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Running game stays strong behind offensive line push


DENVER —**Three weeks ago, questions hounded the Broncos about their offensive line. The running game couldn't get off the ground against St. Louis and concern on the outside mounted about the shuffling up front moving Will Montgomery into the starting center spot, sliding Manny Ramirez to guard and Louis Vasquez out to right tackle.

At the time, Orlando Franklin gave a very evenhanded response: "You don't just create chemistry in two weeks as an offensive line. We understand that our team is relying on us for us to get better and we will get better as an offensive line. We will be able to run the ball and we will be able to pass protect, we'll be able to protect Peyton Manning and do exactly what our coaches and this organization have asked us to do."

Three wins and and 548 rushing yards later, it looks like Franklin's words have been something akin to prophetic.

Still, even after two consecutive games dominating on the ground, nothing was going to be given against a daunting Bills defense that boasted the best pass-rushing front line and one of the best rushing defenses. Buffalo's defensive line had combined for 36.5 sacks and formed part of a top-10 defense in terms of rushing yards per play allowed.

Browse photos of the second half of the Broncos' home game against the Bills.

And yet the offensive line proved their own pedigree, preventing any of the Bills' linemen from reaching Manning, or anyone else for that matter.

"We did our job," Vasquez said. "At the end of the day, we kept [Manning] clean. We didn't give up many sacks, and that's in our job description. We're not going to sit here and high five each other and things like that, because at the end of the day that's our job."

Of course, pass protection is not the only part of the job description. The other part—run blocking—also did well with 133 total rushing yards.

Though the running game didn't have as much success as previous weeks, the Broncos ran for the third-most yards that Buffalo had yet allowed on the ground.

It came in a different way this time. C.J. Anderson did not have a third straight career game. Instead, Juwan Thompson led the team in rushing yards for the first time of his career. With 63 yards for Thompson and 58 for Anderson, the balance between the two backs gave the offense multiple options.

"It's a change of pace," Vasquez said. "Juwan is more of a one-cut guy, downhill and C.J., he's got more moves. He's got a knack for finding the hole or getting behind blockers until he sees an opening and he hits it."

You could see each of those styles on display Sunday afternoon, with Thompson exploding for a 47-yard gain and Anderson bulldozing between the tackles. Between the two backs, the Broncos got first downs when needing five or fewer yards on eight of their 10 attempts.

And though the numbers aren't as gaudy, the impact was still there. Last week's red zone woes became a perfect 3-for-3 mark against Buffalo, with three rushing touchdowns from Anderson as the offensive line continues to come together like Franklin said it would.

"Every week we build on the previous week. Every week there's different things we need to work on," Vasquez said. "But as far as us gelling together, I think we're doing a good job of it. Will, he does a good job of calling the fronts out and giving Manny, being a center before, he can help Will out a lot, too. That way Will can keep his eyes on the front of the defense and he can make adjustments accordingly."

At this time of the season when they want to click on all cylinders, it seems the key to finding that rhythm was simply coming together.

"It just took time to really get everyone on the same page, because at the end of the day, you need all 11 on the same page to excel," Thompson said.

Franklin's assessment, like before, was an evenhanded one: "I think we're doing a great job, but like I said, I think we're nowhere near a finished product. I mean, we haven't arrived yet. That's absolutely true right there, I mean, Coach Magazu tells us that all the time. We've got to be able to look at the tape tonight or tomorrow and just get better from it."

Naturally, with the regular season nearing its conclusion with just a few weeks remaining, the stakes in remaining games get higher with wild card, division and conference standings on the line.

All of those pieces were in the mix for this game, and facing a hungry team looking for a postseason spot, the Broncos showed their mettle in their run game on Sunday against one of the league's best defenses as they continue to prove their offense can't be pigeonholed.

"It's hard to win big games, especially late in the season," Vasquez said. "They all get bigger and bigger and they end up being more of a playoff atmosphere. You have to be able to be two-dimensional to win these big games down the stretch."

Browse still shots of the field action during the first half of the Broncos' game against the Bills.

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