Transition Game  

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Tailor-built offense still wouldn't solve Tebow's problems

Each Tuesday, NFL Network reporter Albert Breer will share his thoughts on topics around the league as teams transition from the previous Sunday's game to the next encounter on the schedule. Today, he begins with why even a tailor-built offense might not save Tim Tebow.

The text came back swiftly from a personnel executive asked to critique where Tim Tebow's game needs the most work.

"Wow," it read. "Where to start?"

How about here: It doesn't seem like we're too far from the plug being pulled on the Tebow experiment, put in motion by a coach no longer in Denver, just 18 months after it began. On this Sunday, with the Lions literally toying with the Broncos sophomore over the course of a 45-10 bludgeoning, the picture couldn't have been clearer.

Earlier in the day, even in defeat, Cam Newton put together another aerial show, throwing for 292 yards and three touchdowns. While the Lions were "Tebowing" in Denver, Ben Roethlisberger was riddling the Patriots in Pittsburgh. And that's significant, because those two quarterbacks are the ones who seem to give a player like Tebow hope, with their teams building offenses to suit their convention-bucking styles.

Trouble is, what this Sunday also showed is why the Panthers and Steelers accommodate their quarterbacks: Because when push comes to shove, both are much better passers than Tebow.

"Mechanically, he's just so unconventional," said the personnel exec. "He's a thrower, not a passer, and he has a slow release. DBs close fast in this league. And I never thought he had good field vision in college. He misses wide-open receivers. I just think the percentages are low here for long-term success."

And if a team built a system around him? "I don't even know if you could do that," said the exec. "At some point, you have to pass, when they stop the run, and refuse to let you run (as a quarterback). If he can't do that consistently, it's gonna be tough."

It does look a little like last week's comeback in Miami was lipstick on a pig, just like this week's fourth quarter took his numbers from atrocious to merely pretty bad. If you combine the first three quarters of the past two games, Tebow went 10 of 29 for 104 yards and no touchdowns, while taking eight sacks. He wasn't picked, but in that time, Denver registered just 15 first downs.

For now, Broncos offensive coordinator Mike McCoy, a holdover from Josh McDaniels' staff who also worked with head coach John Fox in Carolina, is trying to fix what he can. He told me last week, "I think he's had plenty of success in our system," when I asked if the way Denver plays offense works for the quarterback. But he did add "you don't want to take too much away from anyone else" in building a system, and conceded that Tebow's got a ways to go.

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"It's gonna take time, we still have work on a lot of things mechanically," McCoy said. "A guy like this, you gotta be careful not to tell him he can't do certain things, you don't want to handcuff him. At the same time, he has to understand what his progressions are, and when the right time to scramble is. You don't want him hitting his back foot and taking off every time. I tell him every day -- there's a time to scramble."

McCoy said that Tebow has improved since he's had him in that "the ball is coming out of his hand better, he's getting good rotation, he's more consistent, and his accuracy and anticipation will get better with time." But whether or not those things will ever be good enough for Tebow to be an effective NFL quarterback is up for debate.

"The one thing Josh and John want (in a quarterback) that's similar is they want a winner, a guy who can lead ... ," McCoy said, over the phone. "When the game's on the line, that's when he's at his best. He has to get better early on, and more consistent. But he's going to do whatever it takes to be the best he can be. He's not gonna be told by anyone that he can't."

Right now, actually, there are a lot of folks who think Tebow can't make this work. And after last Sunday, there's mounting evidence, too.

The Patriots' problem

The Patriots' defensive meltdown against Ben Roethlisberger was hardly an aberration. New England continues to rank last against the pass and has yielded an average of 34 yards per game more than any other team.

The issue here isn't that Bill Belichick has lost his touch as a defensive coach, because his work in mitigating the damage by winning battles in the red zones has made the problem a manageable one, when combined with Tom Brady and his explosive offense. Instead, the issue is that Belichick the Personnel Man is striking out, big-time, in trying to fix the corner and safety positions.

Since 2005, the Patriots have spent seven picks in the first four rounds of the draft on defensive backs. Five of those picks came in the past four drafts, and four of those five were first- or second-rounders. Just two of the aforementioned seven -- Devin McCourty and Patrick Chung -- are now on the active roster. On top of that, the club made significant investments the past two years in free agents Shawn Springs (three years, $10.5 million) and Leigh Bodden (started on one-year deal in 2009; re-signed for four years, $22 million).

Despite having allocated all those resources, as one interested party pointed out to me at Heinz Field, what's left in the secondary, outside of McCourty and Chung, is decidedly scrapheap, following the ouster of Bodden and the shutting down of injury-prone rookie Ras-I Dowling. Check it out:

Phillip Adams: Waived by 49ers in September, signed by Patriots after 18 days of unemployement.
Kyle Arrington: Waived by Philadelphia in September 2009, landed on Patriots' practice squad, promoted to New England's active roster that November.
Josh Barrett: Claimed off waivers from Denver by Patriots in August 2010.
James Ihedigbo: Signed by Patriots on August 18 after Jets let him go as a free agent.
Antwaun Molden: Claimed off waivers from Houston by Patriots in August.
Ross Ventrone: Signed by Patriots as rookie free agent in 2010, frequently on and off the roster since.

