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Mason's Mailbag: Expect a greater run emphasis this week

As always, you can tweet questions to me with the hashtag #AskMase, use the submission form or scroll to the bottom of this page.

What is the possibility of Emmanuel Sanders playing this weekend? -- John Castro

His chances of playing appear to be excellent. He passed through all stages of the post-concussion protocol by the time Thursday concluded, and had a full workload during Friday's practice, leading to his listing as "probable" on the injury report.

With Montee Ball injured and Ronnie Hillman, even though Hillman has performed pretty well this year, injured do you think C.J. Anderson has the chance to take over the starting running back job? From what I've seen, he's running with anger in his game since Oakland, just the spark the Broncos might need in the run game. -- Markus White

Like Offensive Coordinator Adam Gase said last week, "I'm feeling like whoever has the hot hand is going to get the ball." That is still Anderson, even though he averaged 3.2 yards on his limited carries (nine) last week. He also averaged 10.8 yards on eight receptions, so despite the fact that it was an ineffective running day, it was still a good individual performance from Anderson, as almost any coach will take 6.76 yards per touch from your running back anytime.

This is Anderson's window of opportunity. He's averaged 8.18 yards per touch in the last two games since Hillman began struggling with a foot injury. (Hillman's average per touch is 4.64 yards.) If Anderson maintains that pace and stays hot, it's hard to imagine him not being the primary back until, or unless, someone else heats up.

The run has been a point of emphasis this week. Wherever you turn at Dove Valley, the words are the same to the point of being a mantra: they've got to work on the running game. Now, whether you can measure it in run-pass ratio will depend on the flow of the game; if the Broncos take a three-score lead, expect them to run more, as is almost always the case; if the Dolphins grab a big lead, expect the opposite. But if the game is close, it would be a shock if the Broncos ran on 15 percent of their snaps, as they did last week.

We Broncos fans wouldn't be such high-maintenance if we knew they could win in New England. Funny thing about current actions are generally indicative of future results... -- J.R. Whitehead

If that were the case, you would have written off the Baltimore Ravens when the Broncos beat them 34-17 in Week 15 of the 2012 season. At that point, the Ravens were in such tumult that they had just fired their offensive coordinator in the middle of a 1-4 skid. Or the 2007 New York Giants after the destined-for-.500 Minnesota Vikings throttled them 41-17 in Week 12 for a second loss in three weeks -- at home, no less! Or the 2008 Pittsburgh Steelers when they went to Tennessee in a battle for home-field advantage in the AFC playoffs and flopped to a 31-14 defeat.

I'm just saying, don't get too wrapped up in short-term results unless they become a trend. Remember, just three Super Bowl winners since the 2000 season were not the No. 1 seeds in the postseason, and seven of the last 14 world champions had to start their playoff run in the wild-card round, so, at a point in the season, they looked vulnerable. Teams grow from adversity. Better to experience it now, correct the mistakes and learn from them, rather than to cruise and not endure the harsh examination.


The Miami game is a critical, must-win game. A loss to Miami, will be loss #2 in a three game losing streak. Broncos have no chance against KC, SD or Cincy, given the way they are playing -- now. A loss to Miami means a 9-7 season AT BEST. Question: What made the Broncos front office think that they could even get into the playoffs this year, much less go back to the Super Bowl? Are they completely delusional? -- Bob Berman**

I think a better question is, are you delusional? Or is that question just performance art?

Yes, the team has lost two of three. But "no chance" in those upcoming games? And adding parts to a team that made the Super Bowl and not even thinking it could go to the playoffs? Calm down, have a cup of herbal tea or something and gently drift back to reality and away from the ledge.

Given the overarching league trends toward safety and harsher punishment, you'd think that would be the next step if the league does not feel it has done enough to eradicate that sort of play.

