ENGLEWOOD, Colo. --The first three weeks of the season were filled with frustration with all components of the running game. From the blocking to the ability to read holes to the defenders that poured into the backfield way too often in the first three games, little went right.
At times against the Minnesota Vikings, those emotions returned. But they were outweighed by the running plays that did work -- none bigger than Ronnie Hillman's 72-yard second-quarter touchdown gallop and C.J. Anderson's 13-yard burst on what would become the Broncos' game-winning drive.
What did they have in common? They were pistol formation plays using two tight ends. And in both cases, those tight ends were crucial to the development of the play.
"Everything's evolving," said left guard Evan Mathis, "whether it be formations, whether it be the way were fitting our blocks, whether it be how the running backs are finding lanes -- we're working to evolve all that."
The two-tight end package might be a way to galvanize the running game. Powered by those runs, the Broncos have amassed more than half of their rushing-yardage total -- 171 of 315 yards -- on plays where tight end Owen Daniels and Virgil Green both participated. The Broncos have averaged 4.75 yards on those plays, and 2.72 yards on all other rushing plays.
Daniels and Green had the key blocks to create the seal through which Hillman sprinted with his scoring run, and Green handled the outside seal on Anderson's fourth-quarter run that was his longest carry of the game.
On Anderson's crucial run, he read the flow of the play perfectly, seeing the offensive line move to the left while Green created a seal to the right.
But the play would not have happened without newcomer starter Michael Schofield sealing the inside. Schofield improved as his first start progressed, overcoming a second-quarter sack to use his 34-inch arms and keep Brian Robison at bay.
As Anderson blasted through the hole, Manning raised his right arm in triumph. The Broncos were in field-goal range, regaining control of a tough game after losing it in the previous 10 minutes of play.
And the running game had made it happen.
... The Broncos continued their pistol-formation emphasis, using it on 31 of 53 offensive snaps Sunday, with 17 in the shotgun and five under center, including one kneeldown at the end of each half. In the last two games, Denver has run 59 snaps out of the pistol, 47 in the shotgun and nine under center — three of which were kneeldowns.
... Although Anderson's big run was crucial, he lamented the ones that got away, including one where Vikings linebacker Anthony Barr fought off Green brought him down with an ankle tackle after coming up one yard short on third-and-10 at the end of the third quarter.
"There were some runs earlier in the game, I just didn't step out of the tackle," Anderson said. "If I step out of the tackle, it's a big play. That's pretty much what I'm known for, so I went to the drawing board and back to the fundamentals of being a running back by doing some drills. I'll go do some more drills later this week to help me break more tackles.
"I always feel like I've been comfortable. I felt that everything was in sync last week and I'll be more comfortable and more plays will happen."