Offense was not built on the passer alone, and Jay Cutler’s immediate success or struggle as the Broncos’ starting quarterback may well rest as much upon the legs of the men lining up behind him as the prodigious right arm the rookie has only been able to brandish in practice the last three months.
In two of the Broncos’ last three games, Denver’s running game has failed to amass 65 yards. The team hasn’t had a 100-yard rusher since Mike Bell went over the milestone against Indianapolis on Oct. 29.
That’s just five games ago, so it might not seem like very long in the grand scheme of things, but for the Broncos and their historically prodigious running game, it seems like an eternity — particularly when their tailbacks have struggled to find running room in the weeks since, collectively averaging 64.5 yards a game in November — with more than half of their 258 yards for the month coming in the 35-27 loss to San Diego.
“We’ve just got to fly around a little bit more,” fullback Kyle Johnson said. “I think we got it, because historically we run the ball well around here and we’ve had glimpses of running the ball well in 2006; I think we’ve just got to smack some heads and find something that works. Denver can usually do that, and I think at running back, we need to show a little more explosiveness and break that last tackle to make a 5-, 7-yard gain into a 25-yard gain. Get the crowd excited, and let the line know they’re working for something that they’re achieving bit by bit.”
And if Cutler is to succeed, the Broncos will need more from their tailbacks.
“They’ve got to take a little pressure off that quarterback as well as all the other positions,” Head Coach Mike Shanahan said.
Having Tatum Bell back in the lineup will help. After missing three of the last four games, the third-year tailback — and the Broncos’ leading rusher so far this season — expects to return Sunday after grappling with turf toes for the past six weeks.
“I’m back — back starting,” Bell said Monday. “I’m not 100 percent, but good enough. I can play without worrying about it.”
“I think Tatum will be back,” Shanahan said. “I think our backs are in a little bit better shape than they have been.”
Bell didn’t expect to be out of uniform last Thursday, however.
“I was surprised, because I had a good practice a couple of days before we left, and I was starting everything off,” he said.
And if Bell returns, he — like his other teammates — will likely have as much impact on Cutler’s performance as the rookie himself.
“We all need to step up,” wide receiver David Kircus said. “To say we’re going to put it all on Jay’s shoulders is a false statement.”