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Coordinators' Corner: Grinding in the ground game


ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — **The Broncos returned to the field after Thanksgiving for practice on Friday, and they got some good news with Brandon Marshall being cleared to practice. With their last practice before heading to Kansas City in the books, the Broncos' coordinators talked to the media, focusing on the running game on either side.

Healthy Jamaal Charles to be a big factor

In the previous matchup between the Broncos and Chiefs, Kansas City lost star running back Jamaal Charles to an ankle sprain early in the game. Though initially marked as questionable to return, Charles would not return after five plays.

But since his return from the injury, he's averaged about 93 rushing yards per game at over five yards per carry, along with about 20 yards per game through the air.

To be fair, Knile Davis did well in Charles' absence, but having a "big factor," in Defensive Coordinator Jack Del Rio's words, back in the backfield gives them greater versatility and skill in Andy Reid's offense.

"Jamaal's an outstanding talent," Del Rio said. "He's a homerun threat, he's always falling forward. He has great vision, great balance. We have a lot of respect for him. We know he's very good at what he does. They give him the ball a lot of different ways, screen game, check mounds, and design routes and they hand it to him, toss it to him, bunch of different things. We got to be on our game."

The rushing game is a key part of Kansas City's offense, and they'll be sure to try to get back to their style of football after a surprising loss to the previously winless Oakland Raiders. The Chiefs didn't struggle on the ground, per se, but playing from behind didn't suit their offense as well and their rushing offense had its lowest total since a Week 1 loss to Tennessee.

How Anderson's emerged

A week after running the ball the fewest times of the season, the Broncos ran it for a season high number of carries, running up a season high in rushing yards with 201.

C.J. Anderson crushed his single-game career high with 167 rushing yards, just two weeks after bursting onto the scene with 90 yards on the ground and 73 yards receiving against the Raiders.

In the rushing game that's gotten help week in and week out from players stepping up in the wake of injuries, Offensive Coordinator Adam Gase said Anderson's come on strong as he's gotten more time.

"I think [it's] just the exposure of seeing him run the ball more and more," Gase said. "We're getting a better feel for what kind of runner he is and that vision has been impressive and him getting the amount of carries he did last week, he found some things that we hadn't really seen out of him so far so I would say that he's really showing us a side of him that we didn't really know about."

Head Coach John Fox went into more detail on the Anderson's progress, and on how he's been able to do so well.

"C.J. is taking advantage of his opportunity. I think his knowledge of the offense has a lot to do with how fast he's able to play," Fox said. "When I say fast, he's not thinking a lot back there. He knows the protections and he knows the pass patterns. He feels good about the run plays and the cuts on where to go. When you're thinking a lot back there and not exactly sure what to do, you just don't play as fast. I've learned that to be true. That is a real credit to him for being a real student of the game in his short time here so when given the opportunity we're calling all the same plays, if not more with him in there and it's allowed him to run the ball well and catch the ball well and really make some plays and really make a lot of guys miss."

Alhough the success they had last week was good to see, Gase emphasized that any success from one week has little bearing on the next.

"Every game is different," Gase said, acknowledging that he knows how tiring that phrase can be. "I know that's our answer for the most part every week. I don't know if I can look at the ranking. I just know the players they have, they're tough guys and that front is tough to run or pass on. So we're going to have to figure out what's best for us during the game. It's hard for us to go in and say we're just going to do one thing. We'll feel it out and try to figure out what the best thing for us to do is."

Brandon Marshall's return to the field

The importance of the rushing defense's performance was easy to see in last Sunday's game against Miami. The Dolphins jumped out to an early lead with a lot of help on the ground, with 90 rushing yards in the first half. But then the Broncos asserted themselves in the second half, holding Miami to just seven yards after halftime.

The defense's success in the run is due to a complementary effort, from the trenches to the secondary, but a big part of how well they've done has been the improvment of linebacker Brandon Marshall. So when Marshall went down late in the game on Sunday with a concussion, his presence was one that was dearly missed.

After going through the protocol, Marshall was back at practice on Friday in full capacity, something Del Rio was happy to see.

"We'll take every healthy guy we can," Del Rio said. "Brandon has stepped in for Danny [Trevathan] and done a nice job for us. We're preparing the other guys in case we have another pop up right in the middle of the game. So you continue to work your backup guys but him getting cleared is a good sign for us."

Marshall said he was cleared immediately after practice on Thursday, but he was confident he'd make it through the protocol before the week was out.

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