There's no question that Denver Broncos team president John Elway has gone through a full kaleidoscope of feelings about starting quarterback Tim Tebow. And it's understandable, coming from the man who may have played the position better than anyone else in the game's history. When you're faced with a "non-traditional" quarterback (to put it kindly) who manages to help his team win, and captures the public's imagination to the point where you're basically forced to find a way to make it work … yeah. You can get why Elway would be a bit standoffish at first about a quarterback who didn't even complete 50 percent of his passes in his first season as the main man.
That said, Elway has vowed to work with Tebow in the offseason, and now that the Broncos are AFC West champs and facing the Pittsburgh Steelers in the wild-card round this Sunday afternoon, Elway would like his young protégé to be a bit more aggressive when it comes to getting the ball downfield. As the man himself used to do, Elway says that Tebow needs to put the last three games (losses in which Tebow did not perform well) aside and go all out.
"That's human nature, especially when you're young, to become more cautious," Elway recently told the Denver Post. "He had a tough week before against Buffalo. The key thing for [Tebow] is to go out, put everything behind him, go through his progressions and pull the trigger.
"When you get into these playoff situations, he's a good enough athlete to pull the trigger. He's obviously upset with last week. He's already got an edge to him, so he's ready to go. I like seeing the edge. Oh, yeah. I actually love it. I have full confidence he'll bounce back and have a good week."
It wasn't just the loss to Buffalo in Week 16 — Tebow's problems really started the week before against the New England Patriots, when Tom Brady put up 27 unanswered points and Tebow was forced to play catch-up as a level he simply couldn't handle. As Randy Cross once said of Joe Montana in Bill Walsh's offense, Brady was playing chess on one of those four-story boards you see in the science fiction movies. Tebow was getting kinged in checkers, and so it has been. Still, Tebow agrees that it's time to air it out, consequences be damned.
"I think that's definitely true -- especially the more you get into tighter games, playoff games, you have to be aggressive," Tebow said on Wednesday. "You also have to be smart but be aggressive and pull the trigger at times. It's something that we'll have to do."
During Denver's three-game losing streak to end the season, Tebow completed 30 passes in 73 attempts for just 146 yards, one touchdown, and four interceptions. He was sacked 10 times and even Denver's renowned running game started to flag. He was particularly wretched in the season-ending loss to the Kansas City Chiefs, completing just six passes in 22 attempts. Elway said that Tebow was walking around the team complex with an edge, but what does that mean, and how does it extrapolate to better performances?
"I guess it's just a big game," Tebow said. "I try to be in the building a lot and just work on my craft and try to get a little bit better and leave no stone unturned. … You have to be aggressive, but at the same time you have to be smart. It's something that for a while, we did a really good job with that. We got away from it the last few weeks, but it's something that we'll have to be really good at on Sunday.
"Probably more than anything, it's trying to be smart and not put our team in a bad position because that's the quickest way to get your team out of a game. Sometimes I do need to be more aggressive with certain routes and throws."
Through Tebow's great start with the team, it was the job of offensive coordinator Mike McCoy to tailor the offense to Tebow's strengths and to hide his liabilities. This McCoy did to a brilliant degree, but certain aspects of that approach have been discovered and quashed. Perhaps the most important part of the Denver game plan with Tebow is to ensure that the first-read receiver gets and stays open quickly, because Tebow is still learning to read through his progressions at an NFL level. Recently, defenses have been clamping down, playing more press coverage on receivers Eric Decker and Demaryius Thomas, and upsetting the timing of the Broncos' simple but effective passing game.
Unfortunately for Tebow, the Pittsburgh Steelers defense he'll be facing in his first NFL playoff game is expert at such things. Throw in the multiplicity of blitz looks he'll certainly see from Steelers defensive coordinator Dick Lebeau and Tebow understands the level of challenge he'll face.
"They're really good," Tebow said of the Steelers' defense. "They have a great scheme, and some of the best players at their positions in the league. You have guys like [S] Troy Polamalu, [LB] James Harrison, [LB LaMarr] Woodley, and all those guys have played a lot of football. They know what they're doing. They've played fast. They've seen every play a bunch of times. So, it's exciting. They're coached by a great defensive coordinator, coach LeBeau. It's going to be exciting."
Either way it goes, "exciting" is one thing the game will be. The question is whether Tebow is ready to pull the trigger without shooting himself in the foot.
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