The Playbook Abides: Tebow(etheus) Unbound - Part 1

A day after Tim Tebow made his first start, heaven and earth are still divided.

Can the guy play quarterback or not?

Woody Paige thinks so.  Colin Cowherd disagrees.  Charles Robinson thinks he won't survive with his style of play.  Furthermore, he thinks fans of Tebow border on zealotry.

That's a bit much, and not fair at all to real zealots like Peyton Hillis' fans.

Rather than rely on a guy who rambles (Paige), a guy with a funny haircut (Cowherd), and a guy who probably gets carded before he hits a McDonald's Playland, let's take a look for ourselves.

Tebow threw sixteen times during the game.  Over the next four days, we'll be looking at each and every throw.

Let's start out today by examining the first four. I present to you Tebow(etheus) unbound, Part 1.  If the literary reference of the title escapes you, you just might be a Hillis fan redneck.  

Pass 1:

When: 13:42 of the 1st Quarter:

Where: Denver's 31-yard line

Down & Distance: 3rd and 5   

The Dope: The Broncos didn't make things complicated for Tebow (15) on this play.  They came out in a 113 personnel grouping (1 RB, 1 TE, 3 WR) and ran out of the shotgun--with one slight adjustment.  They went max protect by putting Daniel Graham (89) in the backfield next to Tebow.    

With only five yards to gain on this play, Brandon Lloyd (84) was the primary receiver.  Lloyd ran a quick 6-yard "out" pattern.

Tebow Pass 1

What Tebow Saw:  The Raiders are a classic man-to-man-coverage team who like to stack the box.  This play was no different, at least in part.   With Nnamdi Asomugha locking down Jabar Gaffney (10) on the left side of the formation, Tebow saw seven defenders in the box.  A safety and a linebacker were both threatening the "A" gaps along the center.  The cornerbacks on the right side of the formation showed Tebow man coverage early in the play clock, but a few seconds before the snap, they dropped into their zones.

The Happening: At the snap of the ball, instead of blitzing, the Raiders dropped into zone coverage and the free safety played tight on Lloyd.  Tebow probably thought the blitz was coming just as the Raiders wanted him to believe.  He rushed a little, and the ball was thrown wide of Lloyd.  The play resulted in an incompletion.

The Bottom Line: Tebow was amped up and in a hurry on his first throw of the game, so this wasn't unexpected.  I wouldn't be surprised if Tebow was told by OC Mike McCoy to err on the side of putting the ball wide: a lazy throw in that situation ran the risk of being picked in tight coverage.  Still, this was one of Tebow's poorer throws of the day.  As a young quarterback, the pre-snap read was difficult.  However, the keys were the corner and free safety on the right side showing zone coverage.  Typically, the cornerback wouldn't give give up that much space on a 3rd-and-5 if the defense is going to bring the house because of the ceded space he would be giving up for a first-down throw.  

Grade: D

Pass 2

When: 12:34 of the 1st Quarter:

Where: Denver's 32-yard line

Down & Distance: 2nd and 9   

The Dope: The Broncos again went vanilla on this play.  They came out in a 212 personnel grouping (2 RB, 1 TE, 2 WR) and ran a play-action pass (faking to Knowshon Moreno) out of an offset-I formation.    

Eddie Royal (19) was the primary receiver on this bubble play to the left side.  Royal faked up the field, then stepped back to form the bubble.  Eric Decker's (87) job was to clear out Asomugha, while Daniel Graham first blocked, then ran a slant across the middle of the formation.

Tebow Pass 2

What Tebow Saw:  The Raiders played their base 4-3, which has been rare for them against the Broncos this year (that's what happens when you are playing with a lead most of the time).  However, instead of dropping all three linebackers back off the line of scrimmage, they put their right outside backer heads up on Graham.  Why?  Because they were reading a run to the right side given Denver's look. 

The Happening: At the snap of the ball, the left defensive end, instead of rushing, dropped into zone coverage, while the right defensive and and outside linebacker rushed the passer.  Tebow gave an average fake at best.  It really didn't fool the Raiders' defense.  How can I make that assertion?  Because the Raiders were on Royal as fast as the ball got to him.  LT Ryan Clady was also a little slow getting out to block the strong safety, who came up to support the play like a rocket.  The result was an incomplete pass.

The Bottom Line: There wasn't a lot Tebow could have done better here, except make a better fake to Moreno.  Mike McCoy just had a bad play called against a defense that was in proper alignment.  The Raiders dropped their left defensive end into zone coverage, the left outside linebacker was shaded towards Royal, and the safety wasn't fooled in the least.  All three defenders went unblocked.  Perhaps it was fortunate the pass was dropped.  If Royal caught the pass, it would have resulted in a loss of yardage. 

