The Denver Broncos are coming off their first victory of the season against the New York Jets and are on to New England. The Broncos offense will be getting a big boost this week as running back Phillip Lindsay returns to the team for the first time since Week 1. Lindsay has been battling a turf toe injury that has kept him sidelined for the last four games. Now that that Denver’s starting running back has returned, we’ll take a look at how Lindsay’s presence can help the Broncos offense against the Patriots.
Lindsay’s return means less pressure on Brett Rypien
Second-year quarterback Brett Rypien helped aid the Broncos to victory against the Jets in Week 4, but the Boise State product’s first NFL start didn’t come without a couple of blemishes. While Rypien threw for two touchdowns against the Jets, he nearly threw the game away by being intercepted three times, including interceptions on back-to-back drives, with one being a pick-six. Rypien got a substantial boost against New York in the form of running back Melvin Gordon, who had his first 100-yard rushing game of the season on 23 carries and contributed two rushing touchdowns.
Outside of Gordon, though, Rypien had no real rushing threat that he could rely on to help supplement his game. Broncos running back Royce Freeman only had six rushing yards on three carries against the Jets and undrafted rookie LeVante Bellamy didn’t get a single carry on offense. Lindsay’s return could supply a better secondary rushing option and potential receiving threat out of the backfield for Rypien against the Patriots.
Rypien will be making only his second career start against the Patriots in Week 5 and will need all the help he can get, as he’s facing one of the more sound defenses in the league. Even with numerous veteran players missing from the Patriots defense, they have still managed to be one of the better units in the league. However, with reigning NFL Defensive Player of the Year Stephon Gilmore being ruled out after being placed on the Covid-19/Reserve List on Wednesday, the Patriots will have to find another way to shut down opposing receivers, and it will be crucial that Rypien and the Broncos can attack the New England run defense that has allowed just over 115 rushing yards per game through the first four weeks of the season.
What does Lindsay’s return mean for Melvin Gordon?
The Broncos made a statement on how they felt about their offense this offseason when they signed free agent running back Melvin Gordon to be the backfield partner to Phillip Lindsay. Since Lindsay’s injury in Week 1, though, Gordon has been taking the vast majority of the carries for the Broncos offense. With Lindsay’s return, could we see more of an even split between the two running backs? It’s unlikely that they will drastically increase Lindsay’s workload in his first game back from injury, but if Gordon struggles, Lindsay could see a considerable increase.
In Week 1 against the Titans, Lindsay only totaled 24 rushing yards on seven carries, averaging only 3.4 yards per carry, which is well below the averages of his first two seasons. Over the last two games, the Patriots defense has allowed just over 7.0 yards per carry to both Las Vegas and Kansas City. If Lindsay were to have a bounceback game from his injury, this week would be a prime opportunity to show why he is the Broncos featured running back.
Projecting Lindsay’s return against New England
While Lindsay may not get a full workload against the Patriots in Week 5, Lindsay should be able to make the most out of his carries against the New England defense. Expect Gordon to take the majority of the carries this weekend while they slowly integrate Lindsay back into the offensive rotation. Offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur could potentially use the two backs the way he did against Tennessee, which did prove to be a problem for the Titans defense. If that’s the case, Lindsay could be used as a potential decoy in both the run and passing game.
It would be surprising to see Lindsay get more than 10 rushing attempts in this game, but considering the type of competitor that Lindsay is, he could very well stay in the game if he feels like he is healthy enough to take more carries. With Freeman’s struggles, Lindsay would be the better option to keep the Patriots offense on the sideline and help the Broncos attempt to earn their second win of the season.