Heading into the postseason, being able to finish games on the ground will be key for Denver. Over the past two weeks, the team has proved it is capable of burning up game clocks on the ground.
Per the Denver Post, the Broncos have rushed 34 times and thrown just four times in the fourth quarter in the past two games. That's an average of just two Peyton Manning passes per fourth quarter, a sign that the ground game is working.
Fourth-year running back Knowshon Moreno has been the team's feature back, but he is not Denver's only weapon in the backfield.
Last week, Moreno, rookie Ronnie Hillman and recently signed fullback/running back hybrid Jacob Hester all carried the ball seven-plus times, with each back having a special role in the offense.
Moreno is the team's main back, taking first and second down duties with the ability to run, catch and block. Hillman is the speedy relief back who the team likes to use as a receiving option. Finally, Hester looks to become the team's short-yardage and main pass-protecting running back, after he excelled in both areas last week.
The play below gives a look at how the Broncos like to use Hillman in their Manning-led offense.
Hillman lines up with Manning in the backfield and receives a toss to the right (the camera's left). The Broncos like to get Hillman, who ran a 4.45 40-yard dash, outside and in space.
Hillman receives the pitch and heads toward the sideline, attempting to get around the edge of Baltimore's defense.
Hillman gets around the edge as Denver's offensive line does a great job of getting out in front of the running back to clear running lanes.
First down, Broncos. Speed kills. Utilizing Hillman's speed and shiftiness, the Broncos like to bring in Hillman for tosses, sweeps and occasionally as a receiver out of the backfield.
In the play above, the team's main back, Knowshon Moreno, is asked to run between the "C Gap"—between the tackle and tight end—testing the Broncos' ability to run between the hashes in addition to Hillman taking carries around the edge.
The play is set up well and Moreno quickly finds the hole.
After running through a would-have-been-arm-tackle, Moreno continues running down-field.
Moreno capped off the impressive by hurdling Ravens veteran safety Ed Reed (video here). Denver's top running back, Moreno displayed on this play why their is no controversy about who should start in the place of Willis McGahee for the Broncos.
The third piece to Denver's backfield, Jacob Hester (No. 40, pictured above), is expected to be used mainly in pass protection and short-yardage situations this season.
As the play above develops, Hester picks up a blitzing linebacker to help Manning's pocket stay intact.
Thanks in part to Hester's protection, Manning was able was able to complete the play downfield to wide receiver Eric Decker. On the next play, Hester ran it in for a Broncos score.
On the afternoon, Morneo led the trio with 22 carries for 118 yards and a score. Behind Moreno was Hillman with 14 carries for 29 yards and Hester with seven carries for 20 yards and a score of his own.
A backfield trio that provides the Broncos with speed, experience, and power, Moreno, Hillman and Hester will be key to the Broncos success in the postseason. The ability to close out games on the ground could mean the difference between winning and losing in January.
Averaging 29 carries per game, running the clock down should not be one of Denver's concerns. Denver's backfield has proved it is up to the task.