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Published on 11/13/2009 at Fri Nov 13 09:00.
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This isn’t about statistics.

Peyton Hillis didn’t tabulate very many while the Denver Broncos were 6-0, but that didn’t matter, because the Broncos were winning.

Denver Broncos' Peyton Hillis (22) runs against the San Francisco 49ers during the 2009 preseason.  (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)

Denver Broncos' Peyton Hillis (22) runs against the San Francisco 49ers during the 2009 preseason. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)

This isn’t about favoritism. It’s true that Hillis became extremely popular after he was thrust into the starting lineup in 2008, but winning trumps all. It’s only after the offense has sputtered and the team has lost two straight that it’s time to bring up the diminished role of this fan-favorite.

This isn’t about football politics. Knowshon Moreno may be the team’s first round pick, and Hillis may be a seventh rounder from a year ago, but let’s take draft statuses and paychecks and throw them out the window. Let’s evaluate the Broncos’ bench and see who can be of use to help this offense get on the right track. Let’s take a close, hard look at the facts about this season and the production the running backs have enjoyed in 2009 compared to Hillis in 2008.

This is about producing offense, scoring points, and winning football games, and the Broncos haven’t done much of any since October 19th. And the answer to much of what ails the Broncos offense is sitting, underutilized, on the bench.

The answer is Peyton Hillis.

The Broncos are making a move at left guard. Ben Hamilton, the longest tenured Bronco, a starter in every game in which he was healthy since 2002, will be sidelined while Russ Hochstein gets the nod. I’m not a fan of Hochstein, and am not fully confident he will do better than Hamilton. When you can’t rely on your backup to outperform you starter, shuffling the offensive line isn’t the answer.

Peyton Hillis is the answer.

Consider how the Steelers followed the Ravens‘ blueprint and took advantage of Hamilton’s struggles. Repeatedly C Casey Wiegmann would slide over to help Hamilton double-team a Pittsburgh defensive lineman. Repeatedly Dick LeBeau sent a linebacker on a delayed blitz up the A gap, right at the spot Wiegmann was moments ago.

In these situations, if Wiegmann can’t disengage and make the block, the running back needs to pick up the blitz. Moreno was putrid in this area. Awful.

Peyton Hillis would do better.

Some suggest the Broncos make a change at quarterback. Chris Simms‘ better arm strength and mobility would give the offense a spark, they say.

I say Kyle Orton has done a bang-up job. He certainly hasn’t been explosive, but that doesn’t mean he’s incapable of being explosive (a perfectly-placed deep bomb that went straight through Brandon Marshall‘s hands in Week One comes to mind).

Against the Steelers, Orton had his worst outing, but a closer look at all the variables shows that he is not solely to blame. As Moreno gets knocked off his crossing route and Orton throws his first “real” interception of the year, one understands that Moreno could have done a better job recovering from the block and following through with his route. Orton shouldn’t have thrown that ball, but Moreno needs to do more to avoid leaving his quarterback hanging out to dry.

Peyton Hillis

Peyton Hillis wouldn’t so easily be knocked off his route. And the improvement in pass protection Hillis would provide would give Orton time to do better.

Changing quarterbacks isn’t the answer.

Peyton Hillis is the answer.

Finally, we’ve discussed why Hillis would improve the passing game, both in receiving and pass protection. But we have yet to address the primary role of a running back — running the football. A running attack takes pressure off the quarterback, keeps defenses honest, and opens up the play action. In order to open up this stuttering Broncos offense, an effective rushing game has to be found, and the numbers indicate Hillis was a better rusher in 2008 than either Correll Buckhalter or Moreno have been in 2009.

Moreno is rushing for 3.7 yards per carry, while Buckhalter is tallying a much-more-impressive 5.5 ypc. In 2008, Hillis averaged 5.0 yards a pop, so we’ll give the edge to Buck there.

But a closer look at the “smarter stats” (you had to know this was coming) shows that Hillis is more successful when carrying the football. In 2008, Hillis’ rushing DVOA was 41.0%, third-highest in the league (among running backs with 20-99 carries). Moreno is -8.3% in 2009, while Buckhalter is 5.9%. Edge: Hillis in a landslide.

