|Luc Leclerc / US Presswire|
|Getting Tim Tebow under duress is a big key to keeping him from taking control of games.|
With Tim Tebow coming off the worst performance of his young career, I wanted to know if defensive coordinators around the league have come up with a blueprint for slowing down the Denver Broncos quarterback.
After studying the Broncos' past three games against the Chicago Bears, New England Patriots and Buffalo Bills, here are a few ideas that might make it to Kansas City coach Romeo Crennel's game plan as the Chiefs prepare for the Broncos:
Stop QB runs
The most impressive aspect of Tebow's game is his ability to run between the tackles. At 6-foot-3, 235 pounds, he is built like a fullback and his hard-charging running style often catches defenders by surprise. The Broncos have taken advantage of his unique talents by routinely using a series of predetermined QB runs to complement their zone-based running game. While some of those plays are part of a zone-read option package that allows Tebow to read the reaction of the defensive end, their most dangerous runs occur in goal-line, short-yardage and third-down situations. The Broncos have increasingly relied on Tebow as their main threat in those circumstances, and opponents must have a plan for defending the QB power-run game.
In breaking down the play, Tebow takes the shotgun snap, hesitates for a count before trailing the pulling guard through the opposite guard-tackle gap. The play is difficult to defend due to the spread formation luring defenders out of the box, and the combination of a lead blocker guiding a powerful runner through the hole.
To stop Tebow on the play, the defensive end on the front side must crash off the edge to attack the pulling guard's inside leg, which will clog the hole and force Tebow to bounce to the outside. This will allow the rest of the defense enough time to run him down and hold him to a minimal gain.
Avoid conventional matchups with the Broncos' personnel groupings
One of the subtle tactics utilized by the Broncos during their hot streak has been their various clever personnel packages to create advantages in the running game. Denver will use "10" (one running back, no tight end and four receivers), "11" (one back, one tight end and three receivers) and "12" (one running back, two tight ends and two receivers) personnel groupings with spread and empty formations to create the illusion of a pass, when their intent is to run the football between the tackles against an outnumbered defensive front.
With most defensive coordinators conditioned to match personnel with their offensive counterparts, the usage of multiple receiver sets leads to more sub-defenses with defensive backs on the field instead of linebackers. Consequently, the Broncos enjoy a significant advantage at the point of attack, which leads to big runs between the tackles.
In speaking with a defensive coach from the New York Jets, he suggested teams should switch their personnel based on down and distance rather than matching up with the Broncos' multiple receiver sets. By avoiding conventional matchups, opponents can keep their top run defenders on the field to neutralize Denver's potent running game.
The Bears and Bills adhered to this strategy in their games, and the results have been spectacular. The Broncos only averaged 128.5 rushing yards in those games, which is significantly less than the 161.1 yards they averaged on the season.
Feature several varieties of man coverage in the game plan
The Broncos' offensive struggles during the past three weeks can be tied directly to their opponents' willingness to use Cover-1 on most downs. The Bears and Bills, in particular, played a man-free coverage, which placed a safety in the deep middle with the corners locked in man coverage with outside leverage. The linebackers and nickel corner play a "cut" coverage against the Broncos' interior core of receivers to free up a second-level defender to switch onto a shallow crossing route or spy on Tebow from depth.
The Bears used the coverage with Brian Urlacher acting as a spy shadowing Tebow's every move. Urlacher's alignment in the middle discouraged Tebow from taking off on impromptu scrambles, and forced him make throws from the pocket.
The Bills, on the other hand, instructed their linebackers and nickel corner to exchange responsibilities on crossing routes. By switching on short and intermediate crossers, the Bills routinely took away Tebow's primary receiver and made him identify his second or third option under duress. As a result, he forced more balls into coverage and suffered through one of the worst performances of his career.
The decision to use more man coverage also neutralizes the effectiveness of the Broncos' receivers. Eric Decker, Matt Willis, Eddie Royal and Demaryius Thomas are unpolished route runners, and their inability to create separation is magnified when cornerbacks challenge them at the line of scrimmage. The Bills and Bears were both successful at disrupting the timing of the Broncos' passing game by using this tactic, so it wouldn't rank as a surprise to see the Chiefs utilize this approach considering their success against the Packers and others with press coverage.
Keep Tebow confined to the pocket with a four-man rush
After watching teams employ a variety of tactics in an attempt to disrupt Tebow's rhythm in the pocket, the most effective strategy has been the use of a disciplined four-man rush.
The Bears, Patriots and Bills successfully harassed Tebow in the pocket without using the blitz. Although they routinely bluffed pressures prior to the snap, the most effective pressures featured the defensive ends attacking up the field with the defensive tackles involved in stunts or games. The constant movement in the middle confuses blockers, while also clogging the potential running lanes for Tebow.
On the outside, the defensive ends must avoid running past the depth of the quarterback's drop to prevent creating escape lanes for Tebow when the pocket collapses.
Follow Bucky Brooks on Twitter @BuckyBrooks.