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Running Down the Raiders

Posted Nov 6, 2011

Quarterback Tim Tebow and running back Willis McGahee each ran for over 100 yards against Oakland as the Broncos took control of the game on the ground.

OAKLAND, Calif. -- In the read-option offense, quarterback Tim Tebow has a choice.

He can hand the ball off to running back Willis McGahee or he can tuck it and run himself.

Today in Oakland, the Broncos quarterback couldn’t go wrong either way.

“Tebow got the ball in his hands and he’s dangerous,” McGahee said. “When I have the ball in my hands, I can be dangerous too. We have a (two-man threat) as far as running the ball.”

That two-man rushing threat was on full display against the Raiders as Denver amassed 298 total yards on the ground – the fourth best mark in team history – to help pave the way for a 38-24 win. 

Tebow ran 12 times for 117 yards and McGahee carried the ball 20 times for 163 yards and two scores. It was the first time a Broncos quarterback and running back have gone over 100 yards rushing in the same game since 1976.

That success on the ground was a point of pride for the Denver offensive line, which controlled the line of scrimmage in the second half.

“Having 100-yard rushers is what we pride ourselves on,” offensive guard Chris Kuper said.

Much of that production was a byproduct of the read-option offense the Broncos employed against their AFC West rivals.

With the read-option, Tebow lines up in the shotgun with McGahee alongside him. At the snap, he puts the ball in McGahee’s gut and reads the action of the defensive front. If they commit to the handoff, Tebow can pull the ball back and take off and run. If they respect that threat, he can hand it to McGahee, who attacks the line of scrimmage against a defense that’s been forced to think twice thanks to Tebow as a potential runner.

It’s a system Tebow enjoyed a lot of success with at the collegiate level and Sunday it worked wonders for the Broncos offense.

“Depending on exactly what play we were running and what defense they had, we were pretty much usually reading somebody and seeing how they played us, just so we could kind of be plus-one in the run game,” Tebow explained. “If you have the ability to read one then you don’t have to put someone on him so you’re plus-one in the run game, and that helps.”

“It’s a different style,” Head Coach John Fox said, “but it can be effective.”

At times, the read-option was so effective the Raiders had trouble identifying who had possession of the ball.

On two separate occasions Tebow faked a handoff to McGahee and escaped out of the backfield with the entire defense flowing in the opposite direction. In the first quarter, Tebow ran 32 yards untouched before he was forced out. In the fourth quarter he ran for 28 more in a similar fashion.

And when Tebow elected to hand the ball off to McGahee, more long runs followed.

McGahee burst through the middle and was untouched on his way to the end zone on a 60-yard run to tie the game at the end of the third quarter.

With the Broncos leading by seven in fourth quarter, McGahee once again took a handoff from Tebow in the shotgun and took it the distance from 24 yards out to effectively seal the victory.

When these teams met in the season-opener, the Oakland defense limited the Broncos to their lowest rushing output of the season. But in Week 9 Denver was up to the task and responded by putting together its best performance on the ground all season.

“We abandoned the run the first time we played those guys and they went ahead and got the W,” McGahee said. “I thought our mindset was a little different coming out in the second half (today).

“We just stayed focused and kept grinding.”