Anderson, Hillman trying to find groove in Broncos backfield
Oct. 29, 2015
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. (AP) — Ronnie Hillman moved deftly to his left and then quickly back to his right, gaining separation.
This was no menacing linebacker he was eluding, but a pesky bug that landed near his locker.
"That bug is scarier" than Green Bay Packers star defender Clay Matthews, cracked Hillman, who has flashed similar moves on the field the last few weeks as Denver's ground game finally gains some traction.
Hillman rushed for 111 yards at Cleveland two weeks ago and backfield mate C.J. Anderson had several crucial blocks on blitzes — not exactly a glamorous statistic, but vital to the protection of quarterback Peyton Manning.
This weekend would be an opportune time to rev up the running game even more to keep Aaron Rodgers and the Packers offense on the sideline.
"The offensive line is starting to get in a groove and it's making it easier for us to run," said Hillman, whose team had a season-high 152 yards rushing in the 26-23 overtime win at Cleveland. "I just think that we need to build on that, build off what we did against Cleveland and get it going."
This certainly helped in the confidence territory: Converting a third-and-1 at the Cleveland 40 in overtime. Offensive linemen Louis Vasquez and Evan Mathis turned to Anderson in the huddle and bluntly told him he WOULD pick up the first down.
Anderson followed their orders, and a few plays later Brandon McManus kicked the winning field goal.
"We need to have that feeling (of urgency) immediately," Anderson said. "We've been emphasizing that in meetings. We need to have that type of play every play."
In practice this week, the running backs found some holes against Denver's highly touted defense, one that ranks fourth in the league against the run.
Another big confidence boost.
"We know how great our defense is, so if we can move the ball on them, we can pretty much move the ball against anybody," Anderson said.
Anderson doesn't have spectacular numbers this season, rushing for just 180 yards on 67 carries. That's a total he nearly had in a game against Kansas City last November, when he went for a career-high 168 yards. He takes grief all the time from fantasy owners on Twitter, the ones who picked him so high in drafts, but can handle the heat, especially since he's keeping the heat away from Manning in passing situations.
His blocking ability impresses Mathis.
"There are flashy players in the league that are one-trick ponies who are good receivers, or good backs, that get a lot of yards but can let their team down in pass protection," Mathis said. "The guys we have here make an effort to do the job the best they can on every play."
Still, Anderson wouldn't mind busting a couple of long runs. He's yet to have a run longer than 14 yards this season.
"Of course, I can run the ball better," said Anderson, who didn't make his first start until last November and finished with 849 yards to make the Pro Bowl squad. "I can agree with that and I have an opportunity to do that this Sunday. I'm also picking up my protections and helping my team win any way I can."
Hillman has shown his explosiveness as he's gone over the 100-yard mark in two of the last three games. He also had a 72-yard touchdown burst against Minnesota.
Once they get going, Hillman thinks he and Anderson will provide a nice 1-2 punch. It will come in handy, too, when the weather gets colder.
"Very few teams that have just one running back doing all the work," Hillman said. "The more guys you have that can help and keep each other fresh the better."
NOTES: LB Von Miller missed practice Thursday to attend a funeral. ... Broncos owner Pat Bowlen will be inducted into the Broncos' Ring of Fame on Sunday. Bowlen isn't expected to attend as he battles Alzheimer's disease.
AP Pro Football Writer Arnie Stapleton contributed.
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