Originally posted on Football Nation | Last updated 3/2/12
It wasn’t supposed to happen. Tim Tebow wasn’t supposed to be drafted in the first round. He wasn’t supposed to turn the Denver Broncos’ 1-4 start into a division championship. He wasn’t supposed to throw for 316 yards against the Pittsburgh Steelers’ No. 1 ranked defense. A quarterback that completes only 47 percent of his passes isn’t supposed to win professional football games.
That’s the way the NFL works. Those are the rules. You must have a great quarterback to win championships. You must have an elite passer, a pocket deep threat that reads defenses and calls audibles. You can’t have some unorthodox, inaccurate, left-handed pop-culture sensation that credits every win to God. Everybody knows that. It’s football philosophy 101. Get a great quarterback; win a championship.
Bronco fans need to be honest with themselves; Tebow is not a great quarterback. He’s not even a good quarterback. At best, he’s mediocre. John Elway knows this. Elway is honest. He said that Tebow has earned the right to be the starter come Training Camp. You don’t need to be a psychologist to filter through those words and diagnose the lack of confidence in that statement. Better summarized as, “Tebow will be the first guy we look at in our open competition for that position.”
It makes me wonder where would he be selected in this year's Draft. Certainly not ahead of Andrew Luck or RG3. What about Ryan Tannehill of Texas A&M? Or Nick Foles of Arizona? Maybe. They do throw better. But it's all about filling your needs. The Broncos are perfectly designed to host a QB like Tebow. Now they just need to figure out how to host another playoff game. The question is, is he the guy that can get them there?
For the answer we must travel back to 1971, to the little city of Norman, Oklahoma. It is there that offensive coordinator Barry Switzer perfectly executed a formation known as the wishbone. In simple terminology, the ‘bone is an option offense that utilizes two or more running backs and a mobile quarterback (more on that later). That season, the Oklahoma Sooners averaged 472 rushing yards per game. Allow me to repeat that with italics… 472 rushing yards per game. For argument’s sake, let’s say that they held an average time of possession of 30 minutes (which is what the Broncos had in 2011). That means every 60 seconds the Sooners rushed for 15.7 yards.
Their success paved the way for option fever in college football film rooms across the country and eventually filtered into the NFL. For roughly two decades, football success was predicated around some variation of the option offense.
But that was then and this is now. Defenses have evolved to counteract Oklahoma’s deceptive style of disguising the ball carrier that awarded them back-to-back National Championship appearances in 1974 and 1975 and another one in 1980. The 21st Century is all about the spread formation and a successful passing attack. However, there’s a common misconception that the option can’t work as a fulltime offensive game-plan in the NFL.
It’s not because defenses are geared to withstand such a vigorous running attack. Even with the evolution of faster defensive ends and bigger defensive linemen, there has never really been an answer to an appropriately run option offense. The Miami Dolphins have proved it with their use of the Wildcat. Michael Vick proved it with the Atlanta Falcons and the Philadelphia Eagles. Vince Young proved it with the Tennessee Titans. The option does work. The problem is finding the right players to execute it and finding the right coach to install it.
Unfortunately, coaches have almost abandoned the blocking and running techniques used in the ‘70s and ‘80s. Sure, colleges still implement the use of fast, mobile quarterbacks with designed running plays and some of that has found a way into the NFL. But the true classic use of the option, and formations such as wishbone and single-wing, is nearly extinct.
The reason is quite simple - money. It starts as early as high school. High school coaches know that their quarterbacks and receivers won’t put up the same kind of numbers in a Switzer-styled offense as they would with a spread, pass-first offense. When it comes to recruiting, stats matter. If a receiver doesn’t have great stats, he won’t be recruited to a big college football program. If he’s not recruited to a big college football program, he may not get drafted. The trickle down effect begins. Kids don’t want to go to a high school where they don’t have a good chance at being recruited. Recruiters don’t want to bring in kids that don’t have a chance at getting drafted. Teams don’t want to draft players that have been stuck in an “archaic” football system their entire lives.
