The Denver Broncos were supposed to be a balanced offense this season. At the snap, opposing defenses were supposed to fear the unexpected. Was it going to be a run to the right with C.J. Anderson or a play-action fake and deep throw to Demaryius Thomas? To an extent, that has been the case through 15 games this season but the irregularity of the play-calling and execution week-to-week has been the only guarantee that has come with watching the Broncos play.

As the playoffs approach and with a playoff bye on the line when the San Diego Chargers come to town Sunday, the Broncos need to run the ball and do it well in order to reestablish their commitment to a balanced offense.

“We’ve always really stressed ball control and controlling the tempo of the game by controlling the clock and not turning the ball over. That’s our job to help our defense. We’re obviously out there to score some points, a lot of points and as many as we can every time we get the chance. To control the ball and not give them good field position, that’s always been our job in our stance. Controlling the tempo of the game by doing that,” offensive coordinator Rick Dennison said Thursday.

The Broncos have mixed and matched shotgun, pistol, and I-formations week-to-week and often according to whether Brock Osweiler or Peyton Manning was behind center. It has also resulted in distinct highs and lows.

It is no coincidence that the Broncos have not had success when the running backs carry the ball 20 times or less in a game. They have gone 2-4 in such contests. On the other hand, when the Broncos run the ball over 30 times they are 5-0, beating the San Diego Chargers handily (17-3), dominating the Green Bay Packers (29-10) and gaining a huge victory over the New England Patriots in those games (among others). Head coach Gary Kubiak is still trying to find a balance each week and even during last week’s game as he explained Tuesday.

“I think it’s probably easier for me to say after the game,” Kubiak said, “but the fact was that once we got ourselves back into the game, we stayed pretty balanced—even through the last three drives in the end-of-regulation and overtime drives. We actually ran the ball well on those drives. I think it was just a combination of saying, ‘Hey, let’s continue to play fast even when we were up. Let’s run the ball. Let’s do what we do.’ You can play fast and use the clock, too.”

The Broncos ran the ball a season-high 39 times for 134 yards versus the Chargers during their last meeting but have run the ball 20, 20 and 21 times each in their last three games. Dennison is eager to get that situation corrected as the cold weather playoff games approach.

“Well, we’re not near where we’d love to be. We’re working, we’re trying to improve. We take a couple of steps forward, one back. We’re still working at it. Certainly, that is important when it gets cold. We’ll see how we do. We fared a little bit better last week. Hopefully, we’ll keep improving,” he said confidently.

Both running backs, Anderson and Ronnie Hillman are looking to make significant impacts in the coming weeks and understand that their role is needed in order for the team to have the success they are seeking. The Chargers come to town with a 4-11 record and a lost season, but as a AFC West rival they will be bringing an attitude of spoilers Sunday. Their defense allows more than 129 rushing yards per game and will be a great opportunity for the offense to get back on track.

“Its huge,” Anderson said Thursday of the importance of the running game in December and January. “I just want to go out there and make plays within the system, within my role. No matter how many carries, or catches, or touches that is, just always finding a way to make plays. This time of the year the backfield has to be huge and kind of make plays on your own.”

Hillman echoed his teammate’s comments and reiterated his coaches view of needing improvement this week against the Chargers as the playoffs approach.

“Of course I’m excited for this playoff push. I think we can get a lot better, I think I can get a lot better in the run game and that is what we are trying to do. We are trying to get a better run game and take some pressure off of Brock [Osweiler]. I think we can still add to our run game a lot more.”

The Broncos season has been full of ups and downs and many factors and culprits are responsible for those, but the statistics do not lie. The Broncos must run the ball well in order to win the next three or four playoff games in a row necessary to win a championship. The opportunity against the Chargers is one that may not end the season but could give them the necessary boost to get them to an offense that is worthy of contending for a Super Bowl title. Hillman certainly knows how it can impact a team at the right time.

“Especially going into the playoffs,” he said, “you get that run game going, get that linemen’s confidence up and it helps a lot.”

Email Sam at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @SamCowhick.