ENGLEWOOD Not long ago, the Denver Broncos had two backs on pace for 1,000 yards this season and it didn’t seem like any team could stop their running game. Mike Anderson and Tatum Bell still have a shot at 1,000 yards rushing, but over the past three weeks Denver’s running game hasn’t been the same. Anderson has averaged less than 3 yards per carry in three straight games and the Broncos are averaging 122.7 yards per game, about 45 fewer yards than their average through the first 10 games. But Anderson said his confidence in himself and the rushing offense hasn’t wavered. “I’m not shook,” Anderson said. Then he repeated it three more times. The Broncos aren’t panicking. They rank second in the NFL in rushing offense. Tonight at Buffalo, the Broncos should be able to run the ball against a defense ranked 31st against the run (141.7 yards allowed per game). On Nov. 24 against the Cowboys, the Broncos struggled to run the ball until a 55-yard run by Ron Dayne in overtime. They had 89 rushing yards in regulation. Two weeks ago at Kansas City, Denver had 131 yards rushing but didn’t move the ball consistently. The Broncos had 42 of their rushing yards on one drive, and they couldn’t gain a yard on a crucial fourth and 1 in the fourth quarter. Last week Baltimore didn’t allow Denver much on the ground. The Broncos had 96 yards on 32 carries, a 3-yard average that isn’t up to their usual standards. “Coach told us that was our worst game,” said Bell, who has 749 yards this season. “We have to find ways to make plays.” The Ravens often used an extra linebacker or extra defensive lineman and took a defensive back off the field to stop the run. Facing eight defenders near the line of scrimmage, there weren’t many holes for Denver’s running backs. Anderson said he doesn’t expect many other teams to use that defensive alignment. Baltimore’s cornerbacks were good enough to play man-to-man coverage most of the game. “Unless you have that kind of secondary, you can’t do that up front,” Anderson said. However, many teams will continue to load up against Denver’s running game. Last season the Broncos passed for more than 4,000 yards, but this season they have gotten back to establishing the run. The Broncos have run the ball 425 times and attempted 376 passes. The Broncos’ offensive attack has centered on keeping quarterback Jake Plummer out of bad situations, and his interceptions are down from 20 last year to six this season. “We already know that’s what teams are going to do,” Bell said. “They want to make Jake beat (them). But he can do that right now and once he starts proving that to more and more teams, the run should open up in the next couple weeks.” The Broncos also have tried to balance how they use their running backs. Two weeks ago at Kansas City, the Broncos used Anderson, Bell and Dayne, and none of the backs got into a rhythm. Last week, Bell got 16 carries, twice as many as Anderson. But Anderson, who has 871 yards, said he didn’t anticipate Bell taking more carries as the season progresses. “No I don’t,” Anderson said. “I don’t.” Offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak said the commitment to the run helped Denver win at Dallas because Dayne eventually broke a long run in overtime that set up the game-winning field goal. Kubiak said he was satisfied with the running game against Kansas City, and the defensive alignment by the Ravens was the reason there weren’t many rushing yards against Baltimore. “It made it tough to run the ball, but we stayed committed to doing it so we would have some plays in the passing game,” Kubiak said. “We missed a couple big plays in the passing game that would have been a difference in us scoring some points.” Getting Anderson going again would help the rushing offense. Kubiak admitted Anderson might have been worn down earlier this season, but splitting carries should help him finish strong. “The rotation has given him a chance to catch up physically,” Kubiak said. “I think he was beat up there a few weeks back, but I think he’s starting to freshen up and I expect him to play well.” CONTACT THE WRITER: 476-4891 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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