How long will the Denver Broncos' option offense work?
The team clearly hopes it works as long as possible, hopefully through this season so the Broncos can make their final decision on quarterback Tim Tebow's future in the offseason.
Denver coach John Fox believes it's the offense Tebow is most qualified to run right now. So it's either option or bust for Denver.
“We’re just trying to win football games, that’s all we’re trying to do, take advantage of the guys on our football team and utilize their talents the best we can to win,” Denver offensive coordinator Mike McCoy recently told reporters in Denver.
With the 5-5 Broncos in the AFC West hunt -- they are 4-1 in Tebow’s five starts – there’s little chance the Broncos will risk changing the offense now. There’s not enough time to make Tebow an NFL-quality pocket-passer during the rest of the season.
While Denver has been hot, relying on the option offense is still a major risk in the final six weeks of the season. What if the San Diego Chargers completely shut down the option offense on Sunday?
After the Broncos had terrific success using variations on the option at Oakland and Kansas City, it was shut down for a big portion of Denver’s Week 11 game against the New York Jets. But the offense clicked when Tebow led an aggressive, 12-play, 95-yard drive that culminated in a 20-yard touchdown run by Tebow.
The truth is, the Broncos have become better in every phase of the game since Tebow took over. The key for him is to continue to buy himself time. For each victory, Tebow will earn another chance to convince Denver football leader John Elway he can be the long-term solution at quarterback.
Despite the win-loss success, there have been red flags. Tebow has had a completion percentage of less than 50 percent in all four victories. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, he is only the second quarterback to do that in four wins in one season in the past 20 seasons -- and there’s plenty of time left in this season.
The legendary Elway is one of the strongest-armed quarterbacks ever to play. He can’t be thrilled to see his first team as an NFL executive play leatherheads football. Who would have ever thought an Elway team would be a gimmick-led offense? Shannon Sharpe -- a fellow Hall of Famer who was one of Elway’s favorite targets -- said Denver’s current offense is straight out of the “Big Eight days." After he watched the offense beat his brother Rex’s Jets, Dallas defensive coordinator Rob Ryan said seeing the option offense in the NFL made him “vomit.”
Elway is clearly not convinced, either. He angered many Denver and Tebow fans earlier in the week when he said on radio that he is not yet committed to Tebow for the long term. In the meantime, Elway and his staff have scouted many of the top collegiate quarterback prospects this fall.
It’s difficult to find anyone who thinks the option offense can really fly in Denver in the long term. Countless analysts have panned the offense, calling it nothing more than a survival move. Hall of Fame quarterback and ESPN analyst Steve Young was one of the most ardent opponents of the idea. He said several times on the air that it is a disservice to Tebow because it is stunting his development and he guaranteed it will not work for the long haul. ESPN’s Merril Hoge and Mel Kiper have also chimed in with similar thoughts.
Matt Williamson of Scouts Inc. agrees. He can’t see the Broncos’ offense lasting even long enough to let the Broncos overtake first-place Oakland (6-4) in the division race. Plus, Williamson is unsure if Tebow can withstand the pounding he’ll take using this offense the rest of the season.
“I do not think it can be the long-term answer,” Williamson said. “The quarterback just takes too much of a beating and this league is won through the air.”
The key for Denver to continue to have success with the offense for the rest of the season, Williamson said, is to add wrinkles. The Broncos added different option plays each week and that probably will continue Sunday at San Diego after a 10-day break since the Jets game.
For the team’s short-term success and Tebow’s long-term future, the Broncos must continue to develop their take on this ancient offense or the back-to-the future experiment could all go away in a cloud of dust.