Tale of the Tape: Tebow takes hold of TNF

We call Tim Tebow a winner. How else does a quarterback complete two passes in a game and win like he did last week in Kansas City?

But against Rex Ryan and the Jets’ defense on “Thursday Night Football”, the “winner” theory will be tested more than ever. Willis McGahee is a game-time decision. Knowshon Moreno is shelved with a knee injury. A victory for the Broncos might be squarely on the shoulders of one of the most over-analyzed quarterbacks in league history.

So, let’s give you a definitive look at what Tebow offers the Broncos versus the Jets -– and what the Jets D needs to do to stop him.

Total Tebow

When New York faced Denver last year, the Broncos were still Kyle Orton’s team. Tebow played nine snaps, keeping the ball six times for 23 yards and his first career touchdown.

This year, Tebow has been handed the keys of a Denver offense that relies off of the run on first down (it rushes 67 percent of the time) and lives or dies on getting four or more yards on those plays.

For any offense, gaining four yards on first down is a win. It gets you on schedule and puts an offense in position to be in 3rd and manageable — when and if that down arises. Since Tebow became the starter in Week 7, the Broncos have survived his 44.8 completion percentage by racking up 38 rushing plays of four-plus yards on first down, second only to the Texans’ 39.

Heading into this matchup, the Jets are an improving defense on first down. From Week 1 to Week 6, New York gave up a league-high 49 runs of four yards or more. Since then, they have allowed the sixth fewest (15).

For the Jets, their defense will have to be stout versus both Denver’s downhill run concepts and disciplined in the option and misdirection plays. Considering the Jets have played a statuesque group of quarterbacks thus far –- Joe Flacco, Tom Brady twice, and Philip Rivers – New York must be conscious to not fall asleep versus a slew of runs. Otherwise, its secondary, led by Darrelle Revis, has a clear advantage over Tebow and Co.

The challenge for the Jets: win on first and second down and make Tebow beat you on a third down of four yards or more. Then, Tebow has to beat you with his arm. And then, Ryan can roll out the blitz and pressure the Broncos’ young quarterback (opposing QBs have a 51 rating versus New York’s blitz).

With third down and four yards or more, Tebow’s Broncos (Week 7 through 10) convert on a league-worst 13.64 percent of those plays, averaging an abysmal 2.35 yards per play. When the Broncos are faced with third down and three yards or less, and have an option to run, they have converted 66.7 percent of first downs with Tebow at quarterback.

Examining the success rate of starting quarterbacks on third down this season -– either passing or scrambling — Tebow has the worst conversion percentage, picking up first downs on 18.2 percent of plays with the ball in his hand. That ranks him below Charlie Whitehurst (20 percent), Chad Henne (25 percent) and Blaine Gabbert (25.3 percent).

For the sake of contrast, here are the top QBs on third down:

  • Drew Brees (50.00)
  • Aaron Rodgers (49.44)
  • Ben Roethlisberger (48.31)
  • Phillip Rivers (46.30)
  • Matt Schaub (44.55)
  • Kyle Orton (43.75)
  • Tom Brady (42.39)

Notice a difference between those lists? The latter has four Super Bowl winners and multiple Pro Bowl selections.

Because Tebow is in the other list — and we have no reason to think he’ll have better success on third down versus Ryan’s defense — we are picking the Jets in this one.

“Playbook” — the ultimate football Xs and Os show — airs Friday at 8 p.m. ET (AFC) and 9 p.m. ET (NFC) on NFL Network. Check the NFL Network broadcast schedule for further details. Follow “Playbook” on Twitter @NFLN_Playbook.

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