Peyton’s place wasn’t in Denver
Josh McDaniels has never been shy about shedding some of the
players he inherited from Mike Shanahan’s star-studded offense.
With Kyle Orton leading the league in passing and a half-dozen
of his targets already in double digits in catches, there doesn’t
seem to be a lot of angst among Denver Broncos fans over the
departures of Jay Cutler, Brandon Marshall and Tony Scheffler, no
matter how well they’re playing for their current teams.
Given the Broncos’ woeful running game, however, McDaniels is
drawing plenty of scrutiny for his decision to trade backup
tailback Peyton Hillis to Cleveland this spring.
Hillis has the Browns’ ground game in high gear while the
Broncos are ranked last in the NFL in rushing, making what was a
rather minor trade one of the hottest topics in the league at the
Twenty-three running backs have run for more yards than Denver’s
220, including Hillis, who has 322 yards and four touchdowns. His
two 100-yard games are as many as the Broncos running backs have
managed in 20 games under McDaniels.
Hillis also leads the league in third-and-short conversions at
5-for-5, something the Broncos have had trouble with ever since
McDaniels made oft-injured Knowshon Moreno his first-ever draft
pick last year.
Hillis is averaging 85 yards a game on the ground and the
So, was the answer to the Broncos’ running woes right under
their noses all along?
Not a chance, McDaniels insists.
Denver’s ground game woes go way beyond the guy carrying the
ball. The injury-riddled and inexperienced offensive line has had
trouble clearing the line of scrimmage between the tackles, and the
few times there have been lanes, the banged-up backs haven’t hit
the holes fast enough.
As offensive coordinator Mike McCoy suggests, it’s all 11
players on offense plus their coaches who bear both the blame and
burden to fix it.
McDaniels won’t look back with regrets over sending Hillis to
the Browns, either.
”We’ve talked a lot about that. Again, Peyton was a good
person, a good player and he’s in another place right now and, you
know, whether he would be effective here or not, that would be
speculation on our part and everybody else’s,” McDaniels said
Thursday. ”And I wish him the best, but we’ve got to focus on what
we’ve got here.”
Which is quite a mess.
The Broncos gained just 19 yards on 20 carries at Tennessee last
week, their worst per-carry average in 38 years. Correll Buckhalter
and Laurence Maroney combined for just 8 yards rushing and Orton’s
three scrambles for 11 yards produced the team’s most effective
runs for the second straight week.
For his part, Hillis has Denver in his rearview mirror. He said
Thursday he hopes McDaniels doesn’t keep getting bashed for trading
him to the Browns.
”They’re 2-2. I love being a Cleveland Brown,” Hillis said.
”Hopefully, he doesn’t take too much heat because he’s a good
coach and he’s doing a great job for that organization.”
Hillis quickly fell out of favor with McDaniels, carrying just
13 times for 54 yards and a TD last year.
The 240-pound bone-rattler energized the Broncos in 2008 when he
emerged during an injury epidemic among the team’s tailbacks and
ran for a team-high 343 yards and scored six touchdowns before
tearing his right hamstring against Kansas City in December.
The Broncos sorely missed his toughness and production as they
lost their last three games to miss the playoffs, which led to the
coaching change at Dove Valley and a new career path for
Hillis’ rugged running style that gave the Broncos’ struggling
offense a nasty aura in ’08 also earned him legions of fans who
were befuddled by his lack of carries last year when McDaniels
ignored him in short-yardage situations, even though Moreno kept
coming up short.
Finally, McDaniels shipped him to the Browns for quarterback
Brady Quinn, closing the book, if not the debate, on Hillis’ short
stay in Denver.
McDaniels told Sports Radio 104.3 The Fan in Denver last week
that while the Broncos felt Hillis could be successful in the NFL,
”I think ultimately it wasn’t a great fit.”
McDaniels believes in spreading the ball around to a bevy of
backs, so nobody’s going to get 25 carries a game in his offense
like Hillis is doing now in Cleveland, where injuries have forced
him into a more prominent role.
”I think he’s found a place that’s maybe a better fit for
him,” McDaniels told the radio station. ”Our offense wasn’t
really centered around that type of style.”
Last week, McDaniels labeled ”ridiculous” the notion that
handing the ball to rookie quarterback Tim Tebow, whose bruising
running style helped Florida win two national titles, could be the
salve for the short-yardage, red-zone runs that keep getting
Moreno hasn’t played since straining his left hamstring on Sept.
23. He returned to practice Wednesday but McDaniels held him out
Newcomer Andre Brown doesn’t yet have the coaches’ confidence in
pass protection, McDaniels said. That’s a big issue given the
pounding Orton took last week at Tennessee, when he was sacked six
Despite being one-dimensional, the Broncos are 2-2 thanks to
Orton, whose 1,419 yards passing through four games is second in
league annals to Kurt Warner’s 1,557 yards for St. Louis in
”I’d definitely trade in passing yards for offensive balance,”
That’s one trade that wouldn’t draw any debate.