After back-to-back wins against better teams in the Los Angeles Chargers and Pittsburgh Steelers, the Broncos season has gone from DOA to back on life support.
Yes, the chances are slim — at 5-6 overall — that Denver can still make the playoffs. However, those postseason dreams are still alive, with a must-win game in Cincinnati today. And if they want to win, handing the ball off to Phillip Lindsay is imperative.
In three hours, the Broncos kick off against the Bengals, on the road where Vance Joseph’s teams have struggled with leadership and competence on the field. They’ve gone 3-10 away from Mile High Stadium the last two years, and their losses on the road this season have been at times, atrocious.
In Week 3, Denver was beaten handily by the Ravens thanks to a whopping 13 penalties, including a 12-men in the huddle call. Lack of leadership and organization was clear on that Sunday.
Against the Jets in New York in Week 5, the Broncos defense gave up 323 rushing yards, which was laughably bad. Again, the inadequacy of their game plan was clear as the defense looked lost.
And in their Week 8 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs, Denver relied too heavily on Case Keenum, watching the journeyman quarterback throw a pick and fumble the ball away once as well, to lose a close one.
Today, they can right all those wrongs by simply handing the ball of to Phillip Lindsay. Often. Repeatedly. Relentlessly.
Lindsay, a rookie, has shown no signs of slowing or growing increasingly tired as this grueling season has dragged on. Yet, he has a mere 135 total carries on the season.
The explosive, star-in-the-making leads the National Football League in yards per carry with 5.8, with zero fumbles, and still hasn’t been given a bigger work load. Not only does he seem to get stronger as the game goes on, he’s improved as this season has gone forward, too.
Lindsay’s 189 yards and 3 touchdowns were crucial in the Broncos’ wins the last two weeks, even if he only had 25 carries.
Today, Bill Musgrave — who’s calling the plays offensively in the Mile High City — has to see what the stats bear out; which is, he needs to hand the ball off many times to Lindsay today. Not only because the rookie is one of the best running backs in the NFL this year, but also because the Bengals defense is dreadful.
Cincinnati is the worst team in the NFL when it comes to scoring defense, giving up 31.5 points per game. On top of that, the Bengals allow 147.5 yards per game on the ground, which is second-worst in the league.
Today, the game plan offensively for Denver should be simple; hand the ball off to Lindsay and let him go to work.
Not only will he run hard on every play, his propensity for hitting the hole with speed allows him to gain positive yardage before the defense has a chance to react. And, all that running will set up the play-action passing game, giving Keenum his best opportunities to make plays when the Broncos need to throw the ball.
Seemingly every week we’ve talked about how Musgrave needs to call more play-action passes, and slowly but surely, the play-caller has caught on. They went from using play-action passes less than any other team to moving up to 16th in the league in recent weeks.
If Denver wants to win — putting their defense in the position to be aggressive — the offense needs to hang a big number on the Bengals. That happens if Lindsay, for the first time all year, receives 20-plus handoffs.
His hard running, complete with dazzling quickness and speed, makes him one of the deadliest players in the league offensively right now. And once he gets going against the terrible Cincy defense, look for Musgrave to dial up the play-action passing game to hit talented receivers Emmanuel Sanders and Courtland Sutton.
Denver’s got to win today, and with this simple plan, they will. Now, will Musgrave listen?