The Denver Broncos weren’t mediocre in many areas during the 2013 season. They established both individual and team records in pretty much every passing category, and did so while averaging an absurd 37.9 points per game. That was 12 points higher than the second-place offense.
But they were just alright, and painfully adequate in one area. It showed during a Super Bowl trouncing at the hands of the Seattle Seahawks, when quarterback Peyton Manning was repeatedly throttled by pass rushers who saw no need to slow down and concern themselves with the run.
With all due respect to Knowshon Moreno—who had a fine and career best season (1,038 rushing yards)—the Broncos’ running game was merely satisfactory.
Thanks to C.J. Anderson that’s suddenly changed now.
C.J. Anderson became 1st #Broncos RB to rush for 150+ yds in consecutive games since Reuben Droughns in 2004 (10/10 vs CAR & 10/17 at OAK)
— Cecil Lammey (@cecillammey) December 1, 2014
A rejuvenated Broncos running game could be the key to reversing the Broncos’ Super Bowl fortunes this year, and capitalizing on the brief championship window that will close quickly as Manning’s career winds down.
The NFL works in mysterious ways. A month ago Anderson was anonymous outside of Denver. Now he could be the latest undrafted superhero running back.
Anderson was signed as an undrafted free agent in 2013. While buried on the depth chart he didn’t get a single touch during his rookie season, which continued initially this year when he was behind Montee Ball and Ronnie Hillman. He didn’t receive more than 20 snaps until Week 10.
But then the powers above struck Denver’s running backs with injury fury. Both Hillman and Ball went down, and the Broncos have been without their original top two running backs since Week 11. What’s Anderson done since? Pretty much the impossible: he’s changed a Manning-led offense into… a running offense?
Anderson has started three games, and in those games he’s been responsible for 40 percent of the Broncos’ offense.
He’s totaled 364 rushing yards over three starts, and has two runs for 20-plus yards. He’s also averaged 5.4 yards per carry during that stretch, with six yards per touch overall.
But here’s the number that makes you double check, triple check, and then come back for at least three more checks several hours later. Anderson is so slippery and elusive in the open field that in just a single game (a Week 13 win over the Kansas City Chiefs) he forced 15 missed tackles, according to Pro Football Focus.
This season Anderson has forced 25 missed tackles as a runner, already placing him 15th among all running backs. For perspective, he’s only three whiffs behind Chicago Bears running back Matt Forte. Anderson has been on the field this season for 307 snaps, while Forte has played 816 snaps.
It should be noted Anderson has benefited from some favorable matchups. He’s done his chugging over the past two weeks against the Dolphins and Chiefs, and their run defenses are ranked 22nd and 24th respectively. But it becomes difficult to read deeply into that, because running for over 160 yards in back-to-back weeks is not an easy thing against any NFL defense.
Anderson is yet another weapon on a loaded offense, one that brings a missing dynamic. Previously, when the passing game was sealed off, then the Broncos were too.
Now there will be some honesty among opposing defenses. That’s a pretty dangerous thing when your quarterback is Peyton Manning.