ENGLEWOOD, Colo. (AP) John Elway wants to see more aggression from Tim Tebow. John Fox wants to see more accuracy.
They trust he can deliver on both counts Sunday against the Pittsburgh Steelers (12-4) and the league’s top-ranked defense.
Having won the Denver Broncos’ starting job and the AFC West title by default, Tebow heads into his first playoff game mired in the worst slump of his life.
“The three losses haven’t shaken my confidence,” Tebow said after the Broncos backed their way into the playoffs at 8-8.
The results and his language on the football field suggest otherwise.
After watching him pile up comeback after improbable comeback, opponents seem to have solved the unorthodox QB, hemming him in the pocket with disciplined defense and daring him to beat them with his erratic left arm.
The result: back-to-back poor passing performances with a half-dozen turnovers and the first three-game losing streak of his career.
After turning the ball over four times at Buffalo on Christmas Eve, Tebow looked tentative Sunday in losing 7-3 to Kansas City and Kyle Orton, whom he couldn’t beat out in camp but still supplanted after the Broncos benched and then released Orton earlier this season. Tebow held on to the ball, passing up wide open receivers or taking a sack. He completed just 6 of 22 passes for 60 yards and a career-worst 20.6 passer rating.
On Wednesday, Tebow said he has to be more aggressive and acknowledged “there’s a few opportunities I should have tried to force it in there, especially later in the game.”
Elway told a Denver Post columnist Tebow just needs to “put everything behind him, go through his progressions and pull the trigger.”
And Fox acknowledged the coaches need to call safer, shorter passes early on to build up the young quarterback’s confidence.
“Hey, we’re all in this together,” Fox said. “We have to put him in position where he can succeed and then he’s the one out there holding the ball. At the end of the day, we’ll try to give him some better pass plays to operate and he’ll just have to execute them.”
The Broncos own the next-to-worst passing game in the NFL and the Steelers boast the league’s top pass defense.
So, Tebow knows he has to be less hesitant but he can’t make mistakes, either.
“I think especially the more you get into tighter games, playoff games, you’ve got to be aggressive,” Tebow said. “You’ve also got to be smart, but you’ve got to be aggressive and pull the trigger at times and it’s something that we’ll have to do.”
Tebow shied away from high-risk, high-reward opportunities last week.
“It’s just trying to be smart, not put our team in a bad position, you know, because that’s the quickest way to get your team out of a game,” he said. “So, sometimes I think I do need to be more aggressive with certain routes and throws.”
Tebow’s new approach will be tested by Dick LeBeau’s defense.
“They’re very, very well-coached and sometimes it looks like it’s chaos out there but they know where they’re going and they’re going there fast,” Tebow said.
With each passing week, defenses not nearly as stout as Pittsburgh’s have fared well against Tebow and the read-option offense. During the three-game skid, Tebow has completed just 30 of 73 passes (41 percent) for an average of 146 yards with one touchdown, four interceptions and 10 sacks.
His rushing average has plummeted and he’s lost a fumble in each of his last five games.
“I think that he’s probably going through what a lot of newly starting quarterbacks go through in that you get enough looks on people on film, then you get ideas about comfort zone and things about how you can potentially play him,” Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said. “I think people are gathering more information about him like you would do anybody that’s played some now.”
Defenses have been successful keeping him hemmed in and taking away his natural running lanes, forcing him to try to beat them with his arm and not his legs. He’s rushed for just 25 yards a game the last two weeks after averaging 63 before.
As defenders keep him between the hash marks, he’s been holding on to the ball too long and the only escape route he’s had was to go backward, and that’s resulted in some big-yardage sacks.
Denver’s last three opponents have rushed Tebow with the most consistent discipline since the Broncos unveiled the read-option Nov. 6 at Oakland. Their edge rushers stayed even with Tebow when he dropped back. Therefore, he couldn’t take off around the edge for big runs like he did during Denver’s six-game winning streak, which included four straight fourth-quarter comebacks.
Tebow has been pinned in the pocket, often holding on to the ball rather than letting it rip into tight coverage.
Notes: The Broncos signed LB Brian Iwuh (pronounced E-woo) and waived S Kyle McCarthy. Iwuh is a sixth-year pro out of Colorado who has played in 85 career games with the Bears (2010-11) and Jaguars (2006-09). … Missing practice were WR Eddie Royal (toe), SS Brian Dawkins (neck) and FB Spencer Larsen (knee).
By ARNIE STAPLETON, AP Pro Football Writer
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