Time to Play Ball
By Daniel Calzone
It is about that time of year when Mother Nature’s winter wrath starts tempering the expectations of NFL teams’ passing games. Compound that harsh, cold and windy reality with the fact that the Denver Broncos’ leading rusher Knowshon Moreno is banged up, and it is clear that Montee Ball will need to step up. The Broncos need more from the rookie in the stretch run, regardless of how important Moreno is becoming. Peyton Manning is just 1-6 in his last seven games in frigid temperatures. He notoriously struggles in the cold, making the rushing game that much more important for Denver down the stretch. (Not to mention, the Super Bowl is in New Jersey this year!)
Moreno has carried the ball 65 times in the past two weeks, including a prodigious 37 rushes in Sunday night’s OT loss to the New England Patriots. He can’t be expected to handle that taxing of a workload this late in the season. I believe his current ankle injury is a testament to that. Keeping Moreno in the 15-20 carry range seems like the wise play here.
It is time for the 22-year-old Ball, who at times this season has looked very good, to step up and start taking some of that weight off Moreno’s shoulders. The Broncos could definitely benefit from something that more closely resembles a timeshare in the backfield. Ball ran seven times for 40 yards against the Patriots on Sunday, but did lose his third fumble of the season. (Ball security young fella, you don’t want to wind up like the New York Giants’ David Wilson). Ball, a former Wisconsin Badger, needs to start gaining the trust of his teammates and develop into a quality sidekick to Moreno.
However, Ball is getting better. If you take a close look at the numbers you can see that the rookie is improving as his first season progresses. He averaged 3.2 yards-per-carry in September, 3.4 in October, and has averaged 4.3 so far in November. If he can continue to build on those numbers, and prove he can be a productive runner in this league, he will become a more prominent player in the final stages of the season for this Denver offense. The Broncos are banking on it.
Moreno is listed as questionable with a sprained right ankle for this weekend’s rematch with the Kansas City Chiefs. If Moreno can’t go, Ball will likely play a featured role. Both the Broncos and Chiefs are currently 9-2. The winner of the game will take its rightful seat atop the AFC West and put itself in an advantageous position as far home-field advantage in the playoffs is concerned.