Much has been made in the NFL in terms of stopping Tim Tebow and the Denver Broncos offense. Tebow is unlike other quarterbacks in the NFL in that he possesses the ability to run the ball effectively and has an uncanny knack for making things happen when they count the most in the 4th quarter. The attention Tebow’s running ability gets is justified; he’s run 94 times for 515 yards (5.5 average) so far this season. Contrast that with his passing statistics, where he’s completed less than 50% of his passes for 1,290 yards.
One player who is often overlooked on the Denver offense is veteran running back Willis McGahee, who is 20 yards away from a 1,000-yard season and is averaging 4.6 yards per carry. What is crystal clear is that whether it’s Tebow or McGahee, the Patriots defense has to be ready to line up and play sound, fundamental football. Stopping the run, no matter who is carrying the ball, is priority #1. If there’s one thing we know about Bill Belichick’s defensive philosophy is that he tries to take away what a team does well and makes them try and use their weakness to score points.
Let’s look at how that could be done Sunday in Denver.
The best defense is a good offense.
The best thing the Patriots could do to help slow down the Denver running game is to hold onto the ball and put up a lot of points on offense. This would force the Broncos out of their comfort zone – running – and into playing a game of catch-up. Holding the ball on offense would also force Denver to strike quickly due to the lack of time of possession.
Play a 4-4 base Cover 3 defense with safety playing as the 4th linebacker.
While I fully expect the Broncos to pass more than they normally would to try and exploit the Patriots’ weak pass defense, they will still try and run the ball and control the tempo of the game. It’s also what they do best, and they shouldn’t try and be something they are not. A 4-4 base defense (see diagram above) has four defensive linemen and four linebackers with corners on the outside and one safety in the middle of the field. In Cover 3 in this defense, the safety’s job is to play zone to stop the deep ball while the corners also play to keep everything in front of them. This works better with a stronger secondary, but Tebow is completing less than half of his passes, so it’s worth the risk. In lieu of an actual fourth linebacker, I’d have a safety who is stronger in run support, like James Ihedigbo, play that position. I would keep him lined up inside on the weak side of the formation, and his job would be to spy Tebow and provide run support. The beauty of using a safety is that Belichick could switch back and forth between 4-3 and 4-4, disguising what he’s doing before the snap. The personnel is the same, it’s just a matter of where Ihedigbo lines up.
What do you think is the best way to defend against Tebow and the Bronco offense? Leave your game plan in the Comments section.