The Playbook Abides - The growth of Tim Tebow

I've been steadfast in my defense of Tim Tebow in one area of his game--pre-snap reads.

Accuracy is another issue, but let's put that aside for the moment.  Let's continue to focus on Tebow's ability to read a defense when he comes to the line of scrimmage.

Last week's game against the Jets presented a greater challenge than Tebow had faced in previous weeks.  The Jets typically mix their coverages pre-snap; they did so again when facing the Broncos.

The challenge for Tebow then (as with any quarterback, for that matter) was getting to the line of scrimmage and knowing where he needed to go with the ball.

We'll take a look at the first play of the game last week, which resulted in a 28-yard gain.  Was it just luck?  Or was it Tebow?

Cover 2 Turns to Cover 1

We had a sneaking suspicion that Mike McCoy might come out and try to throw the ball immediately. The first series of any game is notorious for unseen plays and broken tendencies. This was no different.

Here is what the Jets showed pre-snap:

I've taken the liberty of drawing all of the receivers' routes. Remember, Tebow knows (or should know) all of these routes, so when he looks up and sees that it's a Cover 2 with man coverage underneath (corners give it away with their inside leverage and bump coverage), the play is ripe for a completion in the middle of the field.

Remember, one of the rare weaknesses of a Cover 2 is the middle.  That's why the role of the middle linebacker is so important. If he can't get to his deep drop (or stay with the receiver in man coverage), the offense can get yards in chunks. In this case, Tebow ought to be licking his chops at the thought of the circled receiver, Daniel Fells (86), exposing this weakness as both safeties drop into their deep zones. Another route for him would be the cross.

What Tebow doesn't want to do here is go to those deep receivers, although with a good throw he might be able to drop the pass in.  There are two reasons for this.  First, it appears as if the Jets are going to bring an overload blitz off of Tebow's left side. So Tebow wouldn't have time for the route to develop.  Second, both cornerbacks appear to have safety help over the top.  He'd essentially be throwing into double coverage (if the safeties are quick enough on their reads).

As we'll see in the next frame, it's all a disguise:

At the snap of the ball, the strong safety books it to the middle of the field, which turns the Cover 2 into a Cover 1.  In short, now Tebow has only one safety to deal with on those fly routes to the outside of the coverage. We would immediately expect Tebow to recognize this.  Moreover, we would expect him to see that the linebackers are not blitzing.  They are now set to drop into zone coverage.  In short, a pass to Daniel Fells, which was a few seconds ago a great play, is now a nightmare proposition.

Note that Tebow is looking right at the safety (at least it appears) and reading him.  This is a great sign.

Here's how things look from Tebow's vantage point at the snap of the ball:

This shot is the essence of quarterbacking at any level.  The questions that ought to go through a quarterback's head are so important, I've tattooed them on the frame itself (along with the individual players for reference):

  1. Where are the safeties? In this case, Jim Leonhard (labeled #1) is hurrying back to play center field in the Cover 1. He's got a long way to go if he wants to help over the top on the fly route wide left.
  2. Is it man or zone coverage?  Tebow should have noticed that the cornerbacks (outside of this frame and labeled #2) are still playing bump coverage with inside leverage, so they are still in man coverage; however, the linebackers have not shifted out to match the Broncos' flood formation.  In fact, to the contrary, their leverage pre-snap gives away their zone drops.
  3. Who has flat responsibility? If Tebow is in flow, he should be wondering if Eric Smith (labeled #3) is responsible for the flat.  In fact, he is.

Light bulbs should be going off in Tebow's head right now.  The correct read here is Demaryius Thomas, who is split wide left and has man coverage against the cornerback.  Neither safety is in a position to give the cornerback help; the fly route is far outside of the teeth of the underneath zone coverage.

This play resulted in a 28-yard gain to Thomas because Tebow indeed made the correct read.  He walked to the line of scrimmage, scanned the whole of the field and the defenders, and was quick with his decision.  It's possible Thomas was his primary receiver anyway (Likely, in fact, given that McCoy was trying to draw defenders to the strong side with flood routes), but it still doesn't discount the fact Tebow made the correct decision after looking at the safety and in the face of changing coverage.

Again, pre-snap reads are an area of Tebow's game I think he can improve upon, and I don't doubt that, given even a small window of time, his pre-snap reads will be on par with (or better than) other NFL throwers.  Plays like this are good indicators of this growth.  In the future, I'll look at some other aspect of Tebow's play and see if we can continue to make this claim.

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

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