You Got Served: Tebow Time

Happy Tuesday, friends, and welcome to another edition of You Got Served.  Not much of interest happened over the weekend, so I’ll probably just keep this boring and unprovocative, like everybody does on a slow news day.  How about them Texas Rangers?

I guess there’s the little matter of Tim Tebow getting some action, and being named the starting QB today, so I suppose I’ll touch on that a little bit.  It hasn’t gotten enough attention, so why not give it some?  Ready… BEGIN!!

1.  The Broncos did the only thing they could do on Sunday, and that’s bench Kyle Orton.  He has played poorly this year, and he lost the QB job after an ample amount of time to turn it around and show better results than he did.  There’s no reasonable defense that can be made of his play, and no rationalization about anybody else will stand up.  Isolating Orton’s play, there was simply a lot to be desired.

When Tebow entered the game on Sunday, he was joining a completely flat team, and they got energized pretty quickly on both sides of the ball.  I don’t know if we can attribute that all to Tebow’s entrance, but I think it’s the most likely cause.  I will definitely say that I think the offensive group competes harder when Tebow is in the game than they do when Orton is in the game.  The 3.5 games we've seen of Tebow tell me that that is the case, when measured against the 33.5 Orton games.

I was in the car this morning, and I heard a bunch of hand-wringing about how badly Tebow played on Sunday on Sirius from Bob Papa and Solomon Wilcots.  Let’s clear this up right now.  The dude played well given the circumstances.  He came onto the field at halftime with a deficit against a defense that had played really well, and played a bunch of high-leverage snaps.  Even as his throwing often left something to be desired, he made some positive plays and some neutral plays, but no negative plays. 

In the course of all of this, Tebow gave the Broncos a chance to compete to win a football game, like he has in every game in which he’s appeared.  Others absolutely had a hand in that, but if Tebow wasn’t doing what he was doing, there’s no chance.  I was interested to see that Total QBR was so complimentary of Tebow, because his performance deserved it.  You have to understand this guy differently than other QBs, and while Total QBR isn’t a perfect stat for doing that, it at least attempts to do so.  You have to understand Tebow as a guy who makes plays and who moves an offense in unconventional ways.  He's not going to be David Carr in 2006, leading the NFL with a 68.3% completion percentage.  That was Carr's last year as a starter in this League, and he averaged a pathetic 6.3 yards per attempt.  Completion percentage is a worthless statistic, because all completions aren't created equal.  I've covered this before, of course.

The most impressive play of Tebow’s game to me was the scramble where he just barely missed hitting Eric Decker on a deep ball.  That goes in traditional stats as a simple incomplete pass but Tebow gave the Broncos a chance to make a huge play there that almost nobody else in the NFL could make.  The last play of the game was really interesting too.  Tebow ran around for more than 10 seconds looking for something to come open, and he almost got it to Matt Willis.  Those improvisational plays are going to turn into big plays a lot of the time, and since defenses are going to have to account for them, it will soften their ability to deal with other things.

Tebow does four things very well:

  1. Throw and sell the screen
     
  2. Throw the deep ball
     
  3. Run with the football
     
  4. Extend plays with his feet, and throw on the run

He struggles with some other things:

  1. Hitting intermediate throws with accuracy and timing from a straight dropback
     
  2. Handling the exchange from under center

I’m here to tell you that you can work around those last two things while coaching them up for eventual improvement, and you can also take steps to maximize the things he does well.  He needs to do better on hitting open receivers, and he will once he gets going.  Remember, he was a 67% passer in college.  Regardless of how things look now aesthetically, that should tell you that Tebow is not lacking the ability to make a throw.  Also remember that the guy has 3.5 games of experience in the NFL.  He's going to have growing pains, and we all need to let him grow or not grow.  (He'll grow and improve, trust me.)  It seems that Tebow has what amounts to an 11-game audition to prove that he should be the go-forward QB.  I think he’s up to it, but if he isn’t, the Broncos are in no worse shape in January than they are right now.

