NFL: Tebow on Elway: He’s right

Published 12:00 am Friday, November 25, 2011

Associated Press
ENGLEWOOD, Colo.ó John Elway took plenty of heat for affirming the conventional wisdom across the league: Tim Tebow must improve his passing and his third-down conversions if he is to succeed in the NFL.
While his legion of supporters took to Twitter and the airwaves to assail Elway for not sticking up for Denverís young quarterback, Tebow ever so graciously agreed with his boss, saying he most certainly has to complete more passes and find ways for his team to stay on the field.
Less than half of Tebowís throws, 44.8 percent, are finding their targets and less than a quarter of the Broncosí third-down plays, 23.6 percent, are working out since he took over from Kyle Orton at halftime against the Chargers on Oct. 9.
Boosting his passing prowess is a meticulous and mostly individual processoffensive coordinator Mike McCoy said.
ěI think weíve got to, as a whole, all 11 guys, do a better job of executing it whether weíre running the ball or throwing it.î
Tebowís completion rate ranks dead last among the four dozen NFL players who have attempted at least 20 throws this season, and since he took over as the starter, the Broncos have converted just 17 of 72 third downs.
Thatís not going to cut it in this league. Some agreed with Elwayís premise but pointed to Tebowís 4-1 record as a starter, which has allowed the Broncos (5-5) to climb back into the playoff race in the tight AFC West, trailing division leader Oakland by one game.
On Elwayís weekly radio show on 102.3 FM The Ticket in Denver on Monday morning, host Gary Miller asked the Broncos chief of football operations if he were ěany closer to feeling if you have your quarterback on this team?î
Elway paused and answered, ěNo.î
He pointed out that Tebow has to do better on third downs and improve as a passer.
Elway also was scrutinized after NFL Network cameras caught him shortly after Tebowís go-ahead touchdown run that beat the New York Jets last week. At first, Elway was shown clapping and smiling, but moments later he had a serious look on his face as the Broncos prepared to kick off with 58 seconds left. That sparked another debate about whether Elway was actually happy to see Tebow winning games or saddened by moving down the draft order with each and every new triumph.
ěIím never thrilled or really happy until that clock says 0:00,î Elway explained on his show.
After taking plenty of flak, Elway went on Denver radio station KOA-AM on Wednesday and said heís pulling for the former Florida star to become the long-term answer in Denver.
ěAm I hopeful that Tim Tebow is our guy? I am very hopeful that Tim Tebow is our guy,î Elway said. ěAm I absolutely positive at this point in time? No, Iím not. But I want to believe that and thatís what I want to happen.î
That seems to have calmed things down a little in this quarterback crazed town. Elway is going to be taking a lower public profile for a while as Tebow and the Broncos try to solve their third-down troubles.
ěWe have to put ourselves in good situations to manage and be able to pick it up,î Tebow said. ěWe just have to play more consistent on more first and second down plays to be in good positions to execute on third down.î
Tebowís completion percentage on third down is an NFL-worst 41.2 percent. Heís connected on 14 of 34 passes, only six of them for first downs, again a league low at 17.6 percent.
But he also has three TD throws on third down and a 20-yard touchdown scramble with a minute left to beat the blitz and stun the Jets 17-13 last week, capping a 95-yard drive that followed eight straight punts, one of which came after Cassius Vaughnís 67-yard kickoff return to the New York 39.
Since Tebow supplanted Orton, the Broncos have had trouble sustaining drives ó until crunch time at least. After rallying the Broncos within a desperation pass into the end zone of a comeback against the Chargers on Oct. 9, heís pulled off three fourth-quarter comebacks, rallying Denver past the Dolphins, Raiders and Jets.
Against New York, the Broncos faced 13 third downs, but on just two of those were they 1 or 2 yards shy of the first down marker, and Denver converted one of them.
ěYouíve just got to put yourself in position where itís not third-and-long all game,î wide receiver Eric Decker said Friday. ěOur playbookís a lot more open, a variety of things when youíre in short field.î
Of the 72 third downs Tebow has faced as the starter, 45 have been third-and-6 or longer, 17 have been between 3 and 5 yards and 10 have been third-and-1 or -2.
That means the Broncos need to do better regardless of the down and distance.
ěWell, that always helps,î McCoy said. ěIf you can get in third-and-manageable, you want to stay in that 2-to-5 category if you can. And usually youíre more effective in there, the run-pass options are better. You always want to stay out of third-and-long situations because now youíre playing into their hand.î
The abundance of third-and-longs is the Broncosí biggest bugaboo as they strive to reach the playoffs for the first time since 2005.
ěFirst of all, itís a very hard down for everybody in the league, because itís an obvious pass down and youíre a little bit one-dimensional,î coach John Fox said. ěWeíve made some changes, so with change comes some lack of familiarity ó whether it be the receiver position, the quarterback position, weíve had tight ends in and out all season. Weíre still a work in progress in that area and I think weíll continue to improve.î
Just a better block here or a couple more yards there and those third-and-longs arenít so daunting.
ěYou get into third-and-10-plus they can just drop back and play the sticks and try to sit underneath everything,î McCoy said. ěSo … itís everybody picking up their game a little bit and being better at situational football.î
Not just Tebow.
Notes: CB Champ Bailey on heading into a big, meaningful game at San Diego on Sunday after the last two years of struggles: ěIt feels good. It feels like you got something to play for other than pride and thatís a great thing for this organization.î
Reach out to AP Pro Football Writer Arnie Melendrez Stapleton on Twitter:
The Associated Press
11/25/11 17:49