Hills also excelled as a receiver out of the backfield, ranking second with a 55.7% DVOA. Moreno is a dreadful -47.3% (significantly less productive than the average NFL running back), while Buckhalter is 16.3%. Edge: Hillis.

The numbers don’t lie. When given the appropriate focus in the offensive gameplan, Peyton Hillis is a dynamic weapon.

Running the ground game in neutral isn’t the answer.

Peyton Hillis is the answer.

Better rushing attack. Better pass protection. Better route running. It’s really quite simple.

It’s not about stats, politics, favoritism or pride. It’s about improving this football team. You have a diamond in the rough in Hillis, Josh McDaniels, one you have yet to unleash in 2009. A tough rusher, potent blocker, and underrated route runner with good hands. Use him. And watch this offense flourish.

  • jonkrause

    NOOOOOO! Kyle this is mean but I hate you! >( I'm am totally TOTALLY serious, after I finished up some school I was going to post a post on BZ, titled “Plan B” I was going 2 say about Bucky and KnowMo haven't been getting it down and say introducing plan B: and have youtube vid of hillis and talk about him and stuff! I CAN NOT BELIEVE YOU KYLE! YOU STOLE THIS OUT OF MY HEAD! im serious im so sad

  • JonDavis

    Peyton Hillis was inactive in the steelers game. He was attending a funeral.

  • Kyle

    Right, of course. But he hasn't been utilized in this offense enough all season.

  • williealive

    good post, kyle. i agree that its certainly worth giving hillis an opportunity to see what he can do.

  • TheTroglodyte

    I completely agree with you Kyle. This guy has so many talents why are we not using him a lot more? I don't buy jersey's. I just can't spend the money on one because you never know if your $70 is going to be playing for a new team next week. I damn near went out and got a Hillis jersey though. He represents everything a football player should be. Tough, versatile, smart, hard working.

    If McDaniels isn't going to give him a fair shot then I hope he goes to a team that will.

  • Estes2SD

    I have been telling myself all season that McD is just saving him for later in the season when they need a special burst in the backfield. Now is the time, the broncos need Hillis on the field as much as possible.

  • herc_rock


  • coskibum

    Kyle you hit the nail right on the head! Now I wish McNugget would place a bullseye on his head for your hammer…

  • Joel

    You guys are such typical blind fans! Hillis had a few shots early in the year and he did absolutely nothing. The last few games haven't been on Moreno or Buckhalter…its been on the terrible job our offensive line has done while run blocking. I don't know what you guys think Hillis will provide that Moreno won't. Moreno runs hard inside just like Hillis, however Moreno also has explosive burst and agility which Hillis lacks. Hillis is no more than a change of pace back good for 2 or 3 carries a game and 2 or 3 receptions. Our O'line needs to create some running lanes….Adrian Peterson couldn't have mustered anything the last two weeks with those running lanes…

  • Scott

    Amen Kyle. You are right on the money. Payton needs to be a major part of this offense, or at least get at least a workman share of carries. Last year was no fluke. He is bigger and stronger this year as well. Get Spencer Larson to block at fullback like last year and we will have a serious bada boom 1,2 punch! I have been greatly disappointed in McDaniels offensive choice. He raved about him all through training camp, and he is nowhere to be found through half the season. He is a better back then both the aging buckhalter and getting his feet wet Moreno. (Mayby Bobby Turner is calling the shots, I don't now.)

    I was so high on Hillis last year, I bought an autographed mini-helmet and limited edition autographed trading card in the off-season, only to see him sit the bench. What a shame.

  • Estes2SD

    How do you explain his success last year? Even as a “typical blind” fan I was able to see something special about him. You ask what we think Hillis can provide that Buck and Moreno cant? Open your eyes “blind” guy and read the post, Kyle makes great point on what he does provide.

  • E. Halsey Miles

    Obviously, I am a Hillis homer on this one. I was a big fan of his as soon as I saw him running in relief.

