ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — At the running back position, there's strength in numbers.
"You always need a couple backs to carry the load offensively," Head Coach Vic Fangio said during the offseason.
In Melvin Gordon III and Javonte Williams, the Broncos have found that desired committee. Through 13 weeks, Gordon and Williams have each rushed for more than 600 yards, which makes the tandem one of two duos in the NFL to each reach that mark.
Though Gordon has started all but one of the games, the two players have effectively split carries as the season enters the final stretch. Before Gordon missed Sunday's game in Kansas City, he had 135 attempts on the year, while Williams had 117. Over the course of 11 games, that represented a difference of less than two carries per game for Gordon and Williams.
"We can both do it all," Gordon said Thursday. "We can pass block, we can catch, we both can run. We can both do it all. You don't lose much when [either] guy comes in. Both explosive, both can make plays. That's good. I know I would like the ball, I know he would like the ball more. That's just us being us. But it keeps team uneasy, to say the least. A guy gets tired, [another] guy comes in there full strength, full stamina. Go attack it, go get after it, man. The whole goal and the objective is to win football games, and that's what we're here to do."
Their similar styles also means that the Broncos don't have to drastically change their play call when either Gordon or Williams is in the game. They are both big-bodied, physical backs that can run through contact, and they're each capable of making explosive plays.
"It really doesn't matter who's in there," Offensive Coordinator Pat Shurmur said. "We can call the same offense, and that is rare. It's a credit to both of them, because they're very multiple in what they can do."
Gordon and Williams are so successful together, in part, because of the players they are as individuals. Gordon is a two-time Pro Bowler who has posted at least eight rushing touchdowns in every completed season since 2016, and he has a chance to continue that streak in 2021. Williams, meanwhile, posted 178 total yards and a touchdown against the Chiefs in the first start of his career. He is the first Broncos rookie to ever have more than 100 rushing yards and 75 receiving yards in a game, and he has the most total yards in a single game of any rookie running back in 2021.
With his performance against Kansas City, Williams grabbed the temporary lead in rushing yards, as he now has 670 yards on the season. That total ranks 12th in the NFL among running backs entering Week 14.
"He went crazy," Gordon said. "He balled out. He did what we all knew he could do. … We've been splitting the ball down the middle since we started the year off. If you leave me in there or you leave him in there, just think of the yards me and him both put together and just put it into one player. … I think either one of us, if we didn't have each other, we'd probably be top five in rushing. But we're just in the position where we've got two number one [running backs] here. We just got to do what we need to do."
The future of the Broncos' one-two punch remains uncertain. Williams is clearly a key part of the team's core, and he should only improve as his career continues.
"He carried the team on his back," Gordon said. "I don't think there was any question about if he could carry the load by himself. We all know that. We all know he can do that. He's just that type of runner. But he's going to be special, man. He's going to be here for a long time. He's going to be a Bronco for a while."
Gordon's contract, meanwhile, expires following the 2021 season. He reiterated on Thursday, though, that he hopes to return to the Mile High City next year.
"Have I been thinking about it?" Gordon said of 2022. "Hell yeah, I'm thinking about it. I'd love to be here, man. I want to be here. I don't think many people want me here as far as the fans, man. I've been seeing a lot of stuff. And I understand. I understand, I get it. But I love it here, I love the guys here.
"Great group of guys, role models — younger and older — to follow, and it's just a great atmosphere. I love the fans regardless of the hate right now. I think it's mostly because of fantasy, honestly. The fantasy football, man, it gets people a little tight in the rear end. I'm excited to be here. I'd love to be here. They do good with running backs here. When we run the ball, we can really be dangerous, as you can see. I feel like with that O-line we got right now, they're going to be really special. They're going to be really special. We've got some young guys that are really talented. I've had quite a few years where my line wasn't as great. You see something blossoming, and you want to be a part of it. Hopefully, God willing, I am."
SHUTTING TEAMS DOWN EARLY
The Broncos are on pace to post their best statistical defensive season since Fangio took over in 2019, as their third-ranked scoring defense has allowed just 18.2 points per game. If you remove opponents' two defensive touchdowns and one special teams score against the Broncos, that points per game average drops to 16.6 points per game.
Denver, though, has struggled at times in the early moments of games. In four games this season, the Broncos have allowed 10 total points on an opponent's opening two possessions. In some of those games, Denver then clamped down. The Browns scored just seven more points, while the Chiefs added just six more points on offense. Still, the Broncos are searching for ways to prevent those early scores.
"I don't have a real answer for [why that's happened], but I can tell you it's on our mind and we're always trying to perfect that," Defensive Coordinator Ed Donatell said Thursday. "We always want to start the game fast and get control of it. It doesn't always happen, and we'll look at ourselves. It's always specific to every opponent. We want to stop them, get the ball to our offense right away, and take control of the game. That's what our intentions are."