Preview: Tebow saving team in transition

The move to Tim Tebow has dramatically improved Denver's rushing and offense and thereby helped the defense, too. The Broncos are a ball-control team that thrives on low-scoring games, and the transition has been significant in the last six weeks.

As the Vikings prepare for the Denver Broncos, especially the Vikings defense, they do so harkening back to their days in college and high school – when certain opponents would run the ball 70 to 80 percent of the time. As they face Denver, they come into the noon game expecting to see much of the same that recent Broncos opponents have faced.

"It's going to be a great challenge for us on the D-line," Fred Evans said. "We pride ourselves on being able to the stop the running game. That's what Denver does. They're going to run the ball right at us. I don't think they're going to change what has worked so well for them the last month or so."

The Broncos have been one of the stranger stories of the 2011 season. When the team fired Josh McDaniels, Tim Tebow lost his strongest supporter – the guy who stunned a lot of draft analysts by taking Tebow in the first round of the 2010 draft. New coach John Fox has yet to give his full support to Tebow and general manager John Elway hasn't minced words that he's looking to the draft to find "his" quarterback, which clearly isn't T2.

But, a funny thing has happened along the way to Tebow getting shown the door (or at least the bench) – the Broncos have turned things around like few could have expected. When they hit their bye week in mid-October, Denver was 1-4 and decided to bench starter Kyle Orton, who was subsequently released. The team turned to Tebow and the results have been nothing short of phenomenal.

The Broncos have won five of six games since the bye and their last four, including road wins against division rivals Oakland, Kansas City and San Diego. After they play the Vikings, Denver will have three of its final four games at home and, with a win over the Vikings, will be in line for a playoff run, which was almost an unheard of notion back in early October.

The Broncos have the 25th-ranked offense in the league, primary because they rarely pass and, when they do, Tebow is about as accurate as a $5 watch. He has yet to complete 50 percent of his passes in any game, but that doesn't seem to matter. When Tebow took over, the Broncos had the 26th-ranked offense. From a yardage perspective, they haven't made a huge leap, but it's how the yardage has been distributed that has made the biggest difference.

At the time Tebow took over, Denver had the 22nd-ranked rush offense and the 27th-ranked pass offense. Six games later, the Broncos pass offense has dropped to 31st in the league because the offense has vaulted all the way from 22nd to first in rushing. In the six games in which Tebow has been the quarterback, the Broncos have averaged more than 200 yards a game rushing, while averaging barely more than 100 yards a game passing. If any team is guaranteed to run the ball, it's Denver, which has rushed an average of 42 times a game with Tebow at the wheel.

The impact of being a college-style rushing team has helped out the defense as much as the offense. When Orton was the quarterback, the Broncos had a six-and-a-half-minute deficit in average time of possession, holding the ball 26:43 of each 60 minutes. In the last five games, the Broncos have flipped those numbers, holding the ball for 33 minutes of each game on average and the benefit has carried over to the Denver defense.

In the last six games, behind star pass rushers Von Miller and Elvis Dumervil, who have combined for 16 sacks, the Denver defense has displayed marked improvement. While still ranked in the middle of the pack defensively at No. 18 (19th rushing, 17th passing), the Broncos are a prime example of why rankings based on yardage mean little to nothing. In the five wins in the last six games, the Broncos defense has allowed 15, 24, 10, 13 and 13 points. It is in no small part that the success of the Broncos has been the result of the defense consistently making stops and forcing teams to settle for field goals more often than scoring touchdowns. Over the last six games, Denver has allowed 11 field goals and just six touchdowns. You're going to win a lot of games with that formula.

A month or more into the 2011 season, the Broncos looked like they would be in line for one of the top draft picks in next April's draft – a pick Elway presumably would have used on a quarterback of the future. Now, not only are the Broncos out of the top 10, but they are on the cusp of being a playoff team – proof that a season isn't over when a team gets off to a dismal 1-4 start.

While they remain a team that is beatable – opposing quarterbacks have a combined passer rating of 94.6 – but, as much as they have defied the odds for the last six games, nobody is looking past Denver any more. They are a team as hot as any in the league and sometimes that sort of a roll can overcome the deficiencies they have on both sides of the ball. They have confounded both opponents and "expert analysts," becoming something of a magic trick – you see it, but you're not quite sure how it was done. The Vikings will face a much stiffer test than it looked like when the season began and one thing is certain – if the Broncos are within striking distance in the fourth quarter, expect to see Tebow perform some of his own magic.



