Tebow's style drives Broncos offense
Because of Tim Tebow, Denver Broncos offensive coordinator Mike McCoy doesn’t view college football like he once did.
Rather than focus on individual players or simply enjoy a game, McCoy now tries to find formations that can carry over into Denver’s playbook. McCoy’s fingerprints are evident as the Broncos run plays rooted in Tebow’s days at the University of Florida.
“I watch a little differently to try and get a wrinkle or two,” McCoy told FOXSports.com after a recent Broncos practice. “‘How does it fit us?’ is the thing. Not only how does it fit Tim but the rest of the offense.”
So far, it fits just fine. The Broncos (8-5) enter their home game against New England on Sunday having won seven of their past eight outings since Tebow became the starting quarterback.
The offense usually isn’t pretty. Without a strong defensive effort that has kept games close, Denver wouldn’t be atop the AFC West because the passing game isn’t consistently productive. The Broncos have needed to overcome fourth-quarter deficits in six of Tebow’s starts, including a 13-10 home win over Chicago last weekend.
After the game, Bears middle linebacker Brian Urlacher slighted Tebow’s quarterbacking by describing him as a “good running back.” Tebow didn’t publically take offense at the description.
Nor should he, based on the changes Denver made shortly after Tebow replaced Kyle Orton.
The Broncos learned the hard way that a traditional offense wouldn’t work well at this point in Tebow’s career. While his first instance of NFL clutch play — i.e. Tebow Time — came when he led an improbable comeback against Miami in late October, his deficiencies as a conventional pro passer were badly exposed the following week during a 45-10 home loss to Detroit. Tebow was sacked seven times and threw an interception that was returned 100 yards for a touchdown.
The rout prompted a radical philosophical shift that called for new packages in addition to what Denver had installed during the preseason. The following week, Oakland was so taken aback by Denver’s spread option that Tebow and running back Willis McGahee both rushed for more than 100 yards in a 38-24 win.
The Broncos have since fluctuated between college trappings and pro-style plays to take advantage of Tebow’s mobility.
“It’s just one more dimension,” Broncos head coach John Fox said. “We still have conventional runs. We still throw the ball. We have the passing game we installed in training camp. The option stuff and the quarterback threat of running is something we added.”
McCoy said he asked Tebow and wide receiver Demaryius Thomas – who played in a triple-option attack late in his college career at Georgia Tech – for input on plays they liked to run. McCoy also leaned on Broncos assistants with college experience and analyzed the Gators offense run by Urban Meyer, who was Tebow’s head coach at Florida from 2006 to 2009.
“I’ll be honest with you: I didn’t know a lot about this,” said McCoy, who became Denver’s offensive coordinator in 2009. “We had done some (option) stuff last year with Tim so I knew the basics. But it was like I was in second grade just learning some things. As the weeks went on, we kept building off it.”
McCoy was wise not to rush into a wholesale change. He would have risked alienating offensive players who were initially skeptical about whether college-style plays could work in the NFL.
McGahee admits he was one of them.
“It was hard to believe in at first,” said McGahee, who is on the cusp of a 1,000-yard rushing season. “Option in the NFL? With a person who had never run the option before (like me)? That would be pretty hard to believe in.”
Any lingering doubts were removed by Tebow’s late-game success, leadership and poise. All three of those qualities have helped win over teammates and Denver’s front office. Broncos executive vice president John Elway told FOXSports.com last week that there was “nobody more supportive” of Tebow than he was. Elway also said he plans hands-on work with Tebow during the offseason in hopes of making him a more effective thrower.
“Tim has done a tremendous job of reenergizing everything with his play, competitiveness, toughness and ability to block everything out and make the big plays,” said Elway, a Hall of Fame quarterback from his 16 seasons with Denver. “That has kind of switched the mentality. We were 6-22 the last year and a half. When you go into a rut like that, it’s human nature to start waiting for bad things to happen.
“Where Tim has really done a great job is, because of the person he is, (the team) is not waiting for bad things now. It’s, ‘Who’s going to make something good happen?’ and having that confidence to be able to make it happen.”
Tebow’s next challenge is making good things happen again Sunday against the Patriots (10-3). Denver’s defense can’t be expected to completely stymie the NFL’s second-ranked offense. And while his defense has performed erratically this season, Patriots head coach Bill Belichick has a long track record of success against young quarterbacks like Tebow.
Fox, though, said having to scheme for a run-pass threat like Tebow is something “I wouldn’t want to prepare for.”
“I bounced around with it a little bit in Carolina defending Michael Vick when he was in Atlanta,” Fox said. “It wasn’t necessarily the option but the threat of him running, whether it’s a drop-back pass or bootleg. You have to count him in the run game. That’s a headache.”
Thanks to a revamped offense, the Broncos are causing those headaches rather than suffering them.