Despite NFL-leading numbers, Vance Joseph says Lindsay doesn’t need more touches

Phillip Lindsay runs against Pittsburgh. Credit: Ron Chenoy, USA TODAY Sports.
Phillip Lindsay runs against Pittsburgh. Credit: Ron Chenoy, USA TODAY Sports.

Phillip Lindsay isn’t just a good, rookie running back. He’s arguably the best running back in the NFL this year.

In fact, he just won NFL Rookie of the Week.

Which is why it’s curious he’s had so few carries this season. Lindsay’s 780 rushing yards put him in seventh place in the league currently, and yet, his 135 carries are fewer than all but one player in the top 14 in yards.

On one hand, the limited carries has turned into the NFL-best 5.8 yards per carry average, which is incredible, especially in this day and age when defenses are built around speed. On the other, if they handed the ball off more to Lindsay, that YPC number would drop.

But, more carries also means piling up more yards, more touchdowns, and it would give Lindsay extra opportunities to break the big run. He’s enjoyed explosive runs of 53 yards (Oakland), 41 yards (San Diego), 32 yards (Pittsburgh), 29, 28 and the list goes on and on. And yet, the most handoffs he’s ever received has been 18, in the loss to Kansas City in Week 8.

So, with 189 yards and three touchdowns the last two weeks, doesn’t Lindsay deserve more carries?

“We won two games, so no,” Joseph said Monday in response to whether or not Lindsay needs more touches. “Until we lose again, I’ll say, ‘Yeah, that’s right.’ But no, he’s fine.”

Maybe the coaching staff is limiting his carries because he’s a rookie and they don’t want him to burn out. Is that the case?

“It has not, he’s our lead back right now,” Joseph said when asked if the play-calling is focused on not overworking him. “We use him as we think fits, so no, he’s carrying the ball as a lead back. He’s doing a good job at it. He’s playing first, second and third downs. So, no.”

Unfortunately, something’s not adding up.

Everyone from the experts to the arm-chair quarterbacks know Lindsay simply isn’t getting the ball enough. Outside of Emmanuel Sanders — shoot, including Sanders — Lindsay is the biggest playmaker on the Broncos’ offense this year.

At only 5’8” and 180 pounds, the Denver native looks small on the NFL gridiron. But his speed is superb, his quickness is out-of-this-world good, and Lindsay has the propensity to hit the hole at full steam ahead.

He runs like an veteran, not a rookie; like any coach could ask any running back to do. Without hesitation, Lindsay takes the handoff and is through the hole before the defense can react. No dancing, no pussyfooting around; blink and he’s broken off a 20-yard run.

More reasons why the Broncos should hand it off more to Lindsay: Five of his six touchdowns have come in the last five weeks and Case Keenum benefits from running play-actions.

Even though he looked ready to go in September, the rookie has really found his comfort zone in the last few weeks. But outside of the fact that more carries will pad Lindsay’s stats, it’ll help the offense, too.

Denver currently throws the ball 61.4 percent of the time, compared to 38.6 percent run plays; finding balance will help keep defenses off guard. But also, we’ve been writing for weeks that the Broncos need to utilize more play-action for Keenum, but they’re still in the bottom-third of the NFL in calling play-action passes.

Keenum’s passer rating jumps 30-plus points in play-actions, and yet, Bill Musgrave refuses to call them more than a few times per game.

Handing it off more to Lindsay only sets up that play-action, therefore helping Keenum, who’s similarly finally become comfortable in the Mile High City.

Denver’s defense — even with some deficiencies this year — is good enough to make a playoff run. But it’s the offense which has hindered the Broncos the most this year. Musgrave needs to alter his offense to better fit the play-makers in Lindsay and Keenum, giving them the best chance at success moving forward.

With five games to go, Denver faces four straight sub-.500 teams. If they keep it simple by handing the ball off more to Lindsay and utilize more play-action for Keenum, the Broncos should have no problem pushing their win streak to as much as six before the season finale against the Chargers at home.

That could decide playoff hopes for both teams, and at the very least, for Denver.

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