In four weeks, the Denver Broncos begin their attempt to rebound from the worst season in recent franchise memory. Although the man taking snaps from under center is not the most critical piece in the team’s push back to respectability, it has been (by far) the most discussed.
Do the Broncos play polished veteran Kyle Orton who has proven capable of running an NFL offense? Or do they go with second year quarterback Tim Tebow, in an attempt to get a better sense of whether the athletic anomaly can ever be a professional signal caller?
As Tebow’s playing style is a bit unconventional, I believe that the best answer is also a little out of the norm.
I have heard from several who follow the Broncos closely that Orton “gives Denver the best chance to win.” I don’t necessarily agree. Stated more accurately, Orton gives the Broncos the best chance to move the ball between the 20’s. He compiled nearly 3,700 yards through the air in 2010, while consistently failing inside the red zone (see ZERO touchdowns in six red zone trips in a 14-point loss to the Colts last season).
Part of Orton’s struggles inside the 20 can be pinned on the fact that Denver was a one-dimensional offense, making it difficult to produce on a short field. While the new “John Fox Broncos” will likely show stronger in this area, I still propose the Broncos would be smart to make Tebow their “Red Zone Quarterback” (RZQ, if you will). Denver will be well-served by Tebow's ability to make plays and his propensity to utilize his own legs will help nullify the fact that the Broncos can’t depend on anyone else’s.
Many Tebow detractors say his tendency to tuck the ball under and run will get him hurt as an NFL quarterback. Play him in the red zone and the likelihood of taking open field shots from NFL-sized linebackers diminishes substantially because there is very little open field.
In addition to handing him RZQ duties, I would also make Tebow the late-game quarterback—in essence, the closer. Scoring in the red zone and winning late are similar in the sense that they both require more play making ability than robotic polish. While he throws a nice ball, Orton isn’t even slightly mobile and he cannot improvise. Surveying several third down options and ultimately deciding to throw a pass away works fine with 6:32 remaining in the 2nd quarter. When it’s do-or-die time…not so much.
Orton’s only 2010 late-game conversion came in Tennessee thanks to a 49-yard pass interference call near the goal line, while Tebow engineered a late game-winning drive against Houston and nearly did the same against the Chargers. Granted most of America’s high school teams would have liked their chances against the Texans D last season, but Orton’s failures came against the likes of Jacksonville, San Francisco, and St. Louis—not exactly the ’85 Bears.
The Broncos are facing a unique decision involving a player who is beyond unique in both football accomplishments and skill set. It remains to be seen whether Tim Tebow is the long-term answer at quarterback for a forlorn franchise. However, coming off a season that left Denver with multiple holes to fill, a creative and unorthodox approach certainly gives the Broncos their best shot in 2011.