All week I have been asked this question: How will the Steelers defense match up to Tim Tebow? That’s not the appropriate question. The far more realistic one is: How will Tebow match up to the Steelers defense?
This week, in preparation for the NFL Matchup show, I again watched every one of Tebow’s throws this season. Some common themes emerged. Tebow has had some success against zone coverage schemes. On the other hand, he has struggled greatly against press-man coverage.
This is not a surprise given Tebow’s limited background as a passer. Press-man coverage, while often easy to read before the snap, demands that the quarterback throw with timing, anticipation and precise accuracy. The majority of the time versus “man”, the receiver will not look as if he is open. There is not a defined area in which to deliver the ball, as there frequently is against zone. Man coverage usually requires that the quarterback make stick throws into smaller windows with excellent ball location.
Last Sunday, the Chiefs played man coverage on all of Tebow’s 22 passes. There were no easy throws for Tebow. That did not mean throws were not there. They were, but Tebow at this point does not process tight man coverage as an opportunity to deliver the football. He does not intuitively understand what “open” is at the NFL level. The result – he did not pull the trigger on what were really routine NFL throws.
Now Tebow and the Broncos offense faces Dick LeBeau, the most influential, most experienced defensive coordinator in the NFL. The Steelers feature a dynamic front seven, with an outstanding combination of speed and strength at the linebacker position. Lawrence Timmons may be the fastest inside linebacker in the league. We know about Troy Polamalu. No safety is given more freedom, and plays with better instincts and awareness. And the Steelers have had great success playing press-man coverage. Exhibit A: their victory over the Patriots in late October.
Pittsburgh represents a very difficult matchup for the Broncos passing game. Lebeau, with his pressure concepts, will force Tebow to speed up his tempo, to react more quickly than he would like. And as it, Tebow is not a patient pocket passer. The likely result is that you’ll see a frenetic quarterback, moving, playing randomly outside structure, trying to make improvisational plays. He might make a few, or he might not, as was the case against the Chiefs. Improvisation is arbitrary.
You can be certain the Steelers will play “man” coverage, so the Broncos offensive coaching staff must help Tebow with pass game tactics designed specifically to counteract “man”: wide receiver motion, bunch concepts, stack release principles, rub elements – all help loosen and break down man coverage.
The objective is to give Tebow a quickly defined primary read so that he can feel comfortable throwing the ball. He is not a progression reader, so the primary receiver must be open and the throw immediately evident. Essentially, what the Broncos must do is camouflage, and compensate for Tebow’s limitations in the passing game as effectively as they can.
The coaching tape, the “eye in the sky” as we call it, tells all. In the case of Tim Tebow, it shows a quarterback with a long learning curve in order to become a consistent NFL quarterback. And Dick LeBeau is not the coach you want to be facing at the remedial stage of your professional education.
Editor’s Note: NFL Films’ Greg Cosell is a weekly contributor to “They Call it Pro Football” and the Executive Producer of NFL Matchup, which will break down the 2011 Wild Card Games in new episodes this weekend. All times Eastern:
Bengals vs. Texans and Lions vs. Saints
3am and 7:30 am on ESPN
8:30 am on ESPN2
Falcons vs. Giants and Steelers vs. Broncos
4am and 7:30 am on ESPN
8:30 am on ESPN2