Culinary advice: The dogs are better everywhere than they are in the Press Box. The Press Box dogs are being made now. So, while we inoculate ourselves against the unknown with statistics (or gut feelings in my case) with a 10-game prologue, I still have this seemingly unanswerable question: I don't see the look in the eyes of the Broncos, that, metaphorically speaking, Magic Johnson said he could see in Larry Bird's "he always looked like he was gonna kill me." Sorry to mix the sports but you're already ahead of me. Why not?!?!? Unless it was 55-23 with five seconds left (horrible Halloween game against the Colts, one of my students was their kicker) anyway, until that moment Elway always had it. Where is it now?
-- Steve Ayers

What is interesting about that Magic Johnson quote is how it wasn't necessarily compatible with the results, which saw Johnson's teams win 22 times, and Bird's teams 15. Thirty-seven games is enough to create a reasonable sample size.

And the quote, I believe, is actually from Dominique Wilkins, who said, "Look into his eyes, and you see a killer." Given the Hawks' struggles against the Celtics of that era, it would be hard to argue.

But if we go to your Magic/Bird comparison, the results bring you back to the fact that most sports are team endeavors. Over the long haul of the 1980's, the Lakers had the better team, and, thus, won five titles to the Celtics' two. Despite the "look" in Bird's eyes, sometimes his team fell short. Ditto for Elway. Ditto for Manning. Was it because, say, the "look" in Kevin McHale's eyes didn't match that of "Big Game" James Worthy's? Comparatively, the "look" in Madison Bumgarner's eyes probably carries more weight given the outsized effect of a pitcher on a baseball game (although if he ever were to lose 2-3 miles per hour off his fastball, I'm guessing he wouldn't have that "look" anymore).

And this is why I lean on quantifiable data. Looks lie. Feelings lie. Of course, data can lie too, because it tells you what was, not necessarily what is to be. It only helps you play the odds, to know whether to go for it on fourth down or hit on 17. That would have also told you that the Rams were likely to fritter away their lead, given that they did the same thing against Dallas, Seattle and San Francisco, all at home. Or fourth-down decisions; the esteemed New York Times Fourth-Down Bot liked the Broncos' three decisions to go for it, even though they fell short every time.

A feeling you get from comes from performance. Wouldn't you get the feeling that Peyton Manning could bring a team back in adverse circumstances from the touchdown drive against Seattle in the last minute of regulation? Or from the fact that, according to, Manning is sport's all-time leader in comebacks?

Perhaps the lesson is the "look" is something that we're all "looking" for, because we want to know what's next. Numerous recent NFL champions didn't "look" that way in November, but they got there in January and February. A "look" is earned. But it's no guarantee of success.

If the line has good health, it should look the same as it does now. The time to make changes in the line is November when the goal is having cohesion by January. Bumps are inevitable through that process, and the Broncos have to ride through them.

No, and as I've noted before, this is about contracts and long-term planning as much as the kickers themselves. Prater carried a $3.25 million salary-cap charge next year and was down to his final strike before a suspension of at least one year. You have numerous expiring contracts, starting with Demaryius Thomas, Julius Thomas, Chris Harris Jr. and Terrance Knighton, just to name a few.

Also note that Matt Prater is no longer a kickoff man. Sam Martin, the Lions' punter, handles that responsibility. Prater has as many misses as McManus, and is 9-for-12 overall (75.0 percent), barely ahead of McManus' 8-for-11 (72.7 percent). McManus would be ahead if Prater's last-second miss in London that was wiped out because of a penalty had stood. McManus is also the league's ninth-best kicker, according to's metrics, which factors kickoffs into the calculation.

Prater's cap charge for next year would have been 6.3 that of McManus. Is Prater 6.3 times the kicker that McManus is -- or will be, assuming he develops and plays to his upside?

This is like the afore-mentioned hit on 17 -- it's a calculated gamble. Teams take these types of risks. The Patriots do, all the time, at multiple positions, and, in 2006, they did so at kicker, when Adam Viniatieri was allowed to leave for Stephen Gostkowski. In Gostkowski's first year, he hit a career-low 76.9 percent of his attempts. He's grown and kept the job, just as the Broncos hope McManus will.

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