Breaking Down What Willis McGahee's Injury Means for Peyton Manning, Broncos

John RozumCorrespondent INovember 20, 2012

November 18, 2012; Denver, CO, USA; Denver Broncos running back Wills McGahee (23) runs with the ball during the first quarter against the San Diego Chargers at Sports Authority Field at Mile High.  Mandatory Credit: Chris Humphreys-US PRESSWIRE
Chris Humphreys-US PRESSWIRE

Veteran running back Willis McGahee of the Denver Broncos is expected to miss some time.

According to Adam Schefter and Chris Mortensen of

Denver Broncos running back Willis McGahee has a torn medial collateral ligament in his right knee and will miss six to eight weeks.

McGahee also has a fracture in the bone in his lower right leg. He will be on crutches for about a month, and doctors have told him not to put any weight on his leg, according to a source. McGahee will not need surgery and he believes he can come back in four to six weeks, even though the team thinks it's a six- to eight-week injury.

These circumstances are unfortunate, and they affect Peyton Manning and the Broncos offense to a certain degree.

We've recently seen rookie ball-carrier Ronnie Hillman earn more attempts, as he was given 14 rushes against the New Orleans Saints and 12 on Sunday against the San Diego Chargers. In McGahee's absence, though, more contributions can also occur from Lance Ball.

To that end, let's check out what to anticipate moving onward as December nears.


Note: All screen-caps courtesy of's Game Rewind.


The Advantage of Ronnie Hillman

The majority of Hillman's carries came on first down, so it's reasonable to expect a similar approach over the next few weeks.

Here, we see Hillman's capabilities as he darts for 21 yards on his first carry against the Chargers.

Along with the reach blocking of the offensive line, the play develops nicely from the snap because of Hillman's patience and an edge stock block. You can see there's a corner manned up at the top, and the Cover 2 safety will fill the alley from the snap.

Well, with the offensive line sealing the initial edge one-on-one, the receiver slightly runs off the corner and proceeds to shield the safety. 

The end result just before Hillman bursts outward is roughly a six-yard gap between him and the nearest tackling threat. Hillman then continues outside and outruns to the edge for a big gain. Because of his youth, speed and lateral quickness, Hillman is able to provide this aspect.

McGahee is more of an inside runner, and Hillman's top gear adds dynamics to Denver's ground game. Even better is Hillman running downhill, which bodes well for when the Broncos need him to slam between the tackles. It also helps that Hillman is not drastically undersized either.

The Reliability of Lance Ball

Lance Ball had two solid runs in the fourth quarter against San Diego. One went for 14 yards and another for 13. On each, Ball displayed the same capabilities of every Broncos' running back: get downhill.

This is just simple stretch play, and Ball sees the lane, hits it and rolls downfield to keep the chains moving. Now, the advantage of Manning under center is he recognizes everything a defense tries to disguise pre-snap.

As a result, San Diego leaves the blitz on despite Manning calling an audible. Considering the game situation with the score and clock, it's easy to think of Manning's audible just flipping the play from left to right.

What this play reveals is that Denver will not miss a beat with McGahee out. Ball plants his foot—circled in red—and remains tight to the block of No. 81 Joel Dreessen. Because of that, Ball creates just enough space from the one potential tackler.

Once through the lane, the open field becomes his oyster, and the would-be tackler eats the tasty turf of Mile High.

Hillman and Ball both know how to square up the shoulders and press forward to prevent from negative gains. In short, the effect is the Broncos relying a bit more on the ground game to set up the pass.

Doing so simply takes immense pressure off of Peyton Manning, which bodes quite well for January, as Denver will present a stronger offensive balance.


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