
When spelling Anderson earlier in the season, Booker looked spry and effective, earning nearly equal playing time. But since he has become the top back his production has dwindled. He admitted the left shoulder injury he suffered in his first start Oct. 30 against San Diego is still “lingering around,” but he refuses to blame the injury for his struggles.
“Look what we’ve been through at that spot,” Broncos coach Gary Kubiak said about the running backs. “Booker is trying to hang on. He’s a young kid, but he’s trying to carry a big load.”
The run game problems aren’t all on the running backs. The Broncos’ offensive line has struggled to run block and pass protect all season. Running lanes are often small or non-existent.
Enter Forsett, whom Denver picked up off waivers on Monday after Detroit released him. Booker was pleased with the addition, citing Forsett’s leadership and the need for another back because they were “dropping like flies.”
Forsett said 99 percent of the Broncos offense is the same as when he was with Kubiak in Baltimore in 2014. That familiarity has Kubiak expecting Forsett to make an immediate impact Sunday. Forsett, who has spent seven of his nine NFL seasons in a zone-read system, knows what makes a back effective in it.
“You gotta be patient with decisive decisionmaking,” Forsett said. “I love it because it gives you a lot of options and freedom that some of the other schemes don’t allow you to have.”
Forsett is hopeful reuniting with Kubiak can give him a glimpse of the production he had in 2014, his only Pro Bowl season. His leadership, competition and mentorship also can only help Booker as he seeks his own improvements.
“Book is great, man. I watched him while he was in college. A lot of athletic ability,” Forsett said. “Talented kid, smart kid. Sky is the limit for him. I see the talent – he’s going to be a really good football player.”
Running back Devontae Booker, who rushed for 76 of the Broncos’ 103 yards against New Orleans, has been hampered by a lingering shoulder injury. He had 18 carries for just 35 yards against Jacksonville in Week 13. Joe Amon, The Denver Post