That’s the reality of the modern game. Under no circumstances would a GM or head coach draft a quarterback in the first round and have him run the ball 15-20 times a game. There are too many risks involved, too many jobs at stake, and too many dollars in play. Injury is a big factor in this equation. Vick has played an entire 16-game season only once in his nine years as a pro. In the other eight, he has been sidelined due to some form of injury.
But this is where the Broncos find themselves in a unique situation. Tebow is not injury prone. He’s a durable, 240-pound fullback that completes 47% of his passes. He’s tall and fast. He’s the true triple-threat: a runner, a passer, and a blocker. All they need to do is build the pieces around him. And to do it successfully, they must understand and commit to the old-school standards.
From the most basic principles of football, we derive that defensive linemen need to be blocked in order for running backs to find room and progress the ball. In the wishbone option style of offense, we take a different approach and force the defensive player to make a choice.
This is done by not blocking. The quarterback takes the direct snap from the center and fakes to the fullback who is lined up directly behind him (two running backs are lined up behind the fullback, one to each side). The left guard (the player to the left of the center) allows the defensive linemen to pursue and instead blocks any blitzing linebackers. The pursuing lineman is immediately faced with a choice: either go after the QB, who currently has the ball, or go after the fullback. If he goes after the QB, in our case Tebow, the QB hands off to the fullback who plunges forward into the gap left vacant by the pursuing lineman. If he goes after the fullback, Tebow keeps the ball and continues to his left.
That same play progression happens with one of the two running backs trailing Tebow. If the defender goes after the RB, Tebow keeps it and runs forward. If the defender goes after Tebow, he either hands off or pitches it to the other running back.
That’s the classic triple-option formation. One that Switzer used to average 472 yards per game in 1971. One that has hundreds of variations and wouldn’t be hard to install in a Tebow-run offense. But he can’t do it alone.
This is where free agency comes into play. I’ve read some reports that suggest the Broncos should go after a top-dollar wide receiver, such as Vincent Jackson or Dwayne Bowe. Doing so would undermine the entire premise of Tebow-Mania. To be a successful football team, you have to play to your strengths. Tebow has been doing the same thing his entire career: running and winning. Don’t take that away from him by crippling the salary cap with a big name receiver whose talents would be wasted as a decoy.
Instead, there’s a different name in free agency that the Broncos should be particularly interested in: Peyton Hillis.
Hillis was drafted by the Broncos in 2008. After flashing some potential he suffered a season ending injury and was ultimately thrown out by Josh McDaniels. We all remember McDaniels as the guy who drafted Tebow, who stated that given the right circumstances and supporting cast, he would be the franchise quarterback. Well here’s your supporting cast: a speed, pass-catching back in Knowshon Moreno: a veteran short-yardage back in Willis McGahee: and an every-down, option fullback turned running back in Peyton Hillis.
Make no mistake about it, Hillis should be their No. 1 free agent target. He is the final piece necessary to put together an offense that is unheard of in the NFL, yet revolutionized the game. With his power and pass catching ability, and Tebow’s run-pass mix, and few added offensive linemen via the Draft, the Broncos aren’t just in a position to conquer the AFC West, they’re in a position to conquer the AFC.
Can Tebow run a traditional styled NFL offense? That remains to be seen. I would certainly think that with practice and the right coaches he could improve his accuracy, but not to the degree that it takes to win a Super Bowl. The better option is the option. Let him be himself. Let him do what he does best and design an offense around it. Modern day defenses aren’t prepared for a run-first, all out option attack. And even if they were, Tebow has proven that he can make Peyton Manning-type throws. Just ask the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Oklahoma called it the Wishbone. Miami called it the Wildcat. Denver calls it the Wildhorse. Regardless of the terminology, one quarterback runs it exceptionally well. His name is Tim Tebow. There is only one question the Broncos need to answer: what would Barry Switzer do?
MORE FROM YARDBARKER
Delivered to your inbox
Follow us on Twitter
|Best of Yardbarker||NFL News||MLB News||NBA News||NHL News|
Today's Best Stuff