Orton and Brady Quinn won’t be under contract in 2012, Tebow will be, and the Broncos either will or will not be looking to acquire a new QB.  We should all want Tebow to succeed and prove that he can be a top starting QB in the NFL, because that would expedite this rebuilding process.  Wouldn’t it be nice to have Tebow throw for 15-18 TDs, run for 10-12 more, and have the Broncos go 5-6 or so over the next 11 games?  Wouldn’t you feel good about that?  I think it’s realistic that it could happen, because unlike last year, the defense is playing well enough to win at least half the Broncos' games when they score in the 20s.

If that scenario unfolded, suddenly, the Broncos are picking eighth or ninth in the Draft, and they’re talking about drafting Alabama CB Dre Kirkpatrick, or Iowa OT Riley Reiff, or Alabama RB Trent Richardson, or Clemson DT Brandon Thompson, and not QBs Matt Barkley of USC or Landry Jones from Oklahoma.  Another premium player would be coming in to augment a young and developing roster that has some emerging talent in place.  Your QB is going to enter his second season as a starter and third in the NFL, and that generally portends for big-time growth.

If Tebow fails, and the Broncos are convinced that they need to get a different long-term QB, then nothing was really lost.  The first-round pick that was used to draft him should have been long ago forgotten as a sunk cost, and you gave the guy a chance that he wasn’t up to meeting.  Oh well, right?  As for the concern that Tebow’s fans will scream if he’s just okay and the team decides to go in another direction, that’s something that John Elway will have to deal with publicly.  He’s John Freaking Elway, so I think he has the standing to tell fans that the team's evaluation of Tebow is that he wasn’t what they wanted as a starting QB on a go-forward basis.  I could live with that, and I think most others could too.

Like TJ, I felt the blood pumping through my veins in the second half on Sunday, and I was thankful to have a competitive, high-tension football game to watch.  It had been quite a while since I’d felt that way.  I was sitting in my home office in Cleveland, but I felt like I was right there with the fans.  I feel that way as I type this right now, somehow.  I’m excited to see what happens over the next 11 games, and whatever the outcome, I don’t think it will ever feel like playing out the string as it would have with Orton.

2.  I made the comment in yesterday’s Chewing The Fat that a tackle that Wesley Woodyard made early in the game to prevent a first down and force a field goal is the kind of play that is usually the difference between winning and losing.  The Broncos have had mixed results in these hidden high-impact plays this season.

Coaching decisions can sometimes have similarly major effects on winning and losing, and I wanted to address something that went very, very wrong on Sunday.  I’ve covered this before, and long-time readers may recognize it - so for them, let this be reinforcement.  For the newer readers, let this be a new way of understanding.

Assume you’re a football coach, and you receive a kickoff after a touchback with 1:47 to go before halftime, and two timeouts.  The opposing team also has two timeouts and leads the game 16-10.  What’s your mindset at that moment?  I know what you’re thinking - it doesn’t matter who you have on offense.  What’s your goal?

If you’re playing Madden, and you have a great play that you can always hit for big yards, you go to that, and try to get down the field and score quickly.  It’s no sweat, because you’re playing Madden.  An NFL game is not Madden, though.  The other team is going to make a better run at stopping you in real life than the Xbox’s AI or the trash-talking 12-year-old on the other end of the headset.

There’s only one right answer here, and it’s counterintuitive.  No TV analyst is likely going to tell you this, but I’m right and they’re wrong.  The first priority is to get into the locker room with the status quo in place.  It’s going to be 16-10 or better, but never worse.  The team that received the ball has the ability to control this outcome, and a smart coach is singularly focused upon doing so.

So what does that mean in terms of specific tactics?  It means that the first priority is to run the clock down below one minute.  The second priority is to make a first down, or at least force the opponent to use both its timeouts.  The third priority is to prevent turnovers at all cost.  The fourth priority is to score points.

