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Friday, November 7, 2008
Broncos continue search for running game

By Bill Williamson
ESPN.com

Posted by ESPN.com's Bill Williamson

Ryan Torain looked like he could be the answer.

He was running with authority and was a fine fit for the Denver offense. He was giving the team the offensive balance they lacked all season.

Then he got injured.

Now the Broncos, coming off a much-needed comeback win at Cleveland, have no answers at running back. Torain is out for the season with a torn ACL in his left knee.
Where do the Broncos go now?

The answer isn't overly hopeful for the team. There are two tailbacks on the roster: Selvin Young and P.J. Pope. That's it.

Young tried but couldn't be a factor Thursday night because of a groin injury that kept him out for three weeks. Pope was just promoted from the practice squad.

Denver finished the game with rookie Peyton Hillis at tailback but he's really a fullback. The seventh-round pick is most famous for blocking for Darren McFadden and Felix Jones in college at Arkansas.

Hillis actually did a fair job Thursday night. Hillis got some tough yards, including a tremendous second-effort first down on fourth and 1 on Denver's game-winning drive late in the fourth quarter. Had Hillis gone down on the initial hit hit, Denver very likely would have lost.

Hillis saved the game Thursday. Can the fullback save the season? There really aren't many other choices.

Denver stayed away from the weak list of available running backs Monday a day after Michael Pittman and Andre Hall went down for the season. Now, they will likely be forced to look elsewhere.

The Broncos haven't been enamored with any available tailbacks all season. The Broncos have a specific need to fit their zone-blocking scheme but they aren't thrilled with the available choices.

It is not the time to be choosy.

The 5-4 Broncos are trying to cling onto a lead in the AFC West. They need balance. Expect the Broncos to employ an offensive attack similar to the one they used Thursday. Quarterback Jay Cutler will be operating the spread offense and playing out of the shotgun.

Cutler loves playing out of the shotgun but Denver coach Mike Shanahan doesn't because it kills the running game. Well, the running game is already dead. So, Shanahan may let the shotgun rip. Cutler excelled using it Thursday night. He threw for 447 yards and three touchdown passes in the Broncos' comeback 34-30 win. The Broncos were down 23-10 in the fourth quarter.

Cutler willed the team to win. With the running game broken and five defensive starters out with injuries, he is going to have to continue to play that way.