ENGLEWOOD, Colo. (AP) – As the Denver Broncos fine-tune the playbook to fit Tim Tebow’s style, they have become increasingly reliant on the ground game.
With the approach, they’re off and running.
Banking on an unconventional option-style offense led by an unorthodox quarterback, Denver has suddenly surged back into contention in the mediocre AFC West. The Broncos (4-5) have won three of their last four games with everyone pretty much knowing exactly what they are going to do — run and run some more.
Not that it’s mattered.
So unique is this read option — similar to what Tebow ran during his days at Florida — that teams are struggling to contain it.
“We’re trying to do what’s going to help us win and in my opinion that’s all part of coaching — putting players in position to utilize their abilities,” Broncos coach John Fox said.
However, their backfield took a hit Monday with word that backup tailback Knowshon Moreno will have season-ending ACL surgery on his right knee.
But leading rusher Willis McGahee (hamstring) is expected to return, even on short rest, for the game Thursday night against the New York Jets (5-4). As an insurance policy, the Broncos promoted second-year running back Jeremiah Johnson from their practice squad.
The more backs the better, especially with as much as the Broncos prefer to run the ball these days.
Of their 63 offensive plays Sunday in a 17-10 win over Kansas City, 55 were on the ground. With Moreno and McGahee sidelined due to injuries sustained in the first quarter, third-string tailback Lance Ball picked up the slack as he carried the ball 30 times for 96 yards.
Tebow did his part, too, running for 43 yards.
Not only that, but he turned in the game’s biggest play with his arm, not his legs. Tebow lofted a deep pass to a wide open Eric Decker for a 56-yard game-sealing TD in the fourth quarter. Tebow only threw the ball eight times, completing just two for 69 yards.
And while Fox wouldn’t mind seeing more of an equal blend between the run and pass, he’s not going to quibble with the end results.
“We do have to throw the ball with more efficiency. I think we all know that in that locker room,” Fox said. “We’ve got a young quarterback that’s doing a terrific job, in my estimation, who will just get better with time.”
Especially in an offense that’s being tweaked just for him. Tebow has become quite proficient at sticking the ball in a running back’s gut, surveying the defense and either taking it back out to hightail it around the end or allowing the back to continue through the line.
Just like the former Heisman Trophy winner did in college.
“I think it’s just one more thing for people to prepare for,” Tebow said of the unique offense. “It’s not like we went out there and did a lot (Sunday) but it’s something you have to scheme for, you have to prepare for and you have to be sound.”
The Broncos added another wrinkle to their run-oriented offense Sunday as well — pitchouts to receiver Eddie Royal. It’s simply one more way to keep a defense honest.
“Hey, as long as you’re moving the ball, possessing the ball, giving your defense some rest, it’s all good,” Fox said. “Run, pass, if they let you kick it down the field, I wouldn’t mind doing that either. As long as you’re moving the ball, that’s the key.”
The ancillary benefit of all the running plays is this: Denver’s defense receives more of a breather.
“When you can run the ball and shorten the game, it definitely helps,” rookie linebacker Von Miller said. “You have time to recover.”
Miller understands full well why teams are having difficulty reading and reacting Tebow and the option offense. He sees it in practice and still hasn’t quite figured out all the nuances.
“It’s pretty tough to stop it,” Miller said.
Even more so with a short week to prepare. The Jets are busy devising a game plan to contain Tebow and the Broncos’ run-first approach just days after facing the spread offense of Tom Brady and the New England Patriots.
It’s quite a contrast for the Jets.
“They’ve got a top-10 defense in the National Football League so they know what they’re doing,” Fox said. “It’s tough on this kind of turnaround, regardless of what you’re preparing for. It’ll be challenging for both of us.”
Notes: To fill Johnson’s spot on the practice squad, the Broncos signed RB Xavier Omon. … Miller said the $15,000 fine he received from the NFL for roughing Oakland QB Carson Palmer won’t cause him to think twice about how he plays. “It’s really just shoot first and ask questions later,” Miller said. “It’s just a split-second decision that you have to make.” … OLs Ryan Clady and Chris Clark were listed as limited on the injury report with knee injuries. The Broncos said the report was an estimate since the team had the day off Monday. DBs Brian Dawkins (ankle) and Cassius Vaughn (hamstring), LB Wesley Woodyard (knee) and McGahee (hamstring) also were listed as limited.
By PAT GRAHAM, AP Pro Football Writer
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