The Playbook Abides - Tebow’s encore

Last week we took a look at all 16 throws Tim Tebow made in his debut as the Broncos' starting QB.

The verdict?  This cat is an NFL quarterback.

I'm happy to report that I reached that conclusion before Christmas, so you can't accuse me of pounding too much egg nog.

This week in The Playbook Abides, we're putting up for your review four of Tebow's passes from Sunday.  Each one of them is instructive in its own little way, and helps us to chart Tebow's growth as the Broncos' signal caller.

(Note:  I don't believe I need to convince you of Tebow's inherent leadership abilities, but if so, don't take my word for it.  Champ Bailey and Jabar Gaffney can tell you).

Broncos-Texans: Pass 1

When: 11:51 of the 1st Quarter

Where: Houston's 11-yard line

Down & Distance: 1st and 10

The Dope:  On their first drive of the game, the Broncos seized the momentum and quickly drove down the field.  The crowd was rocking and things were set up perfectly.  The Broncos brought out their 113 personnel grouping (1 RB, 1 TE, 3 WR) and put Tebow in the gun.

Eddie Royal (19) and Jabar Gaffney (10) were probably the primary targets when the Broncos broke the huddle.   But it didn't end up that way once Tebow (15) believed he was seeing a blitz.

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What Tebow Saw:  Tebow saw both cornerbacks in tight man coverage.  Still, he did not audible.  Only when the strong safety and one linebacker crept to the line of scrimmage to show blitz, did Tebow hand signal the audible to the wide receivers.  If you listened to the audio during the game, you also heard Tebow scream out "The Mike is 56!"  That was his way of telling Correll Buckhalter (28) to pick up Texans LB Brian Cushing in pass protection.

The audible was Lloyd's route against man coverage on the right side.

The Happening: The Texans did not blitz.  As we pointed out last week, usually a defense will do one of two things to a young quarterback.  They show blitz early and then drop into zone coverage, or they show zone coverage early and blitz late.  The idea, of course, is to confuse a quarterback.  There's no need to try and fool Peyton Manning here (by showing nothing or showing both within the play clock).  Just confuse the young guy. 

In this case, the Texans dropped  both linebackers into zone and the strong safety picked up Daniel Graham (89).  It did not matter, however.   Because of the man coverage on Lloyd, the audible still worked.  Tebow had read that perfectly.  Unfortunately, the throw wasn't placed correctly and the ball was intercepted. 

The Bottom Line:  One surmises that Tebow was hoping to place the ball on the back shoulder of Lloyd or higher up so that Lloyd could outjump the defender.  In his postgame interview, he simply called the throw a "bad decision."   Overall, I like the fact that he recognized Lloyd had man coverage, and that the free safety and middle linebacker were of no help to Lloyd's defender.  It was a good call.  If only Tebow could have had the throw back, it would have really set the tone for the game.  Still, if we are looking for growth from Tebow, we saw it on this play. 

Grade: D (interceptions can never get a passing grade)

Broncos-Texans: Pass 2

(Note: This play was a special request from IAOFM member Nick Cast.  We are glad to oblige.)

When: 14:36 of the 3rd Quarter

Where:  Denver's 34-yard line

Down & Distance: 1st and 10

The Dope:  There is a reason the Texans are ranked so poorly in pass defense.  They fail on the fundamentals of pass coverage.  You'll see why on this play.

On their first possession of the 3rd quarter, and trailing 17-0, the Broncos needed a spark.  For most of the 1st half, the Broncos showed the Texans a conservative game plan.  Thus, when they came out with their 122 personnel package (1 RB, 2 TEs, 2 WRs), the Texans had every reason to believe the Broncos were going to run the ball on this down and distance.  First down, of course, is a perfect time for a play-action pass.

The primary receiver on this play was Jabar Gaffney all the way.  

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What Tebow Saw:  Tebow must have easily recognized this standard two-deep, five-under zone coverage scheme.  Why?  Because the corners were playing off-man coverage and at 45-degree angles to the quarterback; the linebackers were all already lined up deep pre snap; the safeties were evenly sharing responsibility for half of the field.   During the post-game, you heard Tebow reference a "Tampa 2 coverage," but he wasn't talking about it with respect to this.  This defense shares a lot with the Tampa-2 defense, but on a Tampa-2, the cornerbacks would have been pressing at the line of scrimmage.  

Tebow probably didn't like the look of this coverage because he knew it would be tough against a deep post to Gaffney--if the strong safety (highlighted) simply did his job.  All the strong safety needed to do was stay deep and keep his zone responsibilities over the top of the corner.  But perhaps the play fake would suck him in.  After all, he was the strong safety and not the free safety, a position which always features better coverage guys.