I’m not some stodgy or conservative guy, as most know, but the end of the first half requires a conservative approach, because it’s a dangerous time.  Mess up and you run the risk of giving the ball back to the other team north of one minute to go, with both timeouts, and maybe even with good field position.  You run the severe risk, in other words, of not maintaining the status quo.

Here’s the correct approach:

First and 10 from the 20, 1:47 to go  - Use passing personnel, spread the field, and try to gain some yards with either a draw or a screen.  The imperative thing is to make sure that there’s no incomplete pass, and that nobody goes out of bounds.

Regardless of the outcome of the play, you’re going to run the clock down a minimum of 25 seconds.  Let’s say you gained five yards for this purpose, which is typical for a shotgun run against a sub-package defense.

Second and 5 from the 25, 1:20 to go – Run another draw or screen, focusing on staying in bounds, ball security, and positive yardage.

If you got the first down on that play, you let the clock get under one minute, and then, and only then, do you start hurrying up.  Your risk orientation changes under a minute, because if you punt the ball back to the opponent under a minute, it’s unlikely that they’ll do much more than run the ball and go to the locker room with a lead.

If you have first and 10 from the 30 or 35 with a minute to go and two timeouts, you are in better shape to start thinking about getting a field goal.  As you advance more and more, you can take more and more risks, because you’re under a minute to go, and the further downfield a potential turnover occurs, the more like a harmless punt it is, where the other team is just going to kneel on it and go to the locker room.

If you didn’t get the first down on second down, but you’re close, you snap the ball at 1:00 and try to get it with the running game.  If you don’t get it, you force the use of a timeout by the opponent, but at least you’re around 55 seconds now.  After the punt, you’ll be more like 45 to 50 seconds, and the opponent will only have one timeout.  They’re likely to hand it off once or twice, and unless they get a big play, head into the locker room with their six-point lead.

Contrast that to the results of the last 1:47 on Sunday, which uncoincidentally had the same parameters that I just laid out.

1st and 10 at DEN 20 (Shotgun) K. Orton pass short left to E. Decker to DEN 16 for -4 yards (D. Hughes). 

2nd and 14 at DEN 16 (Shotgun) K. Orton pass incomplete short right to B. Lloyd (E. Weddle).  

3rd and 14 at DEN 16 (Shotgun) K. Orton pass incomplete deep right to M. Willis (Q. Jammer).  

4th and 14 at DEN 16 B. Colquitt punts 50 yards to SD 34, Center - L. Paxton. P. Crayton to SD 46 for 12 yards (L. Ball).  

DRIVE TOTALS: SD 16, DEN 10, 3 plays, -4 yards, 0:32 elapsed

Where to begin with this nightmare?  For one thing, the main proponent of the approach that I laid out above is Bill Belichick.  He has Tom Brady, and he’s conservative, and gets the clock under one minute as the first priority.  John Fox and Mike McCoy have Kyle Orton (in what was hopefully his last hurrah as Broncos QB) and they have him drop back and throw it.

The series starts with a poorly executed WR screen to Eric Decker that loses four yards, but at least the clock runs.  At that point, having lost yards, the strategy needs to change to using the full 40 seconds after first down, and then calling straight up handoffs to kill the clock.  At the very least, you force the Chargers to burn both of their timeouts, and they’re getting the ball back with no more than a minute to go.  You’re being conservative, and fans who don’t understand will complain about that, but you’re going to force the other team to be conservative too when you give the ball back to them.

What happened here though?  The Broncos went back to the line, dropped back and threw an incomplete pass, of course.  Then they threw another on third down and had to punt.  The Chargers got the ball back north of a minute (1:02 to be exact) with both timeouts, and that cannot happen.  As an added bonus, the Broncos allowed a 12-yard return and the Chargers started at their own 46.  What was the result?

1st and 10 at SD 46 (Shotgun) P. Rivers pass short middle to R. McMichael to DEN 48 for 6 yards (W. Woodyard).  

2nd and 4 at DEN 48 R. Mathews left guard to DEN 45 for 3 yards (D. Williams).  

