NFL Notebook- First Place Cowboys?
In this edition of the NFL Notebook we take a look at how the Broncos are winning football games as well as the Dallas Cowboys preparing for a division title run.
Timmy and the Jets
The most exciting sub-.500 team in the NFL, the Denver Broncos take to the field tonight as they host the New York Jets. Denver is only relevant because of their quarterback, the polarizing Tim Tebow.
By any objective viewpoint, Tebow has looked nothing short of terrible as a passer. He's such a poor thrower of the football that the Broncos have taken passing almost completely out of the playbook- and so far it's worked.
"After the loss to Detroit (a 45-10 blowout), we decided if Tim is going to be our guy, we can't do that other crap," Broncos coach John Fox said. "We had to tweak it."
Denver is running a version of the spread-option offense that Tebow ran while at Florida. Since no other team employs such a strategy and really hasn't since the Titans experimented a few years ago with Vince Young, the Broncos last two opponents have had trouble preparing.
"Give the Denver Broncos and Coach Fox and his staff a bunch of credit," Chiefs coach Todd Haley said after Sunday's 17-10 loss to Denver. "I thought they had a terrific plan and it just took us too long to figure out how to get the run stopped, whoever was running it, whether it was the quarterback, or the backs, or the receivers, we knew it was going to be a great challenge and didn?t do a good enough job there stopping the ball offensively."
The question that most of the public is asking is can this system work for long-term sustained success in the NFL?
One would believe that if it could, more than one team would try it. Are the Broncos simply catching their opponents unprepared or could they be evolving the game with a once in a lifetime, transcendent football player?
The Broncos are 3-1 with Tim Tebow starting this year and that is not bad. They were 1-4 with Kyle Orton starting the previous five games. Tebow's opponents record is 17-19 (.472 winning percentage) with a 48-10 loss to now 6-3 Detroit. Orton's opponents record is 29-16 (.644 winning percentage), so the comparison isn't quite as cut and dry as the win-loss record would indicate.
Tebow is winning but he's doing it against inferior competition. The three teams he's defeated have an 11-16 record and the best defense of the bunch was Miami, who is ranked 20th. Three of the Broncos final seven games are against sub-.500 teams so maybe it's prudent to hold off before declaring Tebow a generation-changing quarterback.
Tonight's opponent is the New York Jets and head coach Rex Ryan spoke about some of the difficulty defending against what the Broncos do.
"I will say this, we don?t really know what they?re going to do because they?ve been really multiple," Ryan said. "Sometimes they spread them out. They?ll go to empty and then run the ball with the quarterback. Running ?O? plays and all that stuff. So no matter what you see, you?ll probably start by saying, it?s probably a run, and then we?ll defend the pass after it. But you?re looking at formations or personnel groupings that tell you it?s going to be a pass, and it?s not with this group. That?s a little different, but you'd better be sound and obviously assume he?s running with it."
As good as New York's eighth-ranked defense is, they will have their hands full traveling to the high altitude of Denver, Colorado and then facing the most unique offense in football after just two practices.
"These are games that if you win, you feel great that they?re on your schedule. If you lose, then it was terrible. The main thing [is] you have to find a way to win and obviously it?s going to be a big challenge. This team is hot. They?ve won three out of their last four games. They?re feeling pretty good about themselves without question. [They have] the ability to run the football and they?re playing really well on defense," Rex Ryan explained.
By the end of the season, teams will have more film on Tebow and the Broncos spread-option won't catch anyone by surprise. It will either prove to be another gadget offense with an expiration date or it will work because of superior execution. Broncos management, headed by John Elway are examining each play of each game as they must figure out whether this will take them where they eventually want to go, or if it's just a gimmick that will win roughly half of the games each season.
Cowboys Schedule Sets Up For A Run
The Dallas Cowboys have looked like world-beaters at times this season as they handed San Francisco their only loss of the season, and have three other double-digit margin victories. They've also had a fourth period meltdown at New York, and were thoroughly blown out by a 3-6 Philadelphia Eagles team.
The question that everyone is trying to figure out is who are the real Dallas Cowboys?
We know Dallas is good at home as they've won four of their five games at "Jerry World". most by convincing margins. Conversely, the Cowboys are 1-3 away from the friendly confines and if they are going to realize their postseason aspirations, that record must improve.
"We've played some very good teams on the road, some of the better teams in the league," head coach Jason Garrett said. "In some of those games we played very well, we just didn't do what we needed to do at the end of the games to get those victories.
With the NFC East leading New York Giants entering a brutal part of their schedule which includes a game against Philadelphia, followed by a trip to New Orleans and then a date with Aaron Rodgers and the Packers, Dallas has an opportunity to make up ground as they only trail Eli Manning's bunch by one game.
"(We) outline what our big-picture objectives are," Garrett said. "I think everyone in this league has the same goal -- to be the Super Bowl champion. You have to lay that out there right from the start, and then we quickly get into how we are going to do that, and the way we do it is we focus on each and every day, each and every practice, each and every meeting and trying to do our best in everything we try to do, individually and collectively."
Let us give the next line of coach speak and say that the Cowboys need to take it- "one game at a time." As much as we appreciate the coaching cliches, Dallas's circumstances are favorable to make a run as the schedule is certainly copacetic.
Dallas travels to Washington this week to face a Redskins team that has lost five consecutive games, the closest of which being by seven points. Dallas then has a home date with the 2-7 Dolphins, followed by a trip to the desert to face 3-6 Arizona. In four weeks the Cowboys host the New York Giants and it's very conceivable that game could be a first-place battle in the division.
The Cowboys are confident and why shouldn't they be? They've won three of four games in blowout fashion, found what appears to be an elite running back in DeMarco Murray, and quarterback Tony Romo is the league's fourth-rated passer.
"We're confident and feel good about ourselves, but it's in a different way," tight end Jason Witten said. "Guys know we haven't done anything. We are just a game over .500. We got a long way to go, but you have to make your move."
Both the Cowboys and the Giants schedule sets up well for Dallas to indeed make their move.
Charlie Bernstein is the NFL Insider for ESPNFlorida.com and ESPN 1080 and 1040 in Orlando/Tampa and Editor-in-Chief of Sports Media Interactive, covering the National Football League, NCAA, and National Basketball Association. Charlie covers the Jacksonville Jaguars for FoxSports and has been featured on the NFL Network and Sirius NFL Radio. Charlie is also a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. You can follow Charlie on Twitter @nflcharlie