Why the Broncos Need a Healthy Knowshon Moreno for the Super Bowl

Moreno was one of the most effective running backs in the NFL this year.

Just two years ago, many were labeling Knowshon Moreno, a 12th overall selection in the 2009 NFL draft, as a bust. Today, he’s one of the most important pieces for the Denver Broncos offense in Super Bowl XLVIII.

Moreno is questionable for the Super Bowl with a rib injury, and he’s recently been limited in Denver practices. While he expects to play in the biggest game of his career, whether or not he’ll be 100 percent is the real question. And although most believe the running back position is becoming more and more meaningless in today’s NFL, I’m here to tell you that Denver needs Moreno to be ready on Sunday.

Moreno vs. Ball

Fantasy owners are aware of Knowshon Moreno mostly because he was a late-round draft selection turned fantasy football stud. He rushed for 1,038 yards and 10 touchdowns this year, adding 60 more receptions for 548 yards and three scores through the air.

And this wasn’t just volume-based. Knowshon was third in the NFL according to our Rushing Net Expected Points (NEP) metric, ending the season ranked only behind LeSean McCoy and DeMarco Murray. In terms of Total NEP, which factors in Reception Net Expected Points, Knowshon finished behind MVP candidate Jamaal Charles and the aforementioned McCoy.

His efficiency was fantastic this year, which I suppose many would expect as a full-time running back in a Peyton Manning-led offense. However, his replacements – mostly Montee Ball – haven’t been as efficient, even with fewer carries.

Because rookie Montee Ball would be the one to take over for Knowshon if he indeed couldn’t play, let’s compare the two backs and how they performed this season with some of our advanced metrics:

PlayerRushesRushing NEPSuccess RateReceptionsReception NEPTarget NEPReception NEP/Target

Knowshon ran with the pigskin over 120 more times than Montee Ball did this year, accumulating a higher Rushing NEP. That’s not necessarily surprising considering it’s an offense that faces honest defenses due to Peyton Manning. But on a per rush basis, Moreno still has a higher Rushing NEP than Ball – double the efficiency, actually. Though Ball’s Success Rate is higher, this has a lot to do with the type of role Ball plays rather than pure skill.

The biggest advantage Moreno brings to the table is in the passing game. He caught more balls than all but five running backs this year, and had the best Target Net Expected Points total in the league among all backs.

Unlike Reception NEP (where Moreno ranked fourth), Target NEP looks at how many points a player is adding on all targets. Because Moreno’s catch rate (receptions/targets) was so good, he was able to see a small discrepancy between his Reception and Target NEP, as the majority of passes thrown his way were actually caught.

Moreno is not only a better blocker compared to Ball, and he not only runs the ball more efficiently, but he catches the ball significantly better than the rookie, too. And that will be hugely important for Denver on Sunday.

Beating the Seahawks Defense

Though the Seahawks defense is as sound as they come, the weakness - albeit not a huge weakness - is against the run.

They had a historic pass defense this year, ranking first in the entire league, but their rush defense came in at the eight spot, sandwiched between Carolina and San Francisco. This is according to our Adjusted Defensive Rushing Net Expected Points metric, which is NEP adjusted for strength of schedule.

The Seahawks also allowed the 10th-most running back receptions on the season, pinpointing to the fact that Knowshon Moreno could open the passing game up a bit for Peyton Manning in that regard. While the receiving yardage total against running backs for Seattle wasn’t as significant, the fact that there could be opportunity is a good thing for a healthy Moreno.

Not only that, but the world knows that, to beat Peyton Manning, you rush Peyton Manning. You pressure Peyton Manning. The Seahawks love to put on the pressure and force turnovers, which could lead Number 18 to look Moreno’s way out of the backfield.

Do you think Denver would be as confident with Montee Ball?

Head coach John Fox has already noted that they’re going to have to rely on Moreno during the Super Bowl, and the numbers agree. You have to be balanced against this Seattle defense, and doing it with a rookie running back who has had somewhat of a roller coaster season isn’t the best option.

The Broncos need Knowshon Moreno.