DENVER – The Lions’ defensive game plan Sunday was simple, yet devastatingly effective: to force quarterback Tim Tebow to win the game with his left arm rather than his legs.
“Take away the run and make Tebow be a quarterback,” said Lions cornerback Chris Houston, whose 100-yard interception return in the fourth quarter provided the exclamation point on Detroit’s 45-10 destruction of the Broncos.
“They were very simple,” Broncos coach John Fox said. “They played mostly single-high safety and dared us to throw.”
“We had a guy that was able to come up that if he did tuck the ball and scramble, we had a guy that was going to come up and fill in on that,” added Detroit defensive end Kyle Vanden Bosch. “It kind of gave us a little bit of freedom up front.”
By using spies to provide second-level containment of Tebow when he took off with the football, Detroit was able to minimize the damage Tebow could create with his feet. He ran for 63 yards on 10 carries, but didn’t pick up a first down via a rush until the final play of the third quarter, by which point the Lions led 38-3.
Forty-eight of his 63 rushing yards came when the Broncos trailed by 35 or more points. He only gained 15 yards on four first-half carries, proving the wisdom of the Lions’ containment strategy.
With the ground threat neutralized, the Lions focused on pressuring the second-year quarterback.
“We knew he couldn’t got 12 for 12 for 100 yards passing the ball or anything like that,” Houston said. “So, we knew he could hit a couple of plays but we didn’t want to get no passes over our heads, that was the big thing, make him go 100 yards or make him go 60 as far as throwing the ball.
“We stopped his legs from running and made him throw the ball.”
Specifically, the Lions wanted to force Tebow to throw vertically, where their coaches believed Tebow to be weakest.
“Coach (Jim Schwartz) told us we know he’s going to get a couple of curls, a couple of outs,” Houston continued. “We know he’s going to complete those. But just don’t give up (anything) over our head because he couldn’t go down the field.”
Tebow completed just one pass of more than 16 yards all game — a 28-yarder to Matt Willis with 5:05 left in the third quarter. That single pass gained more yards than he’d amassed on his previous 12 attempts, when he completed three passes for just 16 yards. He was also sacked four times in that span, meaning that the Broncos’ passing yardage total for a 28-minute, 31-second stretch from the first to third quarters was en embarrassing minus-20 yards on 16 pass plays.
One of the four sacks in that run was Cliff Avril’s sack/strip/fumble 94 seconds into the second half, which he returned 24 yards for a touchdown that pushed the Lions’ lead to 31-3 and effectively ended the competitive phase of the game.
Avril forced fumbles on both of his sacks Sunday, sprinting around right tackle Orlando Franklin on both plays. Attacking Tebow from the edges was a paramount priority for the Lions, whose game plan not only involved forcing Tebow to look downfield, but rattling his senses.
“You want to get in any quarterback’s head as fast as possible and I think we did that,” Avril said. “As long as they feel our presence, they’re going to make crazy decisions or whatnot, so that’s what we want to do week in and week out.”
And it’s what the Broncos can expect to see from foes until Tebow proves he can exploit such tactics.