It is ill-advised, and absolutely no fun, to rain on the Tim Tebow parade right now. But there's a reason Broncos VP John Elway and G.M. Brian Xanders scouted two of the top college QBs, Oklahoma's Landry Jones and Baylor's Robert Griffin III, last Saturday: They know football's not a game of magic, so it's hard to make long-term plans based on positive vibes and last-minute escapes.
In a 38--24 win over Oakland in Week 9, the Broncos relied on their running game and three interceptions of a rusty Carson Palmer. In Tebow's other four starts, Denver's offense had 37 possessions in the first three quarters—and scored one TD. There's no magic there, just the cold, hard reality of a bumbling attack that has been picked up time and again by rookie linebacker Von Miller and a resurgent defense.
When I've talked to people around the NFL about Tebow, they're fascinated and disbelieving at the same time. A quarterback who can't complete 50% of his throws—Tebow hasn't done so in any of his starts this season and, by my count, missed five open receivers in his 9-of-20 performance against the Jets last Thursday—is not going to have a long tenure as a starter. That is, unless he can run like Tebow and the team makes the option its offensive staple. Would Denver be willing to remake itself long-term into Den-Veer? If the Broncos win, say, four of their last six with Tebow, they might have to consider that approach next year (much to Elway's chagrin) and draft a mobile quarterback to back up Tebow in case he gets hurt. They wouldn't be able to switch between a pro-style offense and a full-time option attack week to week, because each calls for different blocking schemes and route trees for receivers.
The Broncos have a winnable game this week against the Chargers, but let's say Tebow stumbles against the impressive defensive fronts of the Vikings, Bears and Patriots over 15 days in December. There's a reason smart coaches like Bill Belichick and John Harbaugh were smitten with Tebow before the 2010 draft: He can play a changeup role. So Denver could draft a new starter and use a pro-style offense while building an option package for Tebow to run for a series or two. Let opponents jam the box with eight defenders, as the Jets did throughout Tebow's 95-yard winning drive. Let Tebow pound and slither through them, and throw a couple of passes. Because teams wouldn't be used to defending the option—and wouldn't have spent their entire preceding week preparing for it—the ploy would work more than it failed.
Smart teams maximize their players' skills. Offensive coordinator Mike McCoy stopped forcing a square peg into a round hole when he made Denver option-centric. There's no reason he can't stay with the option in 2012, whether Tebow's the starter or merely the league's most compelling relief pitcher.
Photograph by JOHN BIEVER
THROWN OFF History says a modern NFL team can't win with a starter who completes fewer than 50% of his passes. Tebow threatens that wisdom.