With the discovery that Broncos running back Willis McGahee has a torn medial collateral ligament (MCL) in his right knee and could miss six to eight weeks, the Broncos are faced with a decision about their running game. That choice goes beyond whether they make any roster moves.
Will they sign any new RBs?
As far as bringing other running backs in, the Broncos simply don't need to — they already have three other running backs on the 53-man roster (Ronnie Hillman, Knowshon Moreno and Lance Ball) and have de-activated at least one running back on
Denver also already has a running back on their practice squad well versed in their system — Jeremiah Johnson.
The fact those other three running backs are on the roster and Johnson is on the practice squad is an indication the Broncos already have those four players ranked more highly than any running back that is still unsigned.
So, in short, there is no running back sitting at home right now that the Broncos have rated more highly than the four they have — otherwise, that back wouldn't be sitting at home right now.
It is possible the Broncos work out some running backs to update their personnel reports and to decide who they would sign if any additional backs get hurt.
But to sign or not to sign isn't really the question.
How will Denver line up?
The bigger decisions at the moment are with the offense — as in, how to use the backs they already have.
The Broncos have made it pretty clear in recent weeks they favor the three wide-receiver set as their base formation. They lined up, for the first time this season, in a three-wide receiver set for every snap of the first half Sunday.
They even did it three times without a running back in the formation — a three-wide, two tight end look they used in the first quarter, a drive that ended with Peyton Manning throwing an interception that was returned for a touchdown.
But there's an issue with going three-wide. McGahee is easily the team's most productive runner out of a three wide receiver set, because he is so proficient at running inside. He makes quick decisions and finishes runs between the guards with power.
On Sunday, all seven of McGahee's carries came out of a three-wide set for 55 yards — a robust 7.9 yards per carry.
Without McGahee, things were decidedly mixed for the remainder of the day.
Hillman did have runs of 21 and 19 yards out of three wide receiver looks, but both of those runs were to the perimeter. He also had five carries for 1-yard each out of the three wide receiver sets to go with one carry for no gain and one carry of minus-1 out of a three wide.
Add on another 3-yard carry out of a three-wide and Hillman had two carries for 40 yards to go with eight other carries for four yards combined in three-wide receiver sets.
For his part, Ball had two carries for 13 yards out of a three-wide formation while he also had carries of zero, one and three yards out of the three-wide receiver set.
So, without McGahee the Broncos were far more hit and miss in the run game out of their preferred formation on offense. If they are willing to live with that and hope Hillman adapts more quickly — he is still missing the holes from time to time on the inside when he has less time to consider his options — to working inside then they'll stick with the three-wide.
The Chiefs are not the biggest test in run defense the league has to offer — they've surrendered at least 133 yards rushing five times this season, including 189 to the Bengals this past Sunday.
But the Broncos may still have to return to their play-calling from earlier this season with more two-back and two-tight end formations. They moved toward more and more three-wide looks when the offense continued to move more efficiently out of that personnel grouping.
They may simply have to adjust going forward, or at least until at least one of the team's other backs can show some proficiency running inside.
Jeff Legwold: firstname.lastname@example.org or twitter.com/jeff_legwold