Blog Entry

Tracking Tebow, Week 16: Defenses are catching on

Posted on: December 27, 2011 10:45 am
Edited on: December 27, 2011 10:47 am
We're Tracking Tebow … because it's impossible not to watch. 

By Ryan Wilson

First, the good news: the Broncos control their destiny. At this point in the season, that's all you can ask. Despite dropping their second game in a row in convincing fashion, Denver remains atop the AFC West, and if they beat the Chiefs Sunday, they're division champs, which will earn them the right to face either the Steelers or Ravens in the first round of the playoffs.

For now, though, the Broncos have to fix an offense that has developed a reputation this season with Tim Tebow as its starter of long stretches of ineptitude highlighted by improbable late-game comebacks (one that included a six-game winning streak). Two weeks ago, Denver was 8-5 and coming off an overtime win against the Bears. Now, after getting thoroughly outplayed by the Patriots and the Bills, the questions have returned. Namely: can Tebow be an NFL quarterback and the related: have teams figured out how to stop him and the college offense the Broncos now feature?

Too early to say on the former, but almost certainly yes on the latter.

A week after New England worked to contain Tebow in the pocket and forced him to win the game with his arm, Buffalo perfected the game plan. The Bills usually rushed four, dropped seven into coverage, made sure Tebow didn't break the pocket for long runs, and made him squeeze throws into tight windows, often with disastrous results.

Coming into the game, Tebow had three interceptions. By the time it was over, Tebow had thrown four more, two of the pick-six variety, and he looked flustered all afternoon.

"I think [defensive coordinator Georgge] Edwards did a great job as far as giving us different keys based on what personnel they had in the game and what type of plays they were gonna run," said Bills cornerback Drayton Florence, via the Buffalo News. "When they got in a regular set [two receivers, two backs], it was more traditional runs. When they got in two tight ends, it was more of the option game. So I think our defensive ends did a great job of being aware of that and knowing how they were going to attack us. …

"They just tell Tebow to go out there and run around and make something happen," Florence said. "Early in the game they were running the ball because they didn't have to throw it. He's just using his athletic ability, sort of like Michael Vick was doing early in his career. Just give him one side of the field to read. If it's not there, make something happen and scramble."

Linebacker Kelvin Sheppard added: "We were able to say ... when we're man to man, one of the backers lock the running back and the other one spies the quarterback. mean, it worked to perfection today. They were flushing him, and myself or Nick would go and wrap and contain. It was just a good day all-around."

So now the gnashing of teeth and rending of garments begin in earnest. Which Tebow will show up in Week 17, and God willing, the playoffs? No idea.

But don't mistake the Bills' game plan for Tebow reverting to the form that had him embarrassed by the Lions back in October. He continues to improve, even if incrementally. The problem: as defenses become more comfortable recognizing and attacking the Broncos' option scheme, Denver will need to find ways to adapt. And that will mean using Tebow in more conventional ways. Can they (he) do it? Well, we'll find out, won't we.

                                                   Play by Play

(Note: Below are the plays -- both running and passing -- involving Tebow. You can view the entire play-by-play breakdown here)


"First and foremost, I want to thank my lord and savior, Jesus Christ. Isn't it great that no matter what, win or lose, we have a chance to celebrate my lord and savior's birth tomorrow. That's pretty cool. It's something I'm very excited about, celebrating Christmas. It's going to be a lot of fun." - Tebow's opening remarks during his post-game press conference.

"We knew if we could make (Tebow) one dimensional by stopping the run, there was no way we were going to allow him to come out and throw the ball and beat us with his arm." - Bills safety George Wilson

"“We knew [facing Kyle Orton] was a possibility. So, here it is. We have to go out there and play well. It was best for the team, bottom line. We made that decision knowing this was a possibility. Now we have to do it.” - Broncos executive VP John Elway last Saturday


Moving pictures evidence that the Bills confused Tebow all day.

Broncos QB Tim Tebow throws four interceptions in a 40-14 loss to the Buffalo Bills.

Frame-by-frame breakdown of Tebow's first interception. (In case it's not clear, you'll have to click on the individual images to get the larger view.)

Tebow's first interception of the game came late in the third quarter with the Broncos trailing 23-14. The Bills showed a single high safety (frame 1) pre-snap. After the snap, they dropped seven in coverage and rushed four. It was a five-receiver route. At the top of Tebow's drop, the three deep receivers were all covered (frame 2). Tebow rolled right to avoid the rush and with no running lanes due to good containment (frame 3), he forced a pass 25 yards downfield into triple-coverage (frame 4).

                                                   Eye on Tebow

Buffalo Bills' Chris Kelsay (90) and Arthur Moats (52) sack Denver Broncos' Tim Tebow (15) during the first quarter of an NFL football game in Orchard Park, N.Y., Saturday, Dec. 24, 2011. (AP Photo/David Duprey)

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Since: Dec 2, 2009
Posted on: December 27, 2011 12:27 pm

Tracking Tebow, Week 16: Defenses are catching on

I doubt you had to worry too much about Elway getting too giddy about the Tebow led win streak.  He's known all along that while Tim as some great skills and upside potential he is not where he needs to be to be a serviceable long term NFL quarterback.  That is why John has only given Tebow the most grudging support.  Elway is happy about winning, but knows that the fans getting too worked up about Tebow will only make it harder to make a change if that becomes necessary.  

I can't stand Denver (primarily because of Elway) but I am a Tebow fan.  I hope he does well but I've long held the position that I don't see him as a superstar NFL quarterback.  For a few weeks this year it looked as if his will to win overcame his deficiency in QB skills but as the ball doesn't fall his way and NFL defenses catch on to what the Broncos are doing well, those old fears have resurfaced.  Thanks Tim for what you have done, I hope you can find a way to keep on doing it (even if that means Denver continues to win).   

Since: Dec 2, 2011
Posted on: December 27, 2011 11:36 am

Tracking Tebow, Week 16: Defenses are catching on

It's good that this is happening at the end of this season, rather than early next season, because it means both Tebow and Broncos management will know that he must overcome his limitations if he's to be the team's long-term answer at QB.  Had the Broncos marched triumphantly into the playoffs (by beating either the Pats or Bills), then it's possible John Fox and John Elway might have continued with the option offense next year.  But, with teams catching on now, they're going to have to adapt and so is Tebow.  And, if the Broncos miss the playoffs because of a dismal offensive performance THIS week, then the message will really be driven home to Tebow, who had a lot go right during the 6-game winning streak.

As a Broncos fan, I really don't care too much if they make the playoffs because they're too weak a team to go anywhere if they do.  Instead, I want Bronco management to be able to accurately evaluate the team and continue to make changes for next year.  In addition to working on Tebow's flaws, they need to strengthen the O-line even further, add more depth at the skill positions, and find a scat back type to create a change of pace on offense.  On defense, the middle of the line needs work, they need to add a thumper at MLB (or Nate Irving needs to develop) and they need more depth at CB. 

Right now, the Broncos are headed in the right direction which is really all I asked from this season.  Now, add some more playmakers in the off-season, and work on Tebow's QB skills.  If he fails to develop by the end of next year, then it's time to look for a new QB and convince Tebow that his role on the team is as a multi-purpose weapon but not as regular QB. 

The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or