Analysis: Broncos must run to pass

Denver is going to start passing the ball, but running C.J. Anderson hard to the strong side is going to open it all up.

It’s no secret that the Panthers defense is elite, but they’re still beatable. Every team is. It’s all about finding that Achilles heel.

And for Carolina, their zones — generally a strength — are still very beatable, as evidenced by Drew Brees, Eli Manning, Matt Ryan, Aaron Rodgers and Russell Wilson.

What do all these guys have in common? One of the quickest receivers in the game of football catches passes from them. Brandin Cooks, Julio Jones, et al.

While Josh Norman gets all kinds of praise, while it’s deserved, the hype shouldn’t overshadow his serious limitations.

The day three draftee turned NFL star is a nice story, but it’s important to remember the reasons guys sometimes fall in the draft. For Norman, it was his 4.66 40 yard dash. His small-school status. And the lack of fluidity in his transition.

Carolina masks these things well, again, thanks to the zone scheme they employ. But teams that beat the Panthers defense were able to draw the single high look, use an inside threat down the seam, and then a cross or slant from the outside.


The Panthers know that they have this weakness. But seem to lack the personnel to fix it. They don’t have the speed, short of Luke Kuechly, and that’s a relative comparison to the speed of a linebacker.

Getting results there isn’t as simple as it sounds, but the principle is.

Heavy tight end sets — paging Vernon Davis — and a strong outside run game could do enough damage versus Carolina to where they’d need to load up the box.

And make no mistake, while the Denver offense has shown little to prove they’re as dynamic as the team from 2014, the personnel remains. Plus the best zone blocking guard in the NFL, Evan Mathis, who will likely line up against on of the best space eaters in the league, Star Lotulelei.

Denver is going to have to pound the ball successfully, which they can do. The run game improved through the season as players grew more accustomed to head coach Gary Kubiak‘s system.

The team eclipsed four yards per attempt in their last three games, which were capped by a 210 yard rushing exhibition against San Diego.

The games Denver didn’t win were the ones that didn’t include a run game.

The Broncos are still going to need to throw the ball, though, and they might need to take some deep shots. That’s something Manning can’t do well. But having a defense playing close allows some room for error.

If Denver can do this, they might pull of the best example of irony in a while, at least as football goes.

Keep pounding, C.J. Anderson, keep pounding.

Jason Leskiw is SFBay’s Oakland Raiders beat writer and member of the Professional Football Writers of America. Follow @SFBay and @LeskiwSFBay on Twitter and at for full coverage of the Oakland Raiders.