Short and stocky undrafted rookie free agent running backs balling out when pressed into service is starting to be the thing in the AFC West.
First, you had Branden Oliver coming out of nowhere to provide a spark for the Chargers once their starting and primary back-up running backs got hurt. Then on Sunday the Broncos unleashed second year mini-sumo wrestler C.J. Anderson on the Raiders after their starting running back, Ronnie Hillman, was slowed early in the game with a foot injury. I don't know that I have watched a whole Cal Bears football game in the last 10 years so I was totally unaware of the 5'8, 225-pound Anderson back when he was in college. For that reason, I have no idea what the knocks were on him when he came out in the 2013 Draft, but after his performance on Sunday, he damn sure showed he belongs in the NFL.
Now I thought Oliver was a little "husky" when he burst on the scene in Week 5, but while he and Anderson are about the same height, Anderson weighs about 15 pounds more than Oliver. In technical terms, Anderson is what we like to call a "load." However, I also have to note that during the course of the game, Anderson showed good quickness, vision and elusiveness in the open field. His size gives him the ability to pound the rock right at you, which he did several times against the Raiders. But he can also make you miss, which makes it even harder to tackle him after he has run over you a few times. He was also smooth running routes out of the backfield and catching the ball in stride. Truth of the matter is the shit was kinda unfair.
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Lookit, the old mantra of "low man wins" in football is the realest thing you will ever hear. So you tell me, how in the hell are you supposed to make a good form tackle on a dude who is that short and at the same time that big? Hell, some of the Raiders defenders could have gotten on their knees and still been taller than Anderson, and it's hard work to get those guys in Week 10 of a long season to be knee benders as they try to make tackles. Add to that conundrum the fact that all week the Raiders had probably been gearing up to stop Hillman, who is a couple inches taller and about 30 pounds lighter, and you can understand why Anderson took them all by surprise.
Prior to Sunday, Anderson had only run the ball 17 times in the first nine games this season, two of which he wasn't even on the active roster. Then against the Raiders, in that relief role, Anderson had 13 carries for 90 yards to go along with 4 catches for 73 yards and a touchdown for one hell of a breakout performance. Maybe one of the most impressive things about watching Anderson run the ball was that he didn't get stopped for less than a yard on any carry against the Raiders. That's hard to do with a zone running scheme, but it's a testament to his power and running style. Oh, and of course it's also a testament to him being unfairly short as well.
Now I don't know that the Raiders were equipped to hang with the Broncos for a whole game, but they were doing a pretty good job of doing just that for most of the first half. That's the other thing about Anderson's performance -- the Broncos really needed it on Sunday because the offense didn't come out firing smoothly. With three minutes left in the second quarter, the Broncos had only posted six points while giving up 10 to the Raiders. Peyton Manning had already thrown two picks, and they had already punted twice (gasp). Oh yeah, and they were also facing a 3rd-and-8 from their own 49-yard line, a drive that would have ended in their second three-and-out early in the game had they not converted.
This is when Anderson chose to throw his cape on.
Let me be clear about something, this wasn't a screen play. Manning was being pressured immediately by Raiders defensive tackle Antonio Smith, who had beaten Broncos left guard Orlando Franklin like a rented mule off the snap of the football with an inside move. Manning was just trying to get the ball out of his hands as quickly as possible when he dumped it to Anderson in the flat to his left. In fact, it wasn't that great of a pass and Anderson had to snag it out of the air with one hand. That's when the party got started.
First, Anderson half-spun out of Raiders linebacker Miles Burris' tackle attempt just after he caught the ball. Then he ran out of rookie linebacker Khalil Mack's tackle attempt and then through safety Charles Woodson's tackle attempt just before avoiding cornerback Tarrell Brown's attempt to cut his legs from under him. Once he had cut back inside after making Brown miss, Anderson turned on the jets to finish off his 51-yard touchdown catch. (GIF via Mile High Report)
But wait, there's more.
After the Broncos defense stood up and forced a three-and-out, their offense got the ball back again with 1:40 left in the half. We all know the Broncos like to try to score if there is any time left on the clock, but with Manning's struggles to that point, I'm not sure how aggressive they were planning to be on that drive. That is until Anderson carried the ball for 17 yards and 12 yards on successive rushes to open up the drive and set the Broncos up with a 1st-and-10 at the Raiders 45 and 1:15 still left in the half. Two plays later, Manning hit Emmanuel Sanders for a 32-yard touchdown and the rout was officially on.
Again, I'm not sure if the Raiders could have held on anyway and kept it close, but I imagine the Broncos felt a lot better about themselves going into halftime up 10 rather than down four. Anderson's performance definitely made the difference in how they ended the half.
Of course I always want to be wary of crowning a player after one game -- the NFL has had more one-hit wonders than the music industry in the 90s. I also have to recognize that it was the Raiders he balled out against. Still, I must say I saw some very intriguing talent from C.J. Anderson on Sunday and with Hillman out, he may well get a shot in the next few weeks to show he is more than a backup. For now I will just say I'm damn glad I don't have to try to tackle him.