Timeout #2 by SD at 00:34.  

3rd and 1 at DEN 45 (Shotgun) R. Mathews right guard to DEN 42 for 3 yards (W. Woodyard).  

1st and 10 at DEN 42 P. Rivers spiked the ball to stop the clock.  

2nd and 10 at DEN 42 (Shotgun) P. Rivers pass deep right to M. Floyd for 42 yards, TOUCHDOWN.2210

N.Novak extra point is GOOD, Center - M. Windt, Holder - M. Scifres.

DRIVE TOTALS: SD 23, DEN 10, 5 plays, 54 yards, 0:49 elapsed

Note the differences; the Chargers started conservatively with a short pass and then ran the ball twice, using one timeout and one spike to manage the clock since they were under one minute.  After getting a first down and running the clock a bit, they took a shot downfield and beat some bad coverage for a TD.  At the plus-42, you can take a shot and not worry about it, because even if you get one picked, it’s like a punt.  Matthew Stafford threw a pick in plus territory under a minute in the first half Monday night, and it didn’t matter.  The Bears kneeled on it, and there was no harm.

Internalize this thought, and never forget it.  Clock management is about much more than saving time.  Just as often, it’s about intentionally causing time to run off the clock as a risk management tactic.  The atrocious clock management by the Broncos' coaching staff on Sunday did as much to lose the football game as anything that any player did all day.  I will always hold the Broncos' coaches accountable for this, because they should know better; there’s an intelligent way and a stupid/reckless way, and they chose the stupid/reckless way.

3.  I’ve decided to give y’all a little sump’m sump’m of a technical football variety between today and Friday.  Since there is nothing to Digest for this week, I have a time slot for Friday, and nothing to fill it, so I thought of something worth doing.

There has been a lot of conjecture that the Broncos will need to “scale back” their playbook for Tebow.  That’s actually pretty stupid, because it assumes that there is such a static thing as a “playbook.”  It’s not like the coaches did a bunch of doodling between February and July and then put them in a book, and made a sacred pact never to reconsider the contents of that book, for any reason.

Look, every team has players, and those players have different skill sets.  The coaches for the teams have to be keenly aware of what those skill sets are and tailor their schemes and game plans to maximize the effectiveness of those players.  Some coaches will cut off their noses to spite their faces in sticking to their preferred schemes, but the Broncos don’t have those kind of coaches.  A "playbook" may have 1,000 plays in it, and a team may like certain ones better for one QB or another, and use those plays in the game plan.  That's not scaling back the playbook; it's intelligently deciding what to use from it.  The QB draw was certainly in the playbook, and for some reason, the Broncos never got around to calling it when Kyle Orton was in the game.  Shocker!

I’ve seen some commentary on this site that Mike McCoy is incapable of scheming or calling effective plays, but that’s also nonsense.  There’s been nothing wrong with the playcalling in a general way - just the execution.  (Yes, I’ve hated some individual calls in individual situations, like anybody, but the criticism from some people is overblown, when you consider it in a general sense.)

Today, I’m going to draw and explain six offensive plays that maximize the abilities of Tebow and the rest of the offense.  On Friday, I’ll give you six more.  This is just to show you that for a person with some schematic knowledge, it’s not too hard to think up some tailored stuff.  Mike McCoy is a professional NFL Offensive Coordinator, so I’m sure he can do it more easily than I can.

Play 1: Zone Read

Have you heard the one about how Tebow is handicapped by never having played in a “pro style” offense in college?  It’s a bunch of malarkey; he’d only be handicapped on a team where he was being forced to do something that he couldn’t do, for the sake of saying that that’s how pros do it.  The truth is, a lot of the most innovative offensive stuff going is coming from the college level and being incorporated into the NFL piecemeal.

This is pretty much a college play, and it works in the NFL just fine too.  It requires a read that Tebow has made many times.  What is the Left Defensive End doing?  Is he crashing hard inside?  Then Tebow hands the ball off to the RB off Right Tackle.  Is he staying home?  Then Tebow fakes the handoff, and runs the ball himself to the left side, off the block that the slot WR is making on the backside DE.

This play works when you have a QB who is a threat to run the ball, and when he’s durable enough to have that be an acceptable risk.  Tebow is very durable, of course.  This design makes LBs hesitate, and that’s always a high-value thing to do.

Play 2: Shovel Option

Does this one look familiar?  The initial backfield action is the same as the Zone Read, and the line plays it the same way.  The receivers go downfield, because this probably ends up being a forward pass, and you don’t want guys blocking downfield too early.  It’s better to run the DBs off and make them cover a route.

This is an option play, but not something you’d have ever seen at Oklahoma under Barry Switzer.  On this one, the RB is primarily a faker, unless Tebow sees something in the pre-snap alignment that tells him to hand the ball off, like the LDE pointing way inside or aligning tighter than usual. 

Failing that, there’s a fake, and the TE simply runs across the shallow part of the backfield as Tebow moves left.  He’s reading the RDE now.  If that guy rushes toward Tebow, the play is a shovel pass to the TE.  If the DE sees the TE and tries to cover him, the play is a QB run in the B gap.  Another very simple read.

This comes straight out of the Urban Meyer scheme at Florida, and Tebow and Aaron Hernandez hit it for ridiculous yardage against a lot of really good and fast SEC defenses.  It can definitely be effective in the NFL, especially if you have a fast guy at TE.  Another fun idea is to run it with Knowshon Moreno lined up as a wing or slotback, and running the shovel action.

Play 3: Play Action Left

This is another familiar look, and that’s not an accident.  It’s play action to the zone read, with a bootleg left and a shot downfield to Brandon Lloyd.  Failing that, Tebow has a slot receiver and a TE to work with, or the edge to run to.  This is a half-field read to Tebow’s strong side of the field, and he gets to either throw on the move or run.  There’s a lot here to promote success, including the triangle concept that we've discussed before.

Play 4: 959 Double Crosser

This is a straight dropback play from the shotgun.  Tebow has proven that he can make those crossing throws with good-enough accuracy, and with the rub action, it’s likely that one of the crossers gets open pretty quickly.  There’s also the two 9 routes outside, and Tebow throws a terrific deep ball, so defenses had better not sleep on those.

Play 5: HB Opposite-side Screen

That’s five plays from the exact same shotgun formation and 11 personnel, in case you’re not keeping track.  The downfield route action is the same as the last play, and the RB is going to initially block left, as in the last play, and then slide over right to receive the screen pass.  This takes a moment to set up, but it’s really effective having the back come from the left side to the right side.  Tebow can sell this and make the throw consistently, and the RB will have J.D. Walton, Chris Kuper and Orlando Franklin in front of him to block downfield.

Play 6: QB Draw Action

A new formation!  Does anybody recognize this look?  I saw some complaining on Sunday that Tebow always runs from empty formations, and that that is predictable.  That’s all about to change.  The most devastating play that Tebow ran at Florida was something like this, where he personally faked a run by stepping forward and ducking, like he's putting his shoulder down, but then stepped back to throw.  A defense can’t account for it and still account for all five eligible receivers.  There were a lot of deep balls hit on this action to Percy Harvin, Louis Murphy and Riley Cooper, and there’s no reason in the world that it can’t work in the NFL too. 

What ends up happening is that if you run it the same way you run a designed QB run play, defenses get no clue from the presnap look, and it causes indecision in both run support and pass coverage.  This is the definition of making a defense account for something that they don’t have to account for with a more conventional QB. For all this nonsense about how defenses are going to stack the box and prepare for Tebow specifically, there is a lot that the Broncos can do to combat that.

I’m going to stop there for today, and I’ll be back Friday with six more plays that can maximize the effectiveness of Tebow.  Have a good few days, and we’ll talk soon.

1.  I’m not in the arguing business, I’m in the saying what I think business.
2.  I get my information from my eyes.

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