ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — After facing one of the toughest run defenses in the league in the 49ers, the Broncos' running backs could have an opportunity to shine against the Raiders on Sunday.
While the stat sheet may have been modest, the Broncos' rushers did their job against San Francisco's defense — a dominant group that allowed the second-fewest rushing yards in the league entering the game. The 101 combined rushing yards between Javonte Williams, Melvin Gordon III and Russell Wilson was much higher than the average of 67.5 rush yards per game allowed by the 49ers through their first two games, which was a testament to Denver's ability to move the ball on the ground.
Against the Raiders, the run game could be significantly more productive — and, along with that, Williams and Gordon could see a more productive workload.
Through the first three games of 2022, Las Vegas has allowed over 110 rushing yards per game, as well as 22 rushing first downs and four rushing touchdowns on the season. The Raiders' defense has also allowed touchdowns on 80 percent of their opponents' trips inside the 20-yard line, which could be a golden opportunity for Denver to improve their red-zone efficiency and let Williams and Gordon put points on the board. Head Coach Nathaniel Hackett, though, knows the Broncos will still face a challenge against Las Vegas.
"I think that the Raiders are a very good football team," Hackett said Thursday. "I think that they have a really good scheme down in the red zone. I think that sometimes things happen [and] they don't click, whether it be stopping them or getting in the end zone. For us, we just want to do what is best for this game, we want to be sure to get the matchups that we can and be able to get the ball in the end zone. … I think we're better than we are [and] I think they're better than they are. I think [we are] both really two good teams."
Williams also emphasized the Broncos must not overreact to the Raiders' slow start.
"It's just a team that's learning a new defense — they're trying to get everything together," Williams said. "This is the NFL, so any week, any team can come out and show you something different. We're just preparing like it's any other game. Last week, we prepared for the red zone the same way we're doing this week."
Williams has yet to score a touchdown in 2022, but he leads the Broncos with 176 rush yards and continues to display his signature ability to shed tackles. The powerful back has forced 75 missed tackles since 2021, according to the NFL Research Department, and he has consistently broken through defenders to average 4.8 yards per carry — good for eighth in the league among running backs with 30 or more carries.
Against the Raiders, Williams could see more carries, more broken tackles and perhaps the end zone in Sunday's matchup.
Hackett and the Broncos have split carries between Williams and Gordon almost equally, and he intends to continue frequently using both running backs. While Williams has been more efficient with his touches, Gordon has found ways to make big plays in crucial moments — his 1-yard touchdown run against the 49ers proved to be the difference in the game.
Hackett didn't divulge how he plans to divide the workload between the two running backs against Las Vegas, but he explained that his top priority is keeping both Williams and Gordon fresh.
"Whenever we put a game plan together, we'll have specific things for certain people," Hackett said. "But at the same time, we want to keep those guys fresh. I think [Running Backs Coach] Tyrone [Wheatley], who's played the position for a long time, he has a great feel for those guys as they run, because they run hard, both of them. We want to be sure that they're fresh, and so we'll get them both in, and we want to keep them as fresh as we can throughout the game."
While some running backs may worry about losing their rhythm when they split carries, Williams isn't fazed. To the second-year back out of North Carolina, he has the ability to make plays no matter the circumstances.
"I just run when I get the ball," Williams said. "Some people say it [does affect your rhythm], some people say it don't, but I feel like, if you're a good player, whenever you get the ball in your hands you're going to make something happen."
Williams certainly knows how to make things happen with the ball in his hands, and he and Gordon will look to do just that on Sunday against the Raiders.
Take a look inside the Broncos' week of practice with images from team photographer Gabriel Christus.