Patriots try to avoid getting Tebowed

AP Photo/Julie Jacobson

Tim Tebow will face a Patriots defense on Sunday that is on pace to allow the most passing yards in NFL history.

Tim Tebow has led six game-winning drives in the fourth quarter or overtime, the most of any quarterback in his first 11 starts since the merger according to the Elias Sports Bureau.

He has continued to save his best for last, posting a 63.5 Total QBR in the fourth quarter/overtime compared to 19.5 in the first three quarters, but what other factors have contributed to his late-game heroics?

Since Week 7, opponents have rushed five or more defenders on 40 percent of Tebow's dropbacks during the first three quarters. During the fourth quarter and overtime, opponents have rushed five or more on only 28 percent of his dropbacks.

The disparity of 11.6 percentage points is the largest in the league, meaning that no team has seen a larger change in an opponent’s defensive philosophy from the early stages of the game to crunch time.

It’s normal for defenses to play conservatively down the stretch - defensive snaps with at least five defensive backs increase by 8.7 percent in the 4th quarter/OT league-wide - but Broncos opponents have shown one of the biggest shifts in philosophy in crunch time in the past eight games.

Broncos’ Opponent Tendencies
Since Week 7

That change in philosophy may have stemmed from Tebow’s game-winning scramble against the Jets.

On 3rd-and-4 from the Jets’ 20-yard line with 1:06 left, Rex Ryan sent seven defenders after Tebow. Tebow beat safety Eric Smith to the outside and ran for a game-winning touchdown. Since that play, defenses have sent extra pressure late in games at just half their previous rate.

Another factor forcing the opposition to be more conservative late in games is the Broncos’ change in offense.

Tebow Facing 5+ Rushers
4th Quarter/OT, Since Week 7

The Broncos run fewer than half of their offensive plays with at least three wide receivers on the field in the first three quarters, but that number jumps to nearly 75 percent in the fourth quarter and overtime.

Tebow has most of his success passing in sets with three or more wide receivers. He’s also more likely to run. Of his 84 rushes (excluding kneel downs) since taking over the starting job, 62 have come with at least three wide receivers on the field.

The Patriots, Tebow’s opponent Sunday, have fared well against teams that try to run with at least three wide receivers on the field. The Patriots are allowing 4.8 yards per rush when facing offenses with at least three wide receivers this season, the 10th-best rate in the NFL.

Patriots’ Defense Against 3+ WR Sets
2011 Season

However, as shown on the chart to the right, the Patriots have struggled to stop the pass from those offensive formations.

The Patriots rush five or more defenders 25 percent of the time in the fourth quarter, compared to 21 percent of the time