    Still, I'm uncertain. One of the problems, I see, is that they've changed schemes up front and it is not serving the O-line very well in run blocking. They are doing excellent in pass protection, but as far as run blocking, they are horrible at making lanes.

    Moreno has some power and good vision, but he has no burst. He is never going to be the guy to pull off really long plays. Buckhalter is better than I expected, but I don't see him avoiding tackles.

    The thing I think Hillis brings, even behind an o-line that is having trouble, is that Hillis can break tackles. He is strong, he runs low to the ground, and he's willing to make the defender pay to hit him. This is one reason that the scouts say he can't handle 25 touches a game. That's fine. If he gets 10 a game, though, it's going to change the dynamic.

    The Broncos have got to find a running game up the middle. If that means McDaniels needs to bring back zone blocking for some plays, I think he should do it. This line is one of the best in football, and their performance in making running lanes has simply not been good, and without that, Kyle Orton is not a quarterback you can win with.

    If the running game is strong, then Kyle Orton is a quarterback you can win with. [Note: I'm still not a Kyle Orton fan.]

  • mikebirty

    hallelujah! Its just a shame that he doesn't wear 42 then he really would be the answer to life the universe and everything.

  • TCH

    EHM, as I see it you've hit the nail on the head.

    In regard to Orton the only way he'll succeed is if this team is able to play like the 49ers when Montana was under center. Max protect with a bruising running back, and an O-line that's able to handle both pass and run. While he has great accuracy on shorter passes, Orton does not do well when flushed or flustered.

    IMHO two things need to occur; the running game must become a real threat, and for that to become a possibility Orton must also open up the passing game down the field.

  • kerry

    seriously would everybody STOP with this “oh Kyle threw his first “Real” INT against the Steelers” guess what, an INT is an INT. it doesnt matter what the situation is, who made the INT or when it was. IT IS STILL AN INT! it doesnt go down as a fake INT in the stat book, it is a real INT Orton threw to Randy Moss, it 3 real INT's he threw to the Steelers and he has 4 REAL INT's now. seriously stop.

  • TheTroglodyte

    Moreno provides absolutely no pass protection and the Bronco's need all the help they can get.

  • TheTroglodyte

    Who's your favorite team again, the Raiders?

  • the real cartman

    This whole blog post was about Hillis…. yet carrie fisher has to go all off topic and bash Orton. We all know you've been waiting ALL year to bash this team and you finally got your chance.

    Congrats! You pathetic excuse of a fan.

  • TheTroglodyte


  • Joel

    The running lanes last year were gigantic all year. We had 5th string RB's putting up numbers. It isn't an apples to apples comparison.
    No pass protection? That is one of his strengths! The one off the lip comment by Gruden when Moreno went to low is probably why you are jumping to this conclusion?
    Check out the game winning touchdown pass to B-Marsh and the blitz pick up by Moreno (its at 2:48):

  • robtink242

    Kerry i wonder where you went this site was getting pretty vanilla. I totally agree with you picks are picks. Cause if Randy Moss return his INT the points would of been for real. But long as I can remember I never was a Kyle Orton fan.

  • Fredrick

    Coach McD needs to reinstate the Bronco zone blocking scheme, plain and simple.

  • robtink242

    A lot of you guy are happy Jay is gone. But seriously his team still had a chance to win the game. Thats what separate him from Orton. Jay makes a lot of high risk high reward throws. Unfortunately for him he does have the weapons he had. Orton has all the weapons but wouldn't dare to make a high risk play. Teams are stupid and defensive co-coordinators and players get pay to. they are going to adapt to the short throws and shut down the run game.

  • TheTroglodyte

    His team put up 6 points and 0 touchdowns. SF put up 10 points. Any team with two field goals would have had a chance to win that game. Giving Jay credit for that doesn't make any sense.

    Had Cutler not thrown a ridiculously stupid int in the redzone earlier in the game they would have won by a field goal. Cutler being Cutler tried to force it in between 4 defenders though and got his 7th red zone interception of the season. The 8th would come later in the game.

    Tom Brady has thrown 4 red zone picks his entire career and Jay Cutler has 8 this year. Yeah, I am glad he is gone.