The Happening:  Tebow gave a rather nice ball fake to Buckhalter and hit his seven-step drop.  The Texans' linebackers didn't bite much on the fake, but fortunately for the Broncos, the strong safety froze just a bit before he began his backpedal - surprisingly, it was enough time for Gaffney to get behind him.  Tebow hit him in stride for a 50-yard gain.  Gaffney got up and did his you-can't-see-me hand gesture--so I'm told.  I couldn't see him.  He was invisible!

The Bottom Line:  If Tebow had not given such a good ball fake, this play never happens.  Sure, the strong safety made a critical error in judgement, and that's one of the reasons the Texans have lost a lot of games.  However, Tebow could have been lazy with that fake; we'd be discussing another Broncos loss this week.  The throw was simply spectacular.

Grade: A (you don't penalize Tebow for capitalizing on the mistakes of others)

Broncos-Texans: Pass 3

When: 13:56 of the 4th Quarter

Where: Texans' 49-yard line

Down & Distance: 3rd and 9

The Dope: This was my favorite play of the game, and it wasn't much of a play.  The Broncos were trailing 23-10 at this point in the game, but they faced a critical 3rd down.  As we all know, 3rd downs have not been the Broncos' strength this year.  Tebow certainly changed that on this play.

The Broncos showed an awesome 4-wide receiver set and tripled them up on the left side of the field.  Tebow operated from the shotgun.  The primary receivers on this play were Eddie Royal and Eric Decker (87).  

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What Tebow Saw:  The Texans are a big zone-coverage team (they have to be, given their deficiencies in the secondary), and to nobody's surprise, they showed zone coverage again here.  Tebow would have again recognized the classic signs: corners off the line of scrimmage, linebackers already deep and the safeties playing their half-field responsibilities.  For your benefit, dear reader, I've highlighted these zones so that you can see the windows in which Tebow had to find an open receiver.

The Happening:  Tebow looked to the left side of the field.  There was nothing (in Spanish one would say, "no había nada," which sounds cooler).  Tebow suddenly felt the pocket pushing him outside.  Instead of tucking, ducking, and running, Tebow kept his eyes upfield.  Suddenly, he spotted Lloyd on the right sideline between the corner and the safety's zone.  It wasn't a big window, but Tebow let a laser fly.  A second later, the Broncos had an 18-yard gain and another 1st down.  

The Bottom Line: If Tebow can consistently make these types of reads and progressions and buy time with his feet (while keeping his eyes downfield), it won't be long before he's one of the top quarterbacks in this league.  Did I just say that?  I suppose I did.  I'm getting a little swept up in the moment, but to truly appreciate this play from Tebow, put in some tape of Ben Roethlisberger from Super Bowl XLIII.

Grade: A+

Broncos-Texans: Pass/Run 4

When: 3:11 of the 4th Quarter

Where: Texans' 6-yard line

Down & Distance: 2nd and Goal

The Dope:  This was by far the biggest play of the game.  One has to like this personnel package OC Mike McCoy put on the field if one cares about Tebow's growth as a quarterback.  The Broncos showed another empty backfield.  This wasn't like Tebow's first start in which you saw a lot of max protection schemes.  The Broncos were letting Tebow loose.

This play was a fake quarterback draw off the right side.  The Broncos had hoped to draw Eddie Royal's defender in on the fake.  Tebow then was supposed to hit a quick pass to Royal up the seam (what little seam existed) and into the end zone.  If you remember several plays from Tebow's college highlight package in which he faked the run only to plop the ball over the line of scrimmage to a receiver, this play was similar to those.  Only this game was against guys making millions of dollars to prevent such occurrences.

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What Tebow Saw:  Tebow's pre snap read was rather easy.  He was assuming that Royal's man and the strong safety would be fooled by the fake--nothing more, nothing less.

The Happening:  Instead of Royal's man coming in to stop/blitz the play, the strong safety did instead.  Royal's man (highlighted) stuck to him like rubber cement.  Luckily, LG Zane Beadles was pulled for the trap QB fake, so he handled the safety.  Yet, Tebow had nowhere to go with the football.  So he did his best John Elway impersonation and beat everyone to the left corner of the end zone for the game-winning touchdown. LT Ryan Clady helped by pushing the defensive end into the backfield.  

The Bottom Line: Plays break down in the NFL more often than you think.  When a quarterback can slide in the pocket to give himself more time or make plays with his feet, he can change the outcome of a lot of games during the season.  Tebow did everything correctly here.  He ran the fake, noticed what happened, didn't make a bad decision, and then made something out of nothing.  A good day at the office, I would say.

Grade: A+

Now if you'll excuse me, I'm off to catch a Dirty Dancing marathon on television.  As you probably know, nobody puts Tebow in a corner.

Fell free to give us your thoughts on these throws from Tebow or to criticize me for cherry picking certain throws.  I didn't pick the screen passes because they were expounded upon by both Doc Bear and our good buddy Ted Bartlett earlier in the week.

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

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