Durkin: Know Your Opponent – Denver Broncos
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By Dan Durkin-
A weekly glimpse at the Bears’ upcoming opponent, this week: Denver.
(CBS) Is it possible that Denver Bronco “quarterback” Tim Tebow is the inspiration for the Dos Equis “most interesting man in the world” ad campaign?
If you believe everything you read, it certainly seems that way. Tebow is the guy Waldo is hiding from, he is what Willis was talking about, and some people out there are suggesting he is the NFL MVP. Does anyone have the phone number of the winning bidder for the Kevorkian suicide machine?
Tebow has become the LeBron James of the NFL. Before you click the back button on your browser, let me explain. The comparison has nothing to do with talent and everything to do with polarization. There simply isn’t a middle ground on Tebow, you either love him or you hate him. I operate on the latter, as he offends my football sensibilities on numerous levels.
Tebow has awful mechanics, is inaccurate, has a low release point which negates his height, has forced the Broncos to run a mid-20th century NFL offense, has none of the qualities I’ve associated with quality NFL quarterbacking, yet is 6-1 as a starter in 2011. I hope people dig a bit deeper into that record and realize two things here: the Broncos have beaten a bunch of NFL nobodies during this streak, and their defense is the real reason they’re winning.
If you haven’t looked at the numbers during Tebow’s run, I envy you, as they are staggeringly bad. Tebow has yet to complete more than 50 percent of his passes in a game, completed two passes (that’s not a typo) in a win over the Chiefs, has completed more than 13 passes once (18 in the Broncos only loss to Detroit), but has managed to do one thing very effectively: protect the football. In 158 passing attempts, Tebow has thrown only one interception.
To be fair, Broncos running back Willis McGahee also deserves some credit for the Broncos run, as Denver has the NFL’s top-ranked rushing attack. McGahee seems to be rejuvenated in Denver, bruising his way to three 100-plus yard games during this streak. Every week, offensive coordinator Mike McCoy has installed new packages for Tebow to get comfortable with, and in turn, give defenses new wrinkles to adjust to. Running a spread-option from time-to-time will catch a defense off-guard, and force defensive ends and outside linebackers to shuffle their feet and play their technique, but it isn’t a viable long-term solution.
McCoy has slowly opened up the passing game for Tebow, giving him fairly simple free-safety reads, running a lot of vertical and post route combinations. This simplification has a two-fold benefit as it allows Tebow to be quick in his progressions, and decreases the jump opposing secondaries can get from reading Tebow’s elongated release of the ball.
As a whole, the Broncos receiving corps is ordinary. Eric Decker is a reliable receiver who runs solid routes, and Demaryius Thomas is raw, but has exceptional skill for a man his size. Look for the Bears defense to deploy a game plan similar to the one they use for Mike Vick, whereby they will try to limit Tebow’s escape routes and force him to beat them from the pocket.
Defensively, the Broncos have really responded to first-year coordinator Dennis Allen. Allen was previously the secondary coach in New Orleans, and is Denver’s sixth defensive coordinator in the last six years. Clearly, Allen has installed an up-tempo pressure scheme, similar to what he learned in New Orleans under Gregg Williams. Denver’s defense has raised its level of play over the past seven games, allowing a mere three fourth quarter touchdowns, one rushing touchdown, and registering two pick sixs.
Rookie outside linebacker and second-overall pick Von Miller is without question the NFL’s Defensive Rookie of the Year, but it’s not an overstatement to say Miller is a serious contender for Defensive Player of the Year. Miller is explosive, aggressive, and has racked up some gaudy stats this season with 10.5 sacks, seven tackles for loss, and two forced fumbles.
Miller isn’t the only linebacker on the Broncos who needs to be taken into account. Wesley Woodyard, DJ Williams, and Hyde Park High School grad Joe Mays are all having productive seasons. Woodyard is the team’s leading tackler, Williams is the second leading tackler and has forced three fumbles, and Mays is tied for the team lead with seven tackles for loss. Combine a stout linebacking core with a whirling dervish pass rusher like Elvis Dumervil, and it’s easy to understand why the Broncos have been so successful in pressuring the quarterback.
Despite his age, cornerback Champ Bailey can still neutralize a team’s top receiving threat without help over the top. Since Bailey eliminates the need to keep safety help over the top, the Broncos are able to play a lot of Cover-3, with a single high safety, and drop veteran strong safety Brian Dawkins in the box for help in run support. The Broncos will certainly stack the box to stop the run this weekend, and force quarterback Caleb Hanie to beat them. If the last two games are any indication – especially last week’s debacle against the Chiefs – Hanie won’t do enough to keep the Broncos defense honest and it will be another offensive struggle for the Bears.
The Broncos have strong special team units as well. Devin Hester was foiled by Chiefs punter Dustin Colquitt last week, this week Colquitt’s younger brother Britton gets his chance. Britton is having a stellar year for the Broncos and is near the top of the league in net average, fair catches, and punts inside the 20. Seeing how challenged the Bears offense has been under Hanie, they need their return teams to generate favorable field position, which will be a difficult task this weekend in the thin Denver air.
I’ve chided Broncos fans all season, in particular, the billboard-buying Bronco fans who successfully bulled head coach first-year John Fox into making Tim Tebow the starting quarterback. Seven games later and a 6-1 record makes me wonder: Were these fans onto something? My answer to that is, no. Despite this run of success, I think this has become a nightmare scenario for Fox and first-year general manager John Elway. Neither of these two will publicly endorse Tebow for the long-term, and they will most likely address the quarterback position this off-season. This will enrage Broncos fans who refuse to think about the long-view.
The ironic part of this, is there is the Bears played a role in this saga. A wee man named Josh McDaniels tipped the first domino by alienating then-Denver starting quarterback Jay Cutler, who was sent packing to Chicago for Kyle Orton and a bevy of drafts picks, one of which was a 2010 first-round pick, which enabled the Broncos to trade out of and back into the first-round to select Tebow. Unfortunately for the Bears, Cutler won’t be facing his old team this Sunday, and the best quarterback on the field will be a guy who looks like he’s throwing a helium balloon on each attempt.
Did anyone find that phone number of the winning bidder for the Kevorkian suicide machine yet?
Dan Durkin joined The Score’s columnist community after finishing runner-up in the 2011 Pepsi Max Score Search. He is a graduate of the University of Illinois where he was a member of the men’s football team (despite his best efforts to join the women’s team). Dan is a longtime Scorehead, known as Dan in Wicker Park – even though he no longer resides in Wicker Park – who will be sharing NFL analysis and opinions. You can follow Dan on Twitter @djdurkin. To read more of Dan’s blogs click here.