ENGLEWOOD, Colo. --When C.J. Anderson studied film of the Raiders last week, he saw a defense that whiffed more often than it would like. He knew he could make them miss -- and that played right into his hands.
Among the 44 running backs with at least 100 carries in 2014, only Seattle's Marshawn Lynch and the New York Jets' Chris Ivory forced missed tackles at a higher rate than Anderson, who left defenders grasping an average of once every 4.07 carries, per ProFootballFocus.com's missed-tackle numbers.
Anderson's instincts and sharp cuts help make it possible. But so does his examination of the opponent.
"There are some things on film that you see how people play and how people want to (stop you)," Anderson said. "So you try to watch certain backs, and just try to see how (they react).
"Some DBs just like to go low at your legs. You just try to understand that and see that and then as far as instincts, seeing color flash in front of your face and then run into open space."
Against the Raiders, he found that space. On two of his three touchdown runs Sunday, Anderson broke multiple tackles en route to his second hat trick of the month.
The first scoring jaunt saw him go between two tandem blocks: Will Montgomery and Orlando Franklin to his left, Manny Ramirez and Louis Vasquez to his right. Ramirez drove out in front and got out of the way just in time for Anderson to sprint through, where he made Brandian Ross miss.
That left Anderson one-on-one with D.J. Hayden. Although Hayden came into the game as a solid run defender, Anderson exposed the second-year cornerback's 34-pound disadvantage by plowing through him at the 1-yard-line. Charles Woodson arrived too late, and Anderson had his first touchdown of the day.
After an easy 1-yard score in the second quarter, Anderson provided the Elaine Benes exclamation point to his day on the second play from scrimmage after halftime, a 25-yard touchdown run that pushed the Broncos' lead to three scores, at 27-7.
First, this play is an example of beautiful all-around execution from a three-wide receiver set with Julius Thomas. That alignment gets the Raiders thinking pass, but for the second consecutive play, the Broncos ran. The flow of the blocking went left, and Anderson made a sharp cut up the middle, where he ran through three Oakland defenders for the score.
Plays like this aren't simple because of the collective execution involved, but Anderson's role is.
"It's more trying to run in open space and get back to the details and let my ability go," he said. "I know if you're sitting on the right of me, and the left is open, I don't want to go right. Open space is on the left. You just try to get to the left quicker than [the defender] thinks you're going to go left, because he knows you're going to go left."
A crucial element to making the run happen is Thomas, who is the only blocker to Anderson's right by the time he gets the football. Thomas gets turned around just in time to guide Justin Tuck behind Anderson, who is safely out of reach, setting Anderson up for the first level. Once Anderson runs through Ray-Ray Armstrong, Hayden and finally Charles Woodson, he's cleared the second level.
Anderson's ability to make tacklers miss helped him become one of the league's most consistent backs. Despite his long run being a modest 27 yards, he averaged 4.7 yards per carry in 2014. Of the 12 running backs who averaged at least 4.5 yards per carry and had at least 100 rushes, Anderson was the only one without at least one gain of at least 40 yards to bolster his average.
And in the last eight weeks, only one running back -- Pittsburgh's Le'Veon Bell -- has more yards from scrimmage per game than Anderson, who with every game becomes a more complete running back.
As Von Miller's backup at strongside linebacker and sub-package edge rusher, Lerentee McCray knows that opportunities are scarce. But he was finally able to cash one in in the fourth quarter Sunday, with a strip-sack-fumble of Derek Carr that cornerback Tony Carter recovered and returned for a touchdown that increased the Broncos' lead to 40-14.
Many sacks are the result of a pas de deux over multiple plays, and McCray's was no exception. On the previous three plays of the possession, he set up Oakland right tackle Khalif Barnes, twice trying to work to the outside, then slanting inside and bouncing off the right guard before he stunted around defensive tackle Marvin Austin.
Then, after a Carr completion kept the series alive, McCray went for the haymaker, getting Barnes to commit to preventing the edge rush, then getting leverage to bounce off him and accelerate to the quarterback.
"I had been mixing it up on him," McCray said. "I had been powering him and speeding him, so I was just setting him up for the (inside) speed, because he was thinking I was going to run around him.
"So I speed-rushed him, and then I ripped him back inside, and I came free."
It was the best game yet for McCray, who ProFootballFocus.com credited with two hurries and a sack. No one expects him to replicate a former All-Pro like Miller, but in setting up Barnes before attacking, he showed the kind of patience and savvy that mature pass rushers display: the knowledge that you only have to get to the quarterback once in a game to make a massive impact.
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