The Denver Broncos are a surprising 3-1 with second-year quarterback Tim Tebow under center. Unlike the other 31 teams in the NFL, the Broncos are winning not with a passing attack like the Green Bay Packers or New England Patriots, and they don't have a defense to rival the Pittsburgh Steelers or Baltimore Ravens.
What they do have is a quarterback unlike any player we have ever seen in the NFL—both good and bad.
Throw out conventional wisdom and what you think you know about the NFL, because the Denver Broncos just won a game in which their quarterback completed only two of eight passes.
How is Denver winning?
The Broncos are running a classic read option. Some may call this the zone read, but from my days as a coach I can tell you that this offense is dangerous. There is a reason that many college teams run this offense made popular by former West Virginia and Michigan head coach Rich Rodriguez.
With a read option you don't need a great athlete at running back, you don't need an accurate passer at quarterback and you can live and die on the mistakes of one defender.
The read option may not be here to stay, but it's been good enough to get the Denver Broncos two straight wins. Let's take a look at how the read option works.
Before the snap you'll notice the Broncos have three wide receivers (one to the right and two left) with a tight end who just went in motion across the formation to balance the offense. The defense now sees two receivers on each side of the ball.
In a normal offensive set, the defense would count the running back as the odd-man and shift to a strongside alignment, but with Tebow at quarterback the Kansas City Chiefs cannot shift, because he's too dangerous as a runner.
Tebow sees the Chiefs in a basic 3-4 defense, with all four linebackers in the box and press coverage on the outside. By this he can tell the cornerbacks are playing the pass and most likely he'll have outside linebacker Tamba Hali rushing off the edge.
2. The snap
When the ball is snapped, running back Knowshon Moreno will take a 45-degree cut and cross Tebow's face. When he does, Tebow sticks the ball out and into Moreno's stomach, creating the mesh point.
While handing the ball to Moreno, Tebow has to read the outside linebacker away from where the run is going. In this case, that's the linebacker on the bottom of the image. This is where the "read option" gets its name.
If the linebacker crashes down the line of scrimmage toward the runner, Tebow is to pull the ball and run it himself, replacing the area where the linebacker was. If the linebacker squats and decides to take away the quarterback run, Tebow will hand the ball to the runner.
The read option is built to make one defensive player mess up. On this play that was outside linebacker Tamba Hali, who really didn't even mess up, he just made a decision and the offense rightly adjusted to it.
Had Hali crashed and run at Moreno, Tebow would have kept the ball and had just one safety to beat on the backside of the play to gain a first down. There is no right answer for Kansas City in this situation.
That's why the read option is so dangerous when your quarterback is an established runner.