The Tim Tebow debate is boring to me. The religious stuff that seems to be so divisive to people, that doesn’t interest me either, though it seems to drive interest. However, what the Broncos did on Sunday does fascinate me. Denver ran the ball all game long, even refusing to pass in many situations where they faced 3rd and long. They stubbornly refused to put Tebow in obvious passing situations, and as a result, the one deep pass he hit came on third and long but was unexpected because of how they had played all game.
I know that there was much talk about it setting back the game of football fifty years. Here’s why it fascinates me, though. I don’t know why more teams don’t try to do unusual things or take extreme tactics when they are an underdog. Tim Tebow is not a good passer, or at least a consistent passer who makes decisive passes against typical coverages. He can run the ball, and he can hit passes like the deep one to Decker. Some of his incompletions in that game were catchable balls, but it was still more telling that they limited him so much on third down in the first place.
A few years ago, Smart Football discussed underdog strategies in regard to a Malcolm Gladwell piece, and said this:
Interestingly, it could be argued that on offense, the best [underdog] strategy might be something like the flexbone or another triple-option offense like Paul Johnson uses: it has big play potential (and thus can be a substitute for passing), yet carries the benefit of keeping the clock going, which works against pass-first underdogs.
Chris Brown of Smart Football was focused on the college game there, but it is true that a good underdog strategy would have high variance, yet also reduce the number of plays in the game. Denver’s most recent offensive performance fascinates me because it was different. They aren’t beating the Jets the traditional way. New York’s pass defense has destroyed lesser passers–Luke McCown in week 2, anyone?–and has also baited some good ones into costly interceptions with confusing coverage schemes that show one look and switch. You may think this read option is hokey, but it also increases the odds of an upset. Tebow would get torn up, and I’m not sure Orton and the offense would be good enough playing the traditional way either. Denver needs to mix some deep shots against people not named Revis (let him fall asleep) with lots of runs, and be willing to go in short yardage situations.
Of course, the other side of the ball will likely decide this game. It is the defense that has played better for Denver recently. The Broncos still only scored 17 points at Kansas City, and repeatedly punted the ball back to the Chiefs only to have the defense shut them down. Mark Sanchez is getting blasted this week, and the Jets offense is the key here. If they can come out fast and put some points up, then any Denver strategy of slowing the game, running read options, reverses, and pitches likely goes by the wayside. If the New York offense struggles, though, this one is very much in play.
[photo via Getty]