The Tim Tebow Era has finally started in Denver, and well it should. Kyle Orton was given the chance to seize the day and prove all of his critics wrong. A task at which he failed miserably. With the exception of one brief surge in yards against Green Bay, Orton's yardage has steadily declined each game. He was given his chance and he blew it. So it is appropriate that Tebow be named the starter.
John Bena, in his article Denver Broncos Have No Choice But To Name Tim Tebow Starting Quarterback makes the following comment:
It's now in Tim Tebow's hands
I'm not sure that's completely accurate. Take a jump with me to see what I mean.There is no denying the spark that Tebow brings to the offense. Just go back and watch the fourth quarter against San Diego again. Watch the enthusiasm and energy shown not only by Tebow, but the other ten players on the field as well. Watch as a dispirited group of players suddenly become a group that believes that they will win the game.
I think that , among many, Tim will get a pass on some areas -- like mechanics, accuracy, etc -- if the team is winning. He may even get a pass with those same people, in those same areas, if the games are very very close. However, if the team is consistently losing, and especially if they are blow out losses, I'm inclined to believe that many will be far less forgiving. Even worse, should he perform poorly, his critics will become like sharks during feeding time at the aquarium. We will see people calling for the benching of the starter in favor of someone else. We'll see people advancing this college player or that one as the one to draft to become the "quarterback of the future."
The problem that I see coming is that Tebow will be judged by the win-loss record of the team, much in the same way that Orton was. The reason that this is a problem is that half of the game is beyond Tebow's direct control: the defensive side of the game. To be blunt, while improved slightly, our defense still is not particularly good. The Broncos defense, after five games, is ranked 30th in fewest points allowed, 25th in fewest yards surrendered, and has contributed to a Take Away/Give Away ratio that is currently ranked 26th in the NFL.
There are three main things I look for with the defense. The ability to deny the opposing offense points, how the defense performs after the Broncos' offense has scored, and how the defense performs after the Broncos' offense has turned the ball over (through interception, fumble, missed field goal or on downs).
The overriding task of the defense is to do their best to deny the opposing team's offense the opportunity to score points. In the first five games of 2011, the Broncos defense has managed to do this 58% of the time. The defense surrendered point 42% of the time. The defense has been on the field for sixty drives (including drives intended to run out the clock at the end of the half or the game). They have given up fourteen touchdowns and eleven field goals.
One minor point I would like to address is the argument that the defense has been put under undue pressure due to the offense's tendency to force the defense to defend a short field. I'd like to point out that the average starting field position for Denver's opponents has been their own 28-yard line.
When we look at the opposing teams' drives that have resulted in a touchdown, we find that the shortest touchdown drive was 46 yards (by San Diego). The rest of the touchdown drives were of the following yards:
|Yards for TD||# of Drives|
Half of the opponents' touchdown drives have covered eighty or more yards. That number rises to 64% when you include touchdown drives of 70+ yards. This has not been a case of the defense having to defend a short field. It is a case of the defense not being able to consistently get off the field.
The information on those drives that resulted in field goals is somewhat similar. The shortest drive was four yards (by Oakland). The rest of them were as follows:
|Yards for FG||# of Drives|
The second question I ask of the defense is how they have fared following a Denver score. Denver has scored eighteen times (thirteen touchdowns and five field goals). The defense has forced a punt six times on the possession following a Denver score. They've forced a turnover three times. They've allowed the opposing offense to run out the clock twice. The defense has also given up four touchdowns and three field goals on the drive immediately following a Broncos' score. That is, 39% of the time, when the Broncos have scored, the defense has allowed the opposing team to immediately answer with a score of their own.
While 39% may not seem like a particularly worrisome number, it must be pointed out that the defense started strong in this area, but has struggled as the season has progressed. Against Oakland, the defense did well in this category, forcing a punt following three Denver scores. Their only miscue was to allow the Raiders to run the last 3:43 off the clock after the Broncos had closed to within a score. In the Bengals game, the defense played well in the first half following two Denver scores, but allowed Cincinnati to score after each of the two Bronco scores in the second half. The defense was perfect after the two scores in the Tennessee game, including forcing a fumble. Against the Packers, the defense was up and down, giving up touchdowns twice following Broncos scores, but also intercepting Rogers once and forcing a punt. The San Diego game is where the wheels came off for the defense. One the upside, the defense forced a fumble following a Denver touchdown. On the downside, gave up two field goals and a touchdown following Broncos' scores. The drives have looked like this:
|Team||Den Score||Opp Plays||Opp Yds||Opp Time||Opp Result|
|TD (punt Ret)||10||26 (2 off pen)||5:16||Punt|
|TD||8||31||3:43||Ran out clock to end game|
|FG||1||-2||0:12||Knelt to end half|
|TD (pick 6)||10||66||5:13||FG|
While the defense has done reasonably well in denying opposing teams a score following a Denver score, the defense has struggled horribly in withstanding a charge following a Denver turnover (interception, fumble, missed field goal, downs). The Broncos have turned the ball over fourteen times (seven interceptions, five fumbles, one missed field goal, once on downs). The defense has surrendered a score nine times following a turnover (four touchdowns, five field goals) and allowed the opposing team to run out the clock to end the game twice. The defense has also forced a punt, a fumble and returned an interception for a touchdown. Only against Tennessee and San Diego did the defense not surrender points following a Denver turnover. The drives have looked like this:
|Team||Den Turnover||Opp Plays||Opp Yds||Opp Time||Opp Result|
|Interception||4||-4||1:39||Ran out clock to end game|
|Interception||3||1||1:54||Ran out clock to end game|
The biggest problem I see in all of this (aside from the need for the defense to step up after the offense has made a mistake) is that there is no "Tim Tebow" on the defensive side of the ball. I've not seen any single player who seems to be able to rally the defense to play with energy and enthusiasm in the same way that Tebow rallies the offense. My concern is that without that kind of player/leader to rally the defense, the defense will continue to struggle at critical times and cost the Broncos games. Unfortunately, then, Tim Tebow will most likely be blamed for the team's losing.
One of the biggest needs on the defense is not, as many would claim, a defensive tackle. The most glaring need on the defense is a vocal leader who, when he steps on the field, brings a spark to the other ten guys and inspires them to play with energy and enthusiasm. A "Tebow for the Defense," if you will.
Now that we're finally seeing some excitement and energy return to Denver Broncos football, I sincerely hope we will become strong in our vocal advocacy for a defensive equivalent to Tim Tebow. I further hope, that we will give the players, coaches and the Front Office, the time to find that player; that we will ride out the inevitable losses and miscues that will come from having a young team led by a dynamic, but young quarterback; that if things turn sour and the wins don't come, that we won't just start calling for the next (possibly great) "quarterback of the future." We already have him.