ENGLEWOOD, Colo. – As the week began, Broncos executive vice president John Elway pointed out the struggles of the offense on third down with Tim Tebow at quarterback and unwittingly provided the match that led to a firestorm of chatter among fans and media that only began dying down when turkeys were pulled from ovens Thursday afternoon.
And while Tebow’s struggles on third down are reflected in his own numbers (14-of-34 passing for 139 yards, three touchdowns, one interception, six sacks and a 70.6 rating), they also bear themselves out in the Broncos’ third-down conversion rate since he took over at halftime of the Week 5 loss to the Chargers.
In the first four and a half games, the Broncos converted 43.9 percent of their third downs (25 of 57); if they maintained that over the entire season, they would rank eighth in the league. In the five and a half games since; they’ve converted 23.6 percent (17 of 72), if that endured over the entire season, it would be 32nd.
Only two teams this century have failed to convert at least 25 percent of their third downs for a season — the 2002 Cowboys and 2005 49ers (both 24 percent) — making it clear that such a performance remains unsustainable for a healthy offense.
But offensive coordinator Mike McCoy sees more than just Tebow when he looks at the Broncos’ recent third-down woes.
“I think it’s a combination of everything, to be honest,” McCoy said. “I know that’s probably not the answer you want to hear but I think that the longer it is, the harder obviously it is to convert it. You get into third and 10-plus they can just drop back and play the sticks and try to sit underneath everything.”
With Tebow, the Broncos’ average third down has been 7.38 yards; during Kyle Orton’s four and a half games this season, it was 6.96 yards.
“It’s everyone doing a better job on first and second down,” McCoy said. “You look back at some of those games and you say, ‘God, if we had just stayed on this block or hit this pass, whatever that is, or if I would have made a different call in a certain situation to keep us out of third-and-long, you know maybe on second down ran the ball and gained 4 or 5 yards and now it’s third-and-6.
“It’s just everybody picking up their game a little bit and being better at situational football.”
PARTICIPATION: Every Bronco practiced Thursday. Safety David Bruton, cornerback Cassius Vaughn and tight end Daniel Fells were limited.
GEARING UP: Running back Willis McGahee practiced fully, but McCoy indicated that the club is still being cautious with him as he works his way back to full strength from the left hamstring strain he suffered in Kansas City on Nov. 13.
“He flew around Wednesday when we were going full speed in all the base game plan stuff,” McCoy said. “When we went into (Thursday), some more third down things, he didn’t take as many snaps like he normally does on Thursday.
“He’s ready to go. We’ve monitored him all year long. He gets a big work load on Wednesday, and then he gets a little bit on Thursday. He’ll get a little bit on Friday. The key is to have him fresh on Sundays.”