In and Out

By Zack Cimini

Mike Shanahan has the Denver Broncos atop the AFC West and in a good shot to run away with the title. In fact it wouldn?t be a surprise to see them claim the title as early as week fourteen. Shanahan?s legacy as a coach is starting to become great, as there hasn?t been a coach as successful with running backs in league history. How does he do it?

The number one key is that Shanahan has maintained a strong offensive line his whole career. That is always the main priority for an offense is to build off of where you hike the football. If you don?t have a time to pass or holes to run through than how are you going to score points? There are too many teams in the league that focus on signing wide receivers and other position players, and forget about the offensive line. You could have all of the high paid dollar players on your team, but if he takes a beating he is going to get hurt. Just look at the successful teams in the league right now. Indianapolis, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, New England, the Jets, etc, all have great offensive lines that make their offenses run flawless.

Curtis Martin may have worked hard in the off season, but have you seen the holes he has to run through. It seems like he is never touched until five to ten yards down the field. Anyone can resurrect his career with a line like that. People wonder why a player like Emmitt Smith still has gas left in his tank, when most backs fade out after six to seven years. The reason is because of the offensive line he had in his hey days with Dallas. He probably got an extra five years added to his career because of the spectacular blocking he had.

In the last five years Shanahan has had backs like Terrell Davis, Olandis Gary, Mike Anderson, Clinton Portis, and now his backs this year. After their career years (except Davis), instead of paying that player top flight dollars he lets them go. Analysts couldn?t figure it out, and expected it to back fire this year. They only had Quentin Griffith who was considered a smallish scatback, and a cast away running back from Detroit that couldn?t even beat out James Stewart a few years ago in Reuben Droughns.

Griffin quieted doubters early on in the year by having a couple of monster games, but it didn?t take long for defenses to figure him out. He started fumbling the football, and once that started he was no longer aggressive at attacking the hole. He would dance behind the backfield and get cut for losses, which means that he isn?t ready to be a full time starter. Shanahan recognized that and decided to give Reuben Droughns a shot, because he has shown promise. Droughns is a straight ahead bruising back that can take on opposing defenses up the middle. In the last two weeks he has had monster games, and has led to Denver being able to control the clock. It has also freed up Jake Plummer and the passing game which has especially paid off for Ashley Lelie. Lelie is quietly becoming one of the best wide receivers in the league, and is definitely a top ten prospect now.

After looking like the Broncos would have a shaky running game, it is now set with two different styles. There is a back that can attack and wear down the defense, and than another that can come in and break one long. It?s the true definition of thunder and lightning, in which the Giants never fulfilled with Ron Dayne. The AFC is loaded with talent, but right now the Broncos are playing the best football right behind New England.


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