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Royce Freeman will remain a part of Broncos offensive plans

(Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)

The Broncos have a strong rushing attack with starter Phillip Lindsay. After six games, Lindsay is the 12th-leading rusher in the NFL with 397 rushing yards. His 19 receptions are tied for 16th most in the league by a running back.

Lindsay is doing all of this while working in a timeshare.

The Broncos use a 1-2 punch with Royce Freeman working as a primary backup in this running-back-by-committee. However, perhaps the Broncos should be moving away from a RBBC and instead start featuring Lindsay more. The offense seems to stall a bit at times when Freeman gets on the field and Lindsay goes to the sideline.

I started asking around about Freeman’s usage on Tuesday out at UC Health Training Center. From the players and coach’s perspective, it seems like Freeman is going to stay heavily involved going forward even though they seem to click better with Lindsay.

Like it or not, Freeman is going to stay involved in this Broncos offense. Can he improve? Let’s take a look.

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Losing Momentum

It seems like when Freeman spells Lindsay in a drive, the offense will lose momentum. Look back at the opening drive against the Titans on Sunday.

The Broncos were driving and it looked like they may open the game with a touchdown. Then, Freeman came onto the field and the offense stalled – forcing them to settle for a field goal.

On Tuesday, I asked Broncos offensive coordinator Rich Scangarello if Freeman was dancing too much as a ball-carrier and if the offense lost momentum when the big back got onto the field. Scangarello was emphatic with his answer.

“I don’t feel that at all. I think Royce is one of the most complete football players on this team and I trust him as much as anyone in this building. The two of them are great players and we’re fortunate to have both of them and we’ve got to keep playing at a high level. Royce is going to have a big year and continue to have big years. He’s a physical and complete football player,” Scangarello said.

So, if Scangarello does not feel the team loses momentum when Freeman is on the field, we’ll see if they start having more success when Freeman spells Lindsay. I don’t mind if Freeman gets plenty of work, but midway through a drive seems a bit odd. Maybe the team should give Lindsay a drive or two, then give Freeman a drive himself.

Either way, there needs to be continuity when Lindsay or Freeman is lined up in the backfield.

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Better Than Advertised

One thing Freeman has done better than I thought he could is catch the ball out of the backfield. The second-year back has more receptions than Lindsay this year, ranking 13th in the NFL with 21 catches in 2019. Not only does Freeman have more catches, but he seems to catch the ball better than Lindsay.

Both backs have been targeted 26 times this season. Freeman has a catch rate of 80.8 percent, while Lindsay has a catch rate of 73.1 percent. While Freeman has a drop rate of 0.0 percent, Lindsay drops 7.7 percent of the passes thrown his way.

Lindsay likes what Freeman brings to the field – especially because it’s different from what his skill set is.

“Having him along my side is great because it’s a one-two punch. He brings something different to the game. I think with both of us staying healthy, we can have something special here,” Lindsay said.

Freeman is a good receiver, but that’s not the part of his game that needs improvement.

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Too Much Power

Freeman is a power back, but there are times when more nuance as a runner is needed. The video below was highlighted by NFL draft analyst Matt Waldman a couple of weeks ago. This footage clearly shows why Freeman may rely on his power too much.

This video breakdown highlights what is going on with Freeman too often. He can run through tackles, but too often Freeman is inviting the contact rather than looking for the wide-open lane. He needs to clean that up in order to play better as a pro.

Freeman is a strong runner and can grind down an opponent as the game goes on. I wouldn’t mind if the Broncos built a lead with Lindsay in the first three quarters as the primary back, then switch things up and insert Freeman as the lead back during the fourth quarter. In a way, Freeman makes for a perfect “closer” at the running back position.

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#FeedPhil

The Broncos need to use Lindsay in a similar way to the Panthers usage of Christian McCaffrey. I would love to see the #FeedPhil hashtag start trending on Twitter during game day to reiterate this point.

While Lindsay has 103 touches in 2019 (84 rushes, 19 receptions), McCaffrey has touched the ball a whopping 162 times (127 rushes, 35 receptions). Lindsay isn’t a big back like Freeman, but he could handle a larger workload.

The Broncos probably aren’t going to do that.

Instead, we’ll continue to see Lindsay work with Freeman in a split workload. The coaching staff loves Freeman, Lindsay loves Freeman, and that’s not going to change. Freeman does put the brakes on the offense at times when he’s on the field, so Scangarello needs to make sure the tempo and flow of the offense does not change when a change at running back is made.a