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Broncos OC Pat Shurmur Responds to Criticism, Insists 'I Believe in Running the Football'

Shurmur came under fire following Denver's Week 4 loss.

Because it needed to be reinforced — which in itself is an issue — embattled Broncos offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur affirmed his commitment to establishing the team's rushing attack, days after drawing criticism for failing to do exactly that.

"I think we were trying (to run the ball). We didn't hit on some of the passes that we wanted to that might have opened up the game a little bit," Shurmur said in his Thursday press conference, referencing Denver's Week 4 strugglefest against Baltimore, per George Stoia of the Colorado Springs-Gazette. "And that's always the criticism in a close game, right? I've said it all along, I believe in running the football. And we have running backs who deserve to get their touches and we'll continue to do that."

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Shurmur put his fingerprints all over the 23-7 defeat to the Ravens, an end result not nearly as "close" as he makes it seem. The Broncos scored on their fourth possession, never again penetrating the end zone. They went into halftime trailing 17-7 and down starting quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, who suffered a concussion.

Forced to turn to erratic backup Drew Lock, and rather than mask Lock's deficiencies, Shurmur dialed up 21 pass attempts over the final two quarters, yielding one interception and zero points.

Here's the kicker: Shurmur called just five (5) total run plays in the second half, ignoring veteran workhorse Melvin Gordon, who averaged 6.2 yards per carry, and bulldozing rookie Javonte Williams (6.9 YPC), who was literally dragging defenders down the field.

More puzzling than Shurmur's game plan, or lack thereof, was his justification for it.

"I think early on, we missed on some big passes," he said Thursday. "So then you run to keep on schedule and then we had some long third-down situations and typically, if you're staying on the field and converting third downs, you get more runs. That just goes without saying. And we feel more comfortable doing it. We've been a team that's been able to drive the ball, which means when you're running the ball, you're making yards, and it didn't go our way the other night. I've got to be better, we've got to be better. We've just got to play better than we did against Baltimore."

The Broncos couldn't stay on the field (33:07-26:53 time of possession difference), couldn't convert third downs (3-of-14), and couldn't move the ball through the air (148 passing yards). The only thing the club did well was — you guessed it! — matriculate on the ground (106 rushing yards).

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Yet that ceased as soon as Dicey Drew replaced Steady Teddy.

"We ran the same game plan," tight end Noah Fant admitted, incredibly. "That’s the game plan we were prepared for during the week, and we just kind of kept with it. Obviously, we have to improve in that area, and try to put some more points up on the board.”

If Shurmur thought it was tough sledding matching wits with Baltimore, he's in for a rude(r) awakening against the Steelers, who are limiting opponents to a cumulative 3.7 YPC average, the seventh-best mark in the NFL. T.J. Watt and Co. also rank No. 1 overall in rushing TDs allowed per game (0.2) and No. 6 in red-zone scoring percentage (46.15).

This, a daunting early-afternoon, cross-country jaunt to Heinz Field, is a game the 3-1 Broncos really have to have, lest they squander early-season playoff positioning. And no matter whether Lock or a still-recovering Bridgewater is under center, leaning on the backfield is paramount to a potential victory.

Will Shurmur adopt this formula on Sunday?

“They’re good against the run, but we’re going to try to run it and pass it and do the things that we do well to try and match up against a really good defense," he said.

Follow Zack on Twitter @KelbermanNFL

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