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Mason's Mailbag: Who's up at running back?

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

Let's tear open the Week 11 mailbag with a question I've been asked, in various ways, too many times to count this week …

Who will be the starting running back for the Broncos to carry most of the workload?
-- SW

All signs point to the Broncos playing the "hot hand," and that would be C.J. Anderson, fresh off a performance in which he racked up 163 yards from scrimmage and a touchdown in Oakland.

"Every game is going to be different," said Offensive Coordinator Adam Gase. "Right now I'm feeling like whoever has the hot hand is going to get the ball. Whoever starts off well, we'll keep them in there and let him keep carrying it."

"Right now, C.J. had the best game last week. We'll see what he brings and then we'll get the other guys going and we'll see what happens there."

So you'll likely see some of Montee Ball -- and if he gets hot, he might stay in for a while, although it would come as no surprise if the Broncos limit his repetitions to ease him back after missing five games due to a groin strain. And Juwan Thompson might be a goal-line option, as he was against San Diego, when he scored twice.

All that will proceed to drive fantasy players mad. Speaking of which ...

Yo, Andy.......this is a FFB ? that I'm hoping you can answer my fantasy life or my PPR league I have D. Murray and M. record is 5-5.....have both Ball and Anderson on my bench......Forte is on a many touches does each Bronco get this weekend and to who?
-- Nunci Bufardeci

If I could answer that question with accuracy, it would mean I possess the gift of prophecy. And in that case, I doubt I'd be a sportswriter. Maybe I'd forecast the weather.

I'm not going to jump to a conclusion after one game, but the signs were encouraging, aside from the timing penalties that plagued the line, particularly in the red zone. Montgomery is lighter and quicker, which helps him make a quick pivot pick up an A-gap blitz, and Ramirez is stouter and more powerful, which is particularly effective at helping seal one side of a hole, whether he's driving off the snap or pulling to the left, both of which he did to spring Anderson for double-digit gains last week.

We will have a better idea this week. Rams rookie defensive tackle Aaron Donald might be the quickest interior defensive lineman off the snap, and Robert Quinn is in the elite class of young pass rushers, along with Von Miller and J.J. Watt. Few defensive lines cause more problems than the Rams' 21st-century iteration of the "Fearsome Foursome."


Is Virgil Green underutilized? He has more speed than Julius Thomas, is the best blocker on the team and is a size match-up nightmare. I feel like our two-tight end set is the strongest lineup we have if we can be more creative with it. What do you think?**
-- Andreas Counnas

Having watched Green and Thomas since their arrival, I'm going to disagree with you on the speed, particularly within 10 yards of the line of scrimmage. When running routes, Thomas is a bit quicker from point A to point B.

The problem is that when Green's healthy -- and right now, he's not; he is doutbful for Sunday's game with a calf injury -- it limits the speed of the offense. You get the extra blocking threat, but you sacrifice the slot target (Wes Welker) who finds crevices underneath, which plays well with a quarterback who usually delivers the football in less than 2.5 seconds.

The holidays, this time of year, every year, sans 1998-99, I instinctively get that old "can't win the big one feeling." It's been a decade and a half. I'm talking about the internal need for an @NE, @KC, @GB (or the like), etc., good ol' fashioned butt-whippin' of a bonafide contender. How about you?
-- Steve Ayers

I've found that gut feelings such as that are misleading in pretty much every aspect of life. I had a gut feeling that I should eat a hot dog in the press box last week; the next morning, I carried a bowl so as not to be caught without a receptacle in case of a gastrointestinal emergency.

Endemic to football, wins of the type you mention, in a vacuum, are overrated. The Broncos had one at Baltimore two years ago, then turned around and lost to them in a double-overtime playoff thriller.

All of those examples you cite were on the road. Seattle didn't have any wins like that in 2013; the Seahawks lost at San Francisco and Indianapolis, and their most impressive road win was at Carolina by a 12-7 score. The 2012 Ravens lost four of five games in December and lost to every winning team they played on the road. I don't think their fans had the warm fuzzies about their team's ability to "win the big one." Same for the Giants in 2011 after they lost four in a row in the second half of the season and finished the year with a 9-7 record and a minus-6 point differential.

What portends championships? It's harder to tell now than ever. Three of the last four champions had stretches where they looked downright mediocre. The 2010 Packers' most impressive road results in the regular season were losses at the Falcons, Bears and Patriots, two of which they defeated in the postseason.

Perhaps you have that feeling because the Broncos' seven postseason trips since Jan. 31, 1999 eventually ended in defeat. But think of some of the "big one"-type wins those teams had in the regular season: the 2000 Broncos by 15 points over the NFC West champion Saints, the 2003 Broncos by a 31-17 score at Indianapolis in Week 16, the 2005 Broncos by 13 points over the 12-4 Jaguars in Jacksonville, the afore-mentioned Ravens game of 2012, and Denver's wins at San Diego and Kansas City last year.

You're looking for something that is not an assurance of postseason success. What you want is for the team to peak in the postseason (assuming that it gets there). And sometimes that isn't evident until the playoffs begin, as recent history demonstrates.

This week's question would be, "What NFL game in St. Louis do you remember most?"

My answer? Cardinals 31, Buccaneers 28, Nov. 8, 1987. The Cardinals -- often dubbed the "Big Red" to distinguish themselves from the baseball team with which they shared a Busch Stadium nest at the time -- pulled off the biggest fourth-quarter comeback in NFL history, rallying from a 28-3 deficit. I was 11 years old and had just moved to the Tampa Bay area and started following the Bucs. Horrified at the three-phase loss -- capped when a game-tying field goal bounced back off the crossbar as time expired -- I realized what I was in for as a fan of a team that wouldn't finish above .500 for 10 more years.

Broncos fans, you've got it good with your team, and you've had it good for nearly all of the last 38 years. Savor it.

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