Broncos backfield no longer the NFL's powerhouse Print
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Tuesday, 04 November 2008 13:21
NFL Headline News

 ENGLEWOOD, Colo. (AP) -A solid ground game in Denver was once as sure a bet as all those nasty campaign commercials around Election Day.
Terrell Davis. Clinton Portis. Olandis Gary. Mike Anderson. Reuben Droughns. Even Tatum Bell. They all bullied their way through the holes bored by the nimble offensive line's storied zone blocking scheme, racking up yards, deflating defenses and piling up points.
No more.
Now, the Broncos' grandiose ground game has been, well, grounded.
The Broncos (4-4) have just one 100-yard rusher in their last 11 games, and they're well on their way to a second straight season without a 1,000-yard rusher, something that happened just once in coach Mike Shanahan's first 12 seasons in Denver.
After losing Michael Pittman (neck) and Andre Hall (hand) for the season Sunday, the Broncos will have these options in their banged-up backfield Thursday night at Cleveland:
-Second-year pro Selvin Young, who hasn't played in more than a month because of a strained groin.
who carried three times for 1 yard in his debut against Miami last week.
-Second-year tailback P.J. Pope, promoted off the practice squad Tuesday.
-And maybe rookie fullback Peyton Hillis, who hasn't carried the ball for the Broncos since rushing three times for 14 yards in the opener at Oakland.
Shanahan said he was going to take a close look at Young and Torain at practice - ``hopefully there are no setbacks with those two guys'' - and also at Pope.
Subjecting himself to a fine, Young again declined to comment about his status Tuesday. Pope said he was eager to show he could be part of the solution and Torain said he was ready to carry more of a load.
``He's going to have to shake off the rust fast,'' Pittman said of Torain.
Still experiencing numbness in his hands, Pittman wanted to rest for a few weeks, but two experts told him he needed a six-week layoff, so the Broncos put him on IR for the first time in his 11-year career. He said he doesn't think it's a career-threatening injury and he hopes to return to the Broncos next season.
``I don't need surgery; I can move my neck,'' Pittman said. ``I got my stinger in the New England game but I stayed in the game and kept playing so I was just making it worse and worse and worse.''
jured his neck Sunday - and he promptly broke his left hand.
``Yeah, it hurts,'' quarterback Jay Cutler said. ``We're down to just a few guys. We've got Peyton, he can kind of go both ways, and hopefully Selvin can get back. And Ryan, he's going to have to cram. It's going to be difficult for him, not only being a rookie but he's just coming back. And then having just two days to prepare, it's going to be a challenge.''
Injuries are mostly to blame for Denver's demise in running the football, which used to be their trademark.
Last season, their offensive line was a turnstile and Travis Henry struggled with leg injuries all season. Henry was jettisoned in the offseason and now he faces federal drug charges from an FBI sting.
His departure opened the way for Torain to be the Broncos' first workhorse running back since Droughns in 2004 - Shanahan even compared him to Davis, who led the Broncos to their two Super Bowl wins in the 1990s.
But Torain broke his left elbow on a freak flip while getting tackled in training camp, and another promising rookie, Anthony Alridge, broke a foot in the final preseason game, so the Broncos went into the season splitting snaps between Young and Hall.
onville three weeks ago before getting hurt.
The low point for the Broncos' free-falling run game that's ranked 19th in the league came Sunday against the Dolphins, who limited them to 14 yards on 12 carries, Denver's worst rushing performance in 36 years.
``That's really embarrassing to rush for 14 yards,'' Shanahan said. ``We will work on that and obviously improve it.''
Browns coach Romeo Crennel insisted the Broncos' backfield still presents a problem.
``In my years in this league, it doesn't matter who (they) have at running back because whoever Mike puts out there, the guy seems to run for 100 yards a game and a 1,000 yards in a season,'' Crennel said. ``I know that whoever he puts there will be capable and confident.''
A thwarted rushing attack affects all aspects of an offense, however, and Crennel pointed to the Browns' loss to Baltimore last week in which they were held to 64 yards on the ground.
``It limits so much of your play-action game. When you can't run it it puts you in situations where you're in third-and-long and they're able to pin their ears back and come after you,'' Crennel said.
That's been the Broncos' lament for a while now.
 

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