Purple Pain For The Denver Broncos

When fans reflect on the Broncos loss to Baltimore, it will be big plays that get most of the attention.The 70-yard missle shot up the sideline here. The misplayed ball there. The interceptions, fumbles and returns for touchdowns.

But how the Broncos fared on some of the smallest plays of the day, the ones that needed to cover just one or two yards, also had a lot to say about the shocking double overtime loss.

They also say a lot about what the Broncos’ offense needs to address for 2013 if they are to be a Super Bowl contender.

The Broncos faced six situations Saturday of third-and-2 or less when they tried to run the ball. They had one third-and-2 and five third-and-1s.They converted just three of those plays.

Either the Denver offensive line couldn’t get the play blocked, or their running backs couldn’t break tackles. But the offense won’t be all it needs to be until the Broncos can run the ball when they want to, especially in end-of-game situations or when they need a short conversion to keep a drive going.

They don’t have to dominate in the run game, but they do have to be functional. And that means picking up 3rd-and-short with a run.

The Broncos lost their best inside runner when Willis McGahee sustained a knee injury against San Diego. McGahee’s backup, Knowshon Moreno, went down to a knee injury Saturday.

And the offensive line, with a backup center, Dan Koppen, and right guard Chris Kuper having missed nine full games this season, was unable to carve up enough room in the middle of the field Saturday.

Ronnie Hillman converted his only third-and-1 chance with a 1-yard run, but the Broncos didn’t convert a third-and-2 and didn’t convert two third-and-1s when Jacob Hester, a player the team signed Nov. 26, carried the ball.One of those plays was wiped out by a Kuper penalty that pushed the Broncos back 10 yards.

But it’s clear, even with Peyton Manning at quarterback, the Broncos will need to address their running game in the coming draft and free agency seasons. Because with all that went on Saturday night, if the Broncos could have gained a yard or two when they really needed to, they would still be playing this weekend.

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