ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — When the Denver Broncos return from their bye week against the Vikings on Nov. 17, one of the biggest questions about the team’s often-clunky offense will center on running back Phillip Lindsay.
Lindsay has authored most of the team’s biggest plays in the running game — five of the six runs of more than 25 yards this season — but the Broncos still find themselves asking how much is too much.
The Broncos have always been cognizant of not putting too much on the 5-foot-8, 190 pound Lindsay, who finished his rookie season on injured reserve with a wrist injury. But Lindsay is often at his best in the high-traffic, high-impact area between the tackles.
“My biggest goal is to win games, that’s it,” Lindsay said. “Everything else is a bonus. I didn’t get into this to get stats. When I first got here, I just wanted to be on the team, and now I’m here and I want to win games. Everything else falls into place when it’s supposed to. When you’re winning games, everything goes right. … I don’t care about the stats. The stats are going to come.”
Lindsay, who was a Pro Bowl selection last season as an undrafted rookie, leads the Broncos in carries (118), rushing yards (584) and rushing touchdowns (five). Toss in 25 receptions, and nobody other than Joe Flacco has touched the ball more than the 25-year-old running back.
But afternoons like last Sunday, when Lindsay had just nine carries in the Broncos’ win over the Cleveland Browns and three of those carries went for 40, 30 and 16 yards, raise the question: Why doesn’t he get the ball more?
The Broncos did find a creative way to get Lindsay the ball to help ice the game. His 16-yard run came on a direct snap out of the Wildcat, when he stayed in bounds in the closing minutes. It was the first time the Broncos had used the play this season.
“That was really a hell of a play on his part,” coach Vic Fangio said.
Fangio has said using Lindsay in the passing game is another way to get him the ball with some room to work. Lindsay has quick feet, decisiveness and the coveted explosiveness needed for big plays.
“He’s going to get a lot of extra yards after contact just because of the way he keeps his feet moving,” Flacco has said, “and he puts his head down with no fear.”
Against the Browns, Lindsay had those three runs for 86 yards, but it’s also worth looking at his other six carries, all for 2 yards or fewer, including one for no gain and another for a 1-yard loss. On those six carries, Lindsay gained a combined 6 yards.
For the season Lindsay has had 44.9 percent of his carries go for 2 or fewer yards, including 15 for either no gain or negative yardage (12.7 percent of his carries). Plenty of that can be traced to the Broncos’ struggles on the offensive line, but it also speaks to them needing to find the best times for Lindsay to run the ball.
In limited work overall against the Browns — the Broncos ran just 43 total offensive plays — Lindsay only carried the ball on first or second downs (six carries on first down, including his 40-yarder as well as his 30-yard touchdown, three on second down).
That meant four of Lindsay’s first-down carries also went for 2 or fewer yards, putting the Broncos in second-and-8 or longer, situations when they wouldn’t be apt to try Lindsay again in the running game before another first down.
Lindsay’s not worried about it.
“It’s just about making plays,” he said. “Whenever I get the ball, my job is to make plays, get yards, help us get in the end zone. … My job is to help us win, that’s Royce [Freeman]’s job, all the backs. When we get the ball, make a play.”