The Denver Broncos were tied for 25th in the NFL with 86.8 rushing yards per game through the first four weeks of the season. They have since jumped to No. 1 in the league in rushing after averaging 195.0 yards per contest on the ground the past eight games. Denver's 1,560 rushing yards over its last eight contests represents the highest total in team history for an eight-game stretch.
It's no surprise that Tim Tebow has started seven and a half of those contests.
Broncos offensive coordinator Mike McCoy has built an offense based around Tebow's biggest strength: running the ball. The team uses a spread-option system, similar to the one Tebow used in college at Florida. The offense relies heavily on the run, with both Tebow and RB Willis McGahee, who has had a career resurgence in Denver.
Since Week 7, when Tebow took over for Kyle Orton as starter, the Broncos have averaged 40 rushing attempts per week, the most in the league during that time span. The team has won five straight games using this strategy, so don't expect them to switch up when the Chicago Bears come to town this weekend. Coordinator Rod Marinelli and company will have their hands full preparing for a powerful runner like Tebow, who is built more like a fullback than a quarterback.
QB Tim Tebow
"It adds a dimension, there's no doubt," Denver coach John Fox said of Tebow's running ability. "It can be a bit of a headache [preparing for it]. And we've just kind of added that as part of, it's an extension of our run game. I think part of coaching is putting guys in position to have success, and I think that's all that is."
The Bears run a gap-contain system. The Broncos' option attack could force Chicago to change to a scheme were defenders are given individual assignments on specific offensive players – a common practice in defending the option. Yet Marinelli doesn't see the club changing up too much on defense.
"It's kind of built into our system, our keys, our run keys. It really forces you even more to focus on the discipline, the exactness of what we're doing," Marinelli said. "That being said, we can't lose our aggressiveness and our speed. That can't happen."
Denver is one of the first NFL teams to run the spread option consistently. Yet the rushing attack isn't entirely based on a college scheme, said Tebow.
"It's funny because we do run some option and we do run some ‘read' and zones and different things like that, but we do run other stuff as well. It's not like we're a straight option team," Tebow said. "That's a package we like to use. Defenses have to prepare for it and it can really help us in games. But it's not who we are as an offense."
Chicago's coaches reiterated as much this afternoon. "The biggest thing is that they run the ball with power too; it's not just option. [McGahee] is a heck of a back. They can get into that ‘Pistol' and run downhill with counters and powers so that's on our mind, and play-action off of that," said Marinelli. "And [Tebow] probably runs as much after he drops back to throw. If it's not there, he'll take off and run. He's gotten a lot of yardage as a runner off of drop-back passes as he has with the option. Those are big challenges."
Bears players and coaches know that it's not just Tebow, but also McGahee, that can beat them on the ground.
"When you look at tape, that Willis McGahee is having a heck of a year. The guy is running through tackles and he's chucking up a lot of yards for them this year," said Lance Briggs. "Their offensive line for them I think is what is helping them be very, very successful running their offense."
Yet when the option is used, Chicago will be facing an offense that the defensive players haven't seen since college, if even then.
"The spread, when I was in college, didn't exist like it does now. The last few years it's been a big deal but when I was in college it was just the triple option and the Wing T and all that good stuff," said Brian Urlacher. "It was a lot different back when I was there. It was regular option football, they had three backs, the guy would go in motion. It's not like it is now with the spread and all the shifting and all the stuff they do."
Briggs was a little more blunt in his assessment of Tebow and the Denver offense.
"Well, he's a scrambler. They run a lot. He's one heck of a football player and we're going to have to stop that crap," said Briggs.
Another challenge with a run-heavy team comes with conditioning. Most of the Broncos' scoring drives are long and tiring, which could wear down Chicago's defense by the end of the game, especially in Denver's high altitude, or so one would think.
"Conditioning is never an issue, especially this late in the season," Urlacher said. "I know the altitude is high. What I've noticed in playing there is at the very beginning of the game it gets you a little bit and you kind of adjust as the game goes on."
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Jeremy Stoltz is Publisher of BearReport.com and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. To read him every day, visit BearReport.com and become a Chicago Bears insider.