After watching the NFL Replay of the Broncos-Chargers game, I came away with a different view of our offensive struggles. During the live game, I complained vigorously to my TV screen that the play calls were too conservative, and I formulated a strawman that Mike McCoy was a nose-picking buffoon with a play sheet shorter than a post-it note. However, upon further review, McCoy is only partly to blame for the general ineffectiveness of the offense. I'll break it down to a few problem areas, but the take home point is that a certain young QB for the Broncos needs to get better.
Run, Forest, Run!
Ok, so I think we get the point. With over 50 run attempts in each game since the Oakland game, the Broncos are going to run the ball a RIDICULOUS amount. I'm cool with that. It's incredibly conservative but reduces risk in turning the ball over....a critical area of improvement since Kyle Orton was starting. The problem is that defenses are stacking the box with 8 or 9 defenders at a time, making the efficiency of our run game decrease.
While watching the replay, I saw numerous run blitzes by the Chargers. In particular, when Tebow is under center in double tight end sets, the Chargers were very aggressive at crashing the defensive ends into the middle to clog up the running lanes and blitzing LBs or CBs to the edge. Several of these runs were stopped at or behind the line of scrimmage simply due to the mess. To fix this, McCoy HAS to start calling play-action pass plays or naked bootleg rollouts from this formation. The edge of the defense has to play more honest, and there's nobody more dangerous than Tebow on the outside edge. Getting the tight ends to chip their blockers and release into the flat on a QB rollout out of this formation is going to be a high-percentage play.
The read-option is clearly the mainstay running play of our offense. To defend it, the Chargers played a lot of off-man coverage and stacked the box to prevent the run. They also primarily played the defensive ends in an edge contain when we lined up of the option formation. This asks the defensive end to set the edge and to make sure that nobody (read:Timmy Terrific) gets to the outside.
The defensive formation seemed to work well for two reasons:
1) Out of our read option, it's either a run or a long bomb. Typically, the wide receivers are set 3 or 4 wide and they run a go or post route to clear out the edge for any number of option runs. Even the TEs run down the seam once in a while just to clear out defenders. However, with the defensive end playing disciplined contain and the box is stacked, there's limited options for running success.
2) Tim Tebow needs to make better reads than he did against the Chargers. When the DE sits on the line, Tebow seems to be a bit lost on whether to keep it or hand it off. This is particularly true in short yardage situations, where his instinct is to either go wide or dive into the pile. In more than one case, there were was a guard pulling to the outside edge on the play which Tebow ignored completely. If he would have made better reads and allowed the play to follow the blockers, either he or McGahee would have busted off some BIG gains. On another play, a safety blitzed on the outside edge and if he had read the field, he could have exploited the blitz with an inside veer for another massive gain.
In order to make the offense more effective, McCoy and Tebow need to anticipate this formation from here on out and adapt to it. A most glaring weakness is the vulnerability to wide out screen plays or slant routes. Basically, ANYTHING that passes from 5-8 yards should be wide open on the strong side of the formation. On the back side, again, a TE or RB releasing into the flat will be wide open with the DE sitting on the edge.
Like everything else these days, it all comes down to Tebow. The most noticeable fault I found was his slow decision making process. It's not just passes, where he's reading the defense and waiting for a 1-on-1 situation (he will NOT throw into the middle with LBs dropped into coverage). No...it also apparent on the read option. On two occasions, the Broncos ran option pitch plays where Ball or Royal take the pitch and the defense is again in off man coverage. If Tebow pitches the ball early and decisively, each play goes for a BIG gain with nobody within 10 yards. Instead, he decided to either keep the ball for a small gain or pitched it too late, giving time for the OLB to get to the edge.
Basically, I came away from the game replay with a better understanding of Tebow's faults. He's clearly on the steep part of the learning curve right now. He's playing very close to his vest, biding his time to make the decision and often choosing the least risky option. That's a good thing for a rookie to do....and it leads to wins when the Defense can keep up. However, he needs to become more instinctive in his reads...even in his bread and butter read-option out of the spread formation. He needs to trust his teammates and coaches, follow the blockers up front, and see the gaps rather than the defenders. I suspect he does this more at the end of the game, which is when he's most dangerous. The sooner he speeds up his decisions, the sooner he can start opening up these stacked defenses and maybe start hitting short, high percentage routes that will be very effective.
In conclusion, after a 4 game win streak, the amazing thing is that there is a lot of room to improve with this offense. Tebow can and should make better reads than he did on Sunday, and he'll need to in order to keep the chains moving. There are several possible high-percentage pass options that are wide open to be exploited on short routes. The Broncos should come in expecting to see a lot of the same defensive formations the Chargers used on Sunday, and they should exploit it.