The lack of an edge-rushing presence is also part of the problem, and the investment hasn't been as heavy in that area. The Patriots took Shawn Crable with the 78th pick in 2008, and he barely played a snap for them, and spent the 53rd pick in 2010 on Jermaine Cunningham, who was a healthy scratch Sunday. To make up for the lack of young talent there, the team has brought in veteran castoffs.

Brady and Belichick worked around this sizeable hole to go 14-2 last year. And at 5-2 now, it's not exactly killing the Patriots. But among the real contenders, it's as glaring a problem as anyone has.

Just another game for Steelers

Few teams have been as consistent as Pittsburgh since 2005 -- the Steelers have won three AFC titles and two Super Bowls in that time -- but last week, the team looked to its opponent for a lesson in that department.

Ryan Clark explained it to me before the game, saying, "I don't really believe [the Patriots] had much respect for us anyways, so the fact that they're beating us probably doesn't matter to them. I don't think they see this as a rivalry or a big game. They see this as another team they play, and that's what I admire about them the most. You don't hear that come out of the Patriots' camp, that 'This game is big.' They just take every week and play football."

And to form, Clark told me after the game, "Honestly, it just means we won the game. It was a big game. We expected to win. I think we went out and executed the way we were supposed to, and now we've got a bigger game next week."

Mike Tomlin's message to his players during the week leading up to the matchup with the Patriots was simple: "Do what you're supposed to do. Don't go out of your way to make plays or do things because of the magnitude of the game. Just do what you do every week, and we'll be OK."

That served the players well. The Steelers' defense finished the game without four staples of the unit's past two Super Bowl runs -- Aaron Smith, James Farrior, LaMarr Woodley and James Harrison. Yet, the group never pressed and held on through the fourth quarter.

And the hope is it'll serve the team well again this week. Steeler players felt like they "ran into a buzz saw" in their 35-7 loss on Sept. 11 to Baltimore, and when things started to spiral out of control, guys compounded the problem by pressing to "make something happen."

If the players adhere to what Tomlin told them going into this week, the way they did last week, you'd think that'd be less of a problem.

Rams set for stretch run

Let's get this out of the way first: I was wrong about the NFC West. I thought, based on what some scouts who studied them in preseason told me, the Rams could run away with it. And compounding the problem, I thought the Niners were in for a tough, tough few months of growing pains.

So the Rams winning the West? Yeah, that ship has sailed. But with a healthy Sam Bradford, and a team that looked sturdy (finally) up front against New Orleans, St. Louis has a chance to make some noise in the next two months.

Look at this schedule: at Arizona, at Cleveland, Seattle, Arizona, at San Francisco, at Seattle, Cincinnati, at Pittsburgh, San Francisco.

Not a total cakewalk. But the Rams could easily get to six or seven wins, and that should be enough to buy Steve Spagnuolo and Billy Devaney another year. Just as significant, it would give Bradford a chance to avoid having a third coordinator in three years, presuming Josh McDaniels would come back.

As for the Niners, what they're doing is no fluke. And everyone criticizing them needs to stop obsessing with the quarterback. San Francisco is where they are because they're as good as anyone in the trenches, and teams like that tend to be in it for the long haul.

Scary spot for Colts

Colts vice chairman Bill Polian went on radio in Indianapolis this week and said he wants to see Peyton Manning practice before the year's out, which is a reason good enough to hold his roster spot in a lost season.

Indianapolis has a $28 million option bonus due in March, and it'd stand to reason that the Colts wouldn't want to risk such an important player in meaningless games, but would want to see him in a practice setting before pulling the trigger on that financial commitment. The trouble is where he'll be from a medical standpoint at that juncture.

Doctors have explained to me that Manning should expect to be healed from his September surgery in December or January, but the nerve regeneration is far more unpredictable. It's possible that the nerves could be healed by December. The more common timetable, though, is 9-12 months.

"The rate of nerve recovery and amount of recovery is very unpredictable," renowned orthopedic surgeon Neal ElAttrache said. "It could be a 3-4 month recovery, with a good fusion to get where everyone needs to be comfortable, but you'd need a speedy recovery of nerves for that to happen. What's normal would be nine months to a year to get the nerves back, so by next summer."

See why the Colts are trying to get as much information now as possible? It's entirely plausible they could be forced to make a decision on that $28 million, and also go into April's draft, without a real idea of how this is all going to play out. Scary proposition indeed.

Five one-liners

1. Easy to pick apart the lackluster performance, but the Giants really needed that one -- and it's a step forward that they got it on not-their-best day.

2. Is it me, or do teams seem to take much more of a beating in the court of public opinion after playing bad offense rather than bad defense?

3. Mark it down: The Lions will be 8-2 going into their Thanksgiving showdown with Green Bay.

4. If there's one assistant coach who isn't getting the credit he deserves, it has to be Romeo Crennel, who's been vital to the Chiefs' turnaround.

5. Redskins fans, time to start doing your homework on Landry Jones, Robert Griffin and Matt Barkley.

Follow Albert Breer on Twitter @AlbertBreer

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