Grade: C

Pass 3

When: 12:30 of the 1st Quarter:

Where: Denver's 32-yard line

Down & Distance: 3rd and 9   

The Dope: On the very next play, the Broncos finally gave Tebow some rope.  They came out in a 113 personnel grouping (1 RB, 1 TE, 3 WR), but split Daniel Graham out as a receiver.  Earlier in the week, the Broncos had indicated they would look for creative ways to use Brandon Lloyd.  You'll notice on this play, they put him in the slot.  One has to like this wrinkle.  

Tebow operated, of course, out of the shotgun without max protection.  It's hard, as a result of the play, to know who the primary receiver was, but if I had to guess, I would say it was Lloyd on an "out" route, specifically because Graham's route was a pick pattern to help spring Lloyd.

Tebow Pass 3

What Tebow Saw:  The Raiders have been criticized in recent weeks for playing too many defensive backs.  But the strategy has worked against the Broncos.  Because the Raiders have a plethora of safeties, they can play nickel and dime coverages and still be big enough to defense the run.  Their safeties can also blitz.  On this play, you saw a classic seven-man blitz, with pure man-to-man coverage over the top of it.  The extra safety and the lone linebacker didn't come right up to the line of scrimmage, but right before the snap of the ball, they crept up (spooky, I know); then they were teeing off.  It's possible Tebow didn't catch this in his pre-snap read, but I highly doubt it.  All four of the defensive backs were playing straight up man-to-man coverage, bump-and-run style.  If this didn't scream all-out blitz, nothing did.

The Happening: At the snap of the ball, the Raiders brought the house.  All the defensive backs blanketed their receivers.  The Broncos only had six blockers to take on seven defenders.  Those odds were not good.  Within two seconds, Tebow was forced to throw the ball over the head of Gaffney due to the free safety (spotlighted) at his grill.

The Bottom Line: Tebow handled this like a professional.  You have to get rid of the ball in this situation and avoid the sack.  Perhaps if Mike McCoy and Eric Studesville gave Tebow the ability to pass audible in the game (we now know he only had the ability to audible to runs), Tebow could have put the team into a better play against this blitz package.  I'm quite sure Tebow had a good pre-snap read of what the Raiders were doing on this play.  McCoy needed to let his quarterback audible here.

Grade: A (this one is on McCoy)

Pass 4

Where: Oakland's 41-yard line

Down & Distance: 1st and 25   

The Dope: On this play, the Broncos brought back the vanilla.  They came out in another run-heavy, 212 personnel grouping (2 RB, 1 TE, 2 WR), but passed out of it.  They kept Daniel Graham in to block.  Tebow operated from under center.  The Broncos flooded the left side of the formation with routes for Spencer Larsen (46), Moreno, Gaffney, and Lloyd. 

Although this formation might suggest otherwise, the primary receiver had to be Moreno.  Tebow went to him out of the backfield so fast, and Lloyd and Gaffney did nothing more than sprint up the field as fast as they could in an attempt to clear the defenders--at least from what I could tell.

Tebow Pass 4

What Tebow Saw:  The Raiders, despite their opponent facing a 1st-and-25 situation, lined up in their base 4-3 defense, which was puzzling.  You'll also notice they shifted their linebackers to Graham's side.  One can surmise they had studied Denver's tendencies.  The Broncos had loved to run the ball on Graham's side frequently.  Tebow probably thought he had a good play called here.  He saw man coverage as the linebackers shifted away from the play, and probably deduced that if Gaffney was successful at clearing out his defender, Moreno would have had some space to run.

The Happening: Unfortunately, Gaffney wasn't successful.  Part of the problem was that Tebow went so quickly to Moreno that everyone in the secondary (outside of Asomugha) ignored their man because they knew where the ball was going.  When I say Tebow went quickly to Moreno, I'm not kidding.  It was almost immediate, and it was easily deciphered by Oakland.  The result was a minimal gain by Moreno.

The Bottom Line: The speed with which Tebow tried to get the ball to Moreno was unwarranted.  His pre-snap read would have told him he wasn't in danger of being blitzed.  He would have needed Gaffney and Lloyd to clear the secondary before he got the ball to Moreno in space.  I'm fairly confident (although I can't be sure) the call had Tebow looking into the secondary before he came back to Moreno in the flat, even if only to give the impression to the defense he was looking downfield.  McCoy, for what it's worth, probably could have gained some significant yards on the ground against this formation had he chosen to run to the left side.  Again, the linebackers were certainly keying on Graham.

Grade: D

Tomorrow (if there's no totally bitchin' Point Break marathon on television), we'll look at the next four passes from Tebow in Part 2.  Look forward to seeing you then.

Until that time feel free to give Tebow's first four passes your own grades in the comment section below.  If you're into corporal punishment, there's no need to grade.  Just bring out the paddle.

I’m glad we had this talk.  Now, vaya con Dios, Brah.

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