John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.



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\r\n\r\n","mobileBody":" As the Vikings prepare for the Denver Broncos, especially the Vikings defense, they do so harkening back to their days in college and high school – when certain opponents would run the ball 70 to 80 percent of the time. As they face Denver, they come into the noon game expecting to see much of the same that recent Broncos opponents have faced. \"It's going to be a great challenge for us on the D-line,\" Fred Evans said. \"We pride ourselves on being able to the stop the running game. That's what Denver does. They're going to run the ball right at us. I don't think they're going to change what has worked so well for them the last month or so.\" The Broncos have been one of the stranger stories of the 2011 season. When the team fired Josh McDaniels, Tim Tebow lost his strongest supporter – the guy who stunned a lot of draft analysts by taking Tebow in the first round of the 2010 draft. New coach John Fox has yet to give his full support to Tebow and general manager John Elway hasn't minced words that he's looking to the draft to find \"his\" quarterback, which clearly isn't T2. But, a funny thing has happened along the way to Tebow getting shown the door (or at least the bench) – the Broncos have turned things around like few could have expected. When they hit their bye week in mid-October, Denver was 1-4 and decided to bench starter Kyle Orton, who was subsequently released. The team turned to Tebow and the results have been nothing short of phenomenal. The Broncos have won five of six games since the bye and their last four, including road wins against division rivals Oakland, Kansas City and San Diego. After they play the Vikings, Denver will have three of its final four games at home and, with a win over the Vikings, will be in line for a playoff run, which was almost an unheard of notion back in early October. The Broncos have the 25th-ranked offense in the league, primary because they rarely pass and, when they do, Tebow is about as accurate as a $5 watch. He has yet to complete 50 percent of his passes in any game, but that doesn't seem to matter. When Tebow took over, the Broncos had the 26th-ranked offense. From a yardage perspective, they haven't made a huge leap, but it's how the yardage has been distributed that has made the biggest difference. At the time Tebow took over, Denver had the 22nd-ranked rush offense and the 27th-ranked pass offense. Six games later, the Broncos pass offense has dropped to 31st in the league because the offense has vaulted all the way from 22nd to first in rushing. In the six games in which Tebow has been the quarterback, the Broncos have averaged more than 200 yards a game rushing, while averaging barely more than 100 yards a game passing. If any team is guaranteed to run the ball, it's Denver, which has rushed an average of 42 times a game with Tebow at the wheel. The impact of being a college-style rushing team has helped out the defense as much as the offense. When Orton was the quarterback, the Broncos had a six-and-a-half-minute deficit in average time of possession, holding the ball 26:43 of each 60 minutes. In the last five games, the Broncos have flipped those numbers, holding the ball for 33 minutes of each game on average and the benefit has carried over to the Denver defense. In the last six games, behind star pass rushers Von Miller and Elvis Dumervil, who have combined for 16 sacks, the Denver defense has displayed marked improvement. While still ranked in the middle of the pack defensively at No. 18 (19th rushing, 17th passing), the Broncos are a prime example of why rankings based on yardage mean little to nothing. In the five wins in the last six games, the Broncos defense has allowed 15, 24, 10, 13 and 13 points. It is in no small part that the success of the Broncos has been the result of the defense consistently making stops and forcing teams to settle for field goals more often than scoring touchdowns. Over the last six games, Denver has allowed 11 field goals and just six touchdowns. You're going to win a lot of games with that formula. A month or more into the 2011 season, the Broncos looked like they would be in line for one of the top draft picks in next April's draft – a pick Elway presumably would have used on a quarterback of the future. Now, not only are the Broncos out of the top 10, but they are on the cusp of being a playoff team – proof that a season isn't over when a team gets off to a dismal 1-4 start. While they remain a team that is beatable – opposing quarterbacks have a combined passer rating of 94.6 – but, as much as they have defied the odds for the last six games, nobody is looking past Denver any more. They are a team as hot as any in the league and sometimes that sort of a roll can overcome the deficiencies they have on both sides of the ball. They have confounded both opponents and \"expert analysts,\" becoming something of a magic trick – you see it, but you're not quite sure how it was done. The Vikings will face a much stiffer test than it looked like when the season began and one thing is certain – if the Broncos are within striking distance in the fourth quarter, expect to see Tebow perform some of his own magic. 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