Sunday, January 15, 2012

So Let's Talk About What Really Happened To Denver

The surprise yesterday was not that the air got let out of the Tebowmobile's tires. New England had done that before, after all, and there was no reason to expect they - even with their 31st ranked defense - wouldn't be able to do it again. Tebow's got no touch and no timing on his passes. What he does have is a cannon for an arm, which is why the only aspect of the passing game he's successful at is the deep ball - he just hoists it up there and gives his receivers time to run under it. That's how he beat Pittsburgh; the Steelers' decimated defense simply didn't have enough bodies to keep him honest on the vertical passing game. Short and medium range stuff, and timing routes, though, Tebow's wounded ducks simply don't fly.
And so the Patriots cut off the deep ball, rushed to contain rather than pursue, and when nobody downfield was open, stuffed the run and collected their sacks. End of story. It was the same model that everyone who'd beaten the Tebow-led Broncos had used - yes, even Buffalo. And it is worth noting, at the risk of beating a dead purple-and-orange horse, that even the games that Tebow won with his thrilling fourth quarter heroics weren't exactly offensive explosions. 18 points on Miami, most of them gifts. 17 points on the Chiefs. 13 on the Caleb Hanie-model Bears. Expecting the same sort of numbers Tebow had magically produced last week against the undermanned Steelers against a Belichick defense was, frankly, hoping for a miracle.
No, the initially surprising thing yesterday was how completely Tom Brady pantsed the Broncos' defense. John Fox is a defensive coach, and a good one. Even his worst Carolina Panthers teams - and there were some real stinkers - had strong defenses (at least until the annual Dan Morgan injury hit), and to see one of his units get so thoroughly and completely embarrassed was shocking. For all the Tebow-mania, it was Denver's defense that got them this far, holding opponents down long enough for the fourth quarter magic to happen.
Then again, if you think about it in context, maybe it's not so surprising. Denver's offense is not built for the comeback. A couple of quick scores to put the Broncos behind means forcing the Denver offense to do things it's not built to do, which means 3 and outs, which means more chances for the opposing offense to score against an increasingly tired Denver D. And that digs the hole deeper, which forces the Broncos even further out of their comfort zone, and, well, in retrospect it doesn't seem that surprising that track meet offenses like Green Bay and Detroit and New England buried the Broncos that deep, that fast. Yesterday was just the ultimate expression of that trend.
That won't be the story, of course. The drums are already beating in some quarters for Brady Quinn, in others they're proclaiming that Tebow was never given a chance to win. The defense, well, nobody's going to be talking about that.
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