A little more than two weeks ago, Melvin Gordon agreed to sign with the Broncos. To some, it is clear Gordon should be the starter in Denver, while others feel the Broncos never needed Gordon and should continue with their incumbent starter, Phillip Lindsay.
The truth is, both players can be featured running backs next season. We’ve seen it before in Broncos Country and it led to one of the most successful seasons in franchise history.
In 2005, the Broncos running-back room boasted veteran Mike Anderson and second-year speedster Tatum Bell. Neither player was the starter the previous season, but there were reasons why each guy could take over and have a solid season.
Anderson was a sixth-round pick in 2000 and had one of the most-prolific rookie seasons for a running back in NFL history. That year, he rushed for 1,487 yards with 15 touchdowns and was awarded NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year.
In the following seasons, Anderson would struggle to match the success he had as a rookie. Much like he was to Olandis Gary and Terrell Davis, Anderson would watch others fill his role while he was sidelined by injuries. To his credit, Anderson stayed on the roster waiting for another chance to break out.
Bell was drafted in the second round of the 2004 draft out of Oklahoma State with a pick acquired in the Clinton Portis trade. Being that he was fast and versatile, the hope was that Bell would become the next 1,000-yard back in the Mike Shanahan system.
The 2004 season should have been Anderson’s return to top form or Bell’s breakout year. Neither happened. Anderson missed the entire season due to injury, while the coaching staff felt Bell was not ready to be a starting running back.
Anderson and Bell would spend 2004 watching Reuben Droughns make the most out of what should have been their opportunity. Droughns ran for 1,240 yards in 12 games as a starter. Following 2004, Droughns was traded to the Browns, leaving both Anderson and Bell another opportunity to become “the guy.”
Neither player would let the opportunity pass them by.
In 2005, Anderson would be the starting running back and finish the season with 239 carries for 1,014 yards, averaging 4.2 yards per carry and scoring 12 touchdowns. Bell would end 2005 with 173 carries for 921 yards, averaging 5.3 per carry and eight touchdowns. The Broncos were 79 yards shy of having two 1,000-yard rushers.
For all intents and purposes, the two guys who were counted out in 2004 both had 1,000-yard seasons in 2005. They combined for 1,935 yards on the ground.
The combination of Anderson and Bell proved to be difficult for opposing defenses. Anderson was reliable and steady with the ability to wear down opponents. Bell was a great change of pace running back with big-play capabilities.
The Broncos would finish the 2005 season with a record of 13-3 and play in the AFC Championship Game. Ultimately, they lost the AFC title game to the Steelers in what was the worst game I ever attended. No matter how bad the ending, 2005 was one of the best teams in Broncos history.
The 2005 season is often remembered for the play of Champ Bailey, including his career-defining interception of Tom Brady in the divisional round of the playoffs. The Bailey-led defense created 36 turnovers, putting the offense in many advantageous positions.
The truth is, as good as the defense was, without that rushing attack of Anderson and Bell, that team would not have made it deep into the playoffs. It was consistent and provided stability for quarterback Jake Plummer who, at times, was known to make erratic and ill-advised throws.
Plummer threw 20 interceptions in 2004, in 2005 he only threw seven. The running game was once again the focal point of the Broncos offense. Plummer simply needed to make plays when needed and otherwise sit back and let the running back tandem of Bell and Anderson lead the way.
The 2020 Broncos are setting up to look like the 2005 Broncos, and it starts with Gordon and Lindsay. Much like pressure needed to be taken off of Plummer, the same can be said for current Broncos quarterback Drew Lock. Lock is still developing and the Broncos can’t ask too much of him as he continues to learn. Having a dominant run game will place Lock in a better position to make plays when the Broncos need him to shine. This is much more ideal than putting the burden on Lock to be the driving force behind the offense’s success.
With the recent offseason acquisitions, the Broncos now have a defense that seems to fit head coach Vic Fangio’s scheme. This defense, on paper, should be able to create turnovers similar to that of the 2005 squad. When a defense can continually create turnovers, having an elite run game can demoralize the opposing defense. The Broncos can once again control the pace of the games.
The 2005 Broncos were incredibly consistent because the defense and running game allowed them to continually dictate to their opponents.
Looking at it the micro view, having two 1,000-yard running backs is a great achievement. The macro view is that when the Broncos had two 1,000-yard running backs, they were a highly successful team and were in a position to play in the Super Bowl.
The 2005 philosophy is the blueprint the Broncos should follow to maximize their success in 2020.
Melvin Gordon can be Mike Anderson, the reliable veteran that wears down opposing defenses. And Phillip Lindsay can be Tatum Bell, the big-play, change-of-pace running back.
Instead of looking at it as Melvin Gordon or Phillp Lindsay, the Broncos and Broncos Country need to start thinking Melvin Gordon and Phillip Lindsay.
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