|Broncos RB Willis McGahee won't be back until the postseason. (US Presswire)|
The Broncos' decision to place RB Willis McGahee on recallable injured reserve comes as no surprise, even though coach John Fox indicated Monday that McGahee could work through the injury without a stint on injured reserve.
McGahee not only has a torn medial collateral ligament, but a fracture in his knee. The combination of those two injuries makes it impossible for him to return before the playoffs -- and would even make the first two rounds of the postseason a stretch for the 31-year-old back.
Replacing McGahee is likely to be a collaborative effort among Knowshon Moreno, Ronnie Hillman, Lance Ball and perhaps one more running back. The Broncos had ex-Texans RB Steve Slaton in for a tryout on Tuesday, but he did not sign a contract. Jeremiah Johnson, who averaged 5.5 yards a carry in limited duty last year, could also be promoted from the practice squad, but if he plays in one more game, he loses his practice-squad eligibility.
Any of them should be able to pick up yardage in most situations. But where McGahee might be irreplaceable is on third- or fourth-and-short. He picked up nine yards on a third-and-1 play last Sunday and even when he doesn't get the football, the threat of a McGahee handoff opens up passing lanes for Peyton Manning in short-yardage scenarios.
Short-yardage running has never been a strength of Moreno, and the 190-pound rookie Hillman has only been effective bouncing outside the tackles -- which he did on 21- and 19-yard carries against San Diego last Sunday. The Broncos used Ball on a third-and-1 in the first quarter of the 30-23 win, but he was stuffed.
With two fourth-and-1 plays after McGahee was injured, the Broncos settled for field-goal attempts -- much to the consternation of many fans. But after Ball was stuffed on the earlier third-and-1, they could hardly be blamed for caution, and against San Diego, they were able to get by.
That might not be the case in future games, leaving the Broncos needing someone to step forward to keep defenses honest when yardage is toughest to find.
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