Scouting Report: Disciplined defense can stop Tim Tebow, Denver option
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The Minnesota Vikings dropped to 2-9 for the first time since their inaugural season, and from this point on, it's a case of how high a draft pick they can manage. This week, the Vikings get caught up in Tebow-mania. Sam Monson of ProFootballFocus.com, which breaks down tape of every NFL game, takes an inside look at the Denver Broncos:
Denver brings something genuinely different to the table with the offense now being designed around QB Tim Tebow (6-foot-3, 245 pounds). The Broncos coaches have essentially binned their playbook and started again, bringing out every known wrinkle of the option that was always thought non-viable at the NFL level.
They will break out standard read-option plays, triple-option plays, inverted wishbone formations, double-options and some wide receiver rushes for good measure. Their offense is designed to play to the strengths Tebow has and his familiarity with the spread-option concepts from his time in college. The entire offense is drawn up to exploit sloppy and ill-disciplined play from defenses and to isolate defenders, forcing them to make a decision about who they attack. So far it has worked, but it can be defeated by staying disciplined and playing assignment football.
Getting far less press than their offensive ingenuity is the defensive scheme that Denver is running. They are running an over shifted 4-3 alignment with their front seven and OLB Von Miller (6-3, 246) usually playing up on the line of scrimmage like a 5th lineman. This allows them to stack against the run, rush the passer from either strong or weak side of the formation and still be able to cover on the back end such is the athleticism of Miller. They also bring a strong safety down into the box frequently and at times their defense looks as much like the old 46 defense as you'll see in the NFL today (including from Buddy Ryan's two sons).
Miller isn't just having a rookie of the year kind of season -- he's having a defensive player of the year kind of season. Miller has proved to be too much for any offensive line to handle as a pass-rusher, but he can also set the edge, penetrate against the run and even cover with ease. He might be the best 4-3 outside linebacker in football this season and he has been the leader of the Broncos' defensive resurgence. The Vikings will need to account for where Miller lines up and likely deliberately scheme to keep the ball away from him and the protection in his direction. Though he plays as a regular outside linebacker on early downs (albeit usually closer to the line of scrimmage in their shifted front), he will drop down to play defensive end in pass-rushing downs or rush from a two-point stance as part of a four-man rush.
He may be something of an enigma, but Tebow can't just be dismissed as a gimmick player and a product of hype. He is weak passing the football, which is usually the primary job of a quarterback, but in Denver's current offense he's also a legitimate threat to run the ball, where he is definitely dangerous. The various play fakes and endless run sequences also buy the Broncos several open deep shots in a game which have to be guarded against. Tebow will likely waste more than one of those opportunities, but if the Vikings are lulled to sleep in the secondary by the run game the Broncos will get opportunities to strike in behind them and score points.
The Broncos have also improved against the run thanks largely to the play of NT Brodrick Bunkley (6-3, 306). Bunkley has been a force in their shifted front and has been more than a match for multiple centers across the league. In the past, he had shown flashes of fine play but never really put it together for a consistent run. This season appears to be different as he has been extremely strong against the run all year. He disrupts the run up the gut and funnels plays towards the speed and chase of their edge players. The prospect of him against C John Sullivan should be a mouth-watering one.
Strengths and weaknesses
Despite the smoke and mirrors, the Denver offensive line remains a major issue. C J.D. Walton (6-3, 305) and LG Zane Beadles (6-4, 305) in particular are extremely weak, unable to anchor, and can be exploited. RT Orlando Franklin (6-5, 316) is also a slow-footed pass protector and will give up pressure around the edge. The Vikings can definitely win individual matchups along the line but they have to do so whilst maintaining discipline and staying inside their assignments. Otherwise, they will still be vulnerable to the option plays Denver is running.
The Broncos' front seven on defense has been much improved this season and though they only really have a pair of standout players in Miller and Bunkley, they are getting impressive and steady play from most of their rotation and are being let down by nobody. Even if they can come up with a way to neutralize Miller, the Vikings will likely struggle to get too much going against the rest of the defense. In the secondary they are relying on experience and savvy, especially in the shape of CB Champ Bailey (6-0, 192) and S Brian Dawkins (6-0, 210) who are still making plays. They may not be elite any more, but they are more than capable and aware enough to capitalize on poor play from an offense.
The offense is definitely a case of scheme overcoming the sum of its parts, with plenty of players underperforming on a consistent basis. They haven't been able to get any consistent play from their wide receivers, and the tight ends have been struggling to make an impact as receivers. Those same tight ends have been collectively poor as run blockers, forcing HB Willis McGahee (6-0, 228) to make much of his yardage on his own or through clever play design.
Regardless of their record, the Broncos are a fun team to watch at the moment. They are breaking out things on offense that you will usually only see in college and high school. The plays they are running were long since abandoned as NFL-worthy but they're showing they can work. Tebow may never be a long-term answer, but he does have short-term viability in this type of offense and has the athletic skills to be dangerous to any defense. If the Vikings can play disciplined football, they can stifle the Broncos and hope to edge a close encounter. If they try to play over-aggressively and lose track of their assignments, they could give up some big plays and lose a lopsided encounter, bringing them one step closer to that high draft pick.