  • Kyle

    He has 5 carries all season for 4 yards. Give him five in a row and watch him get twenty.

  • BroncoMan24

    So you think a few times is a fair shot? That isn't enough to determine anything. He is a good player and should be out on the field. I am not saying he should or should not be starting, but he should at least been givin more than the chance he has received. I think the Redskins game would be a perfect game to test this theory. Moreno isn't even close to being a power RB like Hillis. Hillis weighs 250 lbs and Moreno is 217lbs. Have you seen the guns on Hillis? I am sorry, but I have seen the two run and there is a big difference between the two. Hillis runs up the middle without hesitation and Moreno seems to hesitate before he goes through. I am not trying to say that Hillis will be the better RB than Moreno, but at this point in time, he(Hillis) is better fit for what ails us. Once Moreno builds more confidence and understanding of the offense, I think that he will be a great RB, but until that happens, we need to make some changes. Great article!

  • robtink242

    yeah he's gone but i still doubt that he'll throw as many picks as a bronco am sorry the play calling would be different, there an upgrade to receivers and i think with jay we'll have a more dominate ground game. It not to say i want Jay back don't get me wrong i just don't like our future with our present QB. With the remaining games left on our schedule i do think that we are playoff bound where we are presently. Its when January arrives can Orton handle and improved Cincy, Pitts, Indy, NE, SD or possibly Hou. I think not. Really and truly I don't think any QB on our present roster is ready for that. I not interested in Cris Simms at all. He had to much time away from football that i think Bradstater is the next best alternative.

  • TheTroglodyte

    I agree with you ala Orton. That being said Cutler threw 14 red zone picks last year with great protection and good weapons. There is no way he would handle the playoffs either. He would single handedly lose 1 of the first two games I guarantee it. Plus he is a horrible leader.

    This is really good article on him.

    Don't get me wrong. I'm not saying Orton is the answer. Just we are better off with Orton and the draft picks and looking for our qb of the future then we would be with Cutler still around.

  • Andpark

    Hillis obviously seems in the McD doghouse. First touch in the Browns game was a fumble by Hillis and I am not sure if I have seen he do anything since then. The guy is awesome and I don't understand we aren't using him more.

    Hillis is one answer but I think the core of this article is McD needs to show some more creativity. Surprise people you know? Going Hillis heavy will be something the D is not ready for.

    We are still in great shape. SD barely beat Oak so I am sure they will be the ones imploding this year. Bring on the 'skins. Potato Skins.

  • broncoinva9986

    Just like I have been screaming forever…Hillis is our power back…but our coach is to prideful to properly use him….trust I will be scream at the Broncos sideline to use Hillis

  • kerry

    i didnt go anywhere. i just kinda found it pointless to speak the truth about Kyle Orton and the lackluster offense because of course it usually falls on deaf ears. i mean we are only WORSE NOT BETTER so far in total offense and scoring then we were last year at this point, but of course nobody wants to hear that because its the truth and it reinforces my prediction of how the offense would become worse due to a downgrade at the QB position. so ive kinda taken a break form posting on here but that whole “Oh Orton threw a Real INT or threw one that shouldnt count” stuff just bothers me so i had to say something. but slowly im coming back around to posting more often. that of course wont make many happy.

  • kerry

    im not sure, its probably the same team you like that when a RB fumbles its not his fault. which brings me to a question i left out there for you last week and ill ask again: so since Morenos fumble against Baltimore wasnt at all his fault, according to you, then whos fault was it that Orton threw 3 INT's?? would it be the Janitors fault? the peanut guys fault? i mean in your little world where Kyle Orton is the greatest QB in history and Fumbles by Moreno are someone elses fault, how do you guage who's fault it is when a turnover happens?

  • broncoinva9986

    The guy averaged 5.0 yards a carry last year and your not using him because????

  • TheTroglodyte

    lol did your dad beat you in the head as a child or something?

  • kerry

    yeah i didnt think you had an answer at all. really speaks to your football IQ.

  • TheTroglodyte

    Ask me a serious question and I will give you an answer. I actually played the game in a real conference at a real school. I wasn't water boy for the Fort Collins Rams and think I understand a game that is clearly beyond my comprehension where I can just make up anything I want to try to prove some stupid point that doesn't have anything to do with the article.

    I do appreciate the serious effort you take in trying to pose as someone who actually played the game or is even a real Bronco's fan though.

  • robtink242

    I don't know what you are talking about with deaf ears. i tend to agree with most of your post. But more often the ones on Orton. I remember telling these guys that Orton plays not to loose football. By that i mean the QB position he'll throw the underneath pass and play conservative in order not to make any risky throws. So far he is the biggest era in our O-line. Face it any QB with some mobility wont take as many sacks as him. Peyton Manning isn't anything close to mobile, doesn't have a big cannon arm and his O line isn't better than our and doesn't take as many sacks. Orton is pathetic.

  • E. Halsey Miles

    I just want to say from reading back that I think both of you are arguing about things other people said, not actually arguing with each other. Maybe I'm wrong but it looks like both of you are saying Moreno has made some major mistakes…

  • kerry

    oh i know you usually agree with me. i was speaking about the other deaf ears who, when a logical prediction or point is brought to them, just whine and snivel about how i should be a Raider fan and blah blah blah. that was the point i was conveying. and believe me i know about Ortons lack of spine. he wont take chances and it costs the team drives and ultimately points. i mean when it gets to the bottomline, Chances have to be taken in order to score points. mistakes are made and thats all there is to it. INT's are gonna be thrown but in that process TD can also be scored. and ive never seen Orton being sccused of being a good QB. thats for sure.

  • kerry

    yes sure you have. anyone who blames the QB for a RB fumbling after he catches a pass has played loads of top division football. HAHAHAHAHAHA. what a crock. but just for the sake of argument, what college did you play at?? i played at Northern Colorado which is a REAL School in a REAL division.

  • TheTroglodyte

    The Real Cartman was right… you are pathetic. You really don't have any idea what you're talking about either. You obviously have no idea what the QB's 1st and 2nd responsibility is on a screen play. Anyways, I am done with this conversation. Enjoy hating every week for the rest of the season and the next 10 years McDaniels is the head coach.


  • Ian Henson

    My fear of Hillis is that he would be a one week fad. Yes, he would work, maybe only temporarily as not too many teams would have game planned for him.

    I was twittering to GB about it, if Hillis is the answer it is: a.) a case of fans out smarting a very smart coaching staff. b.) a temporary fix. c.) a stupid question.

    Hope that you’re right Kyle and I hope that we don’t have to unleash him against Washington and we can wait until we do actually need our hidden gem.

  • Joel

    I definitely wasn't trying to discount Hillis's downhill running style – which can be very effective between the tackles. I was just pointing out that Moreno is also an excellent power runner. He leads the league in the smallest percentage of carries for negative yards – which is because he hits the hole fast and hard. Moreno's biggest issue thus far is he hits the hole to fast and doesn't let things develop – which is why he hasn't had any good distance runs.

  • robtink242

    Hillis is inactive so i guess McD didnt read your article

  • pk

    During the preseason, and leading up to the season really, McD had nothing but positive things to say about hillis… how they need to find a way to get him the ball because he can do a lot of things. I personally don't mind Moreno & Buck, but why doesn't McD use more two back sets with hillis at FB so the D has to respect him catching balls out of the backfield.

    His hands, IMO, are far better than definitely all the other backs and probably compares with most the receivers (def better than marshall) and he has proven that since his days at AR. And to the one who said he is only deserving of 2-3 catches/game…you're probably right, the Colts should probably cut back on the amt of balls going Dallas Clark's way too.

    I've heard that Hillis is in the “doghouse” after fumbling a kickoff and goal line snap…but if it was solely based off fumbling wouldn't Moreno be on the scout team by now?

  • BenR

    Does anyone know if Hillis was even at the Washington game? I didn't even see him on the sidelines.

  • BenR

    Does anyone know if Hillis was even at the Washington game? I didn't even see him on the sidelines.

  • Sports Handicapping

     hopefully those production numbers are low.  they are getting the better
    end of the deal if they only have to give up a sixth.Thanks for info.