The talking heads seem to be at a loss for an explanation of how the Denver Broncos, who began the season 1-4, are now sitting pretty at 6-5 and breathing heavily down the necks of the Oakland Raiders after winning an unbelievable 5 of their last 6 games.
They're quick to point out the resurgence of running back Willis Mcgahee, the sudden turnaround of one of the leagues worst defenses, and discredit the contributions number 15 makes for this team. Everyone talks about Tim Tebow and his intangibles, but there is a solid X's and O's reason why Tim Tebow deserves the credit and attention he's getting.
Let's start with the rebirth of Willis Mcgahee. This is the same running back who was averaging 3.9 yards a carry during the first four and a half games of the season with Kyle Orton as the QB. Over the last five and a half games, Mcgahee has been averaging 4.7 yards a carry with Tebow at QB.
An even bigger stat in Mcgahee's resurgence: with Orton at QB, Mcgahee's longest run per game average was 16.2; while under Tebow that number increased to 22.8. Why the sudden improvement? Let me run you through Zone/Read Football 101.
While surveying the defense in the shotgun, Tebow is tasked with three crucial pre-snap reads: how many men are stacked in the box, which line backer is assigned to the running back, and which linebacker/defensive end has his number.
After these reads, Tebow has a fairly good idea of what he is going to do with the ball. As the ball is snapped, Tebow quickly turns his attention to the player tasked with defending him. While keeping the ball in the belly of the running back until absolute last possible second, Tebow must correctly read whether the defense will have a better play on him or Mcgahee.
What is the main reason for the Denver Broncos surprising success?
Now, from a defensive perspective, the second they see Tebow put the ball in the belly of Mcgahee, they must keep a man on outside contain. The problem then becomes that the defense has essentially lost a player in the box and everyone can be accounted for in the blocking scheme for the O. This leaves Mcgahee with the task of just making the first man miss, after that, its a foot race.
Alternatively, if the player assigned to Tebow tries to cheat and come make a play on Mcgahee, all Tebow has to do is pull the ball out and take off. The best QBs in the league have a knack for fooling everyone watching them, whether that be looking off a safety on a standard pass or looking off the D End on the Zone/Read. Tim Tebow is the best in the business at the latter, and this is why NFL defenses are being driven mad.
Now to the defense. There is no doubt that the Broncos are one of the nastiest defenses in football right now. Broncos linebacker Von Miller alone can be credited with destroying the Lions' hope of a playoff run by injuring Stafford's hand and ending the season of Chiefs QB Matt Cassel, who also injured his hand.
The defense wasn't always so nasty this season though, surrendering nearly 28 points a game during the play of Orton. That same defense is averaging just 20 points a game, 14 if you discount the Detroit game, during the last six games under Tebow.
Again, there is a physical, not intangible, reason for this. The Broncos' offense, while not scoring many points—yet—is eating up both yards and clock. Denver's defense is more refreshed, especially the pass rushers, after longer drives from the offense. A rested "Von Doom" combo is then free to tee off on the opposing quarterback.
So what have we learned today, boys and girls? Zone/read, with the right personnel, can absolutely be effective at the NFL level, and longer drives equal a fresh legged, stingy defense.
With that, I leave it to you: could Denver be experiencing this success right now with any of the QB's on the roster besides Tebow, or is it time to finally start giving the man his due. I've got news for you people; when you win five of your last six, it's no fluke.