Behind Enemy Lines: Ravens show why running matters

This is what a football team with a running game looks like.

And this is why it matters.

The Ravens outrushed the Broncos 233-39 Sunday in a physical beatdown worse than the 31-17 final score indicated. By the second half, the Broncos were getting pushed all over the field.

The Ravens rushed for 161 yards after intermission, salting away the game. This is what winners do. The Broncos, by contrast, were happy to add to Kyle Orton's exorbitant, increasingly meaningless passing statistics.

Within an hour of the end of the game, the club had issued a news release celebrating Orton's 1,733 passing yards through the first five games, the most in franchise history over that span.

Is it possible that no one in the organization knows this is a joke?

These are the numbers of a football team that can't run the ball to save its life, and against good teams, is behind much of the time. Sunday, Orton's stats were padded by a meaningless final drive that seemed to have no purpose other than to get him more than 300 passing yards for a fourth straight week.

So what? His team is 2-3. If the Broncos are willing to be pushed around all year, their opponents will gladly let them set all the passing records they like.

Is it possible that coach Josh McDaniels, unable to run a balanced attack with the players he's assembled, is settling for the credit that comes from coaching quarterbacks to extravagant personal numbers?

Remember when Orton was known for pedestrian statistics and a winning record? Under McDaniels, increasingly he's known for gaudy statistics and a pedestrian record. He's now 10-10 as a Broncos starter, but hey, he is putting up those luminous passing stats.

None of which is his fault, by the way. Orton can't make the offensive line open holes. He can't make the running backs run through them. All he can do is hand the ball off, watch the running backs go nowhere over and over and over again, then start heaving the rock in a desperate attempt to keep a one-dimensional offense in games against teams with more balanced attacks.

In fact, the Ravens had been taking grief about their running game until this week. After years of playing smashmouth football, they added a couple of high-profile receivers this year. They were averaging only 84 rushing yards per game through four weeks, although they were 3-1. That was still better than the Broncos' 55-yard average, which ranked last in the NFL.

But against the Broncos' defensive front, the Ravens got well in a big way, establishing the pass early then pounding the Broncos into submission on the ground. "It's nice to know we can run the ball," said John Harbaugh, their coach. "That's a defense that's pretty much set up to stop the run in a lot of ways, and we did a good job of running on them anyway."

McDaniels' frustration with his running game is more apparent in his actions than his words. His overhauled offensive line is struggling to get any push at the point of attack. Stanley Daniels, who started the first four games at left guard, was inactive Sunday, joining D'Anthony Batiste and rookie Zane Beadles in the trial and error department.

Veteran Russ Hochstein started in his place.

On the bright side, Orton was sacked only once after being brought down six times a week ago. This is outstanding considering the Broncos ran the ball exactly three times for 1 yard in the second half.

In case you're keeping track, the Broncos' rushing average fell to 51.8 yards per game after Sunday's grand total of 39 yards on the ground, which was, incredibly, twice the total of a week ago. The Ravens' improved to 114.

"Especially being an inside linebacker, anytime they can run the ball any way they want to, that's very disappointing," said the Broncos' Mario Haggan. "I have to look at myself in the mirror as well as look at my teammates and figure out what are we going to do next weekend when we go against the New York Jets."

Winning football starts with dominating the line of scrimmage. That means running the ball and stopping the run. All the fancy passing schemes of the modern era haven't changed that.

If the Broncos hope to make anything of this season, they will have to figure out a way to do both much better than they did Sunday.

Dave Krieger: 303-954-5297, or

Copyright © 2020, The Baltimore Sun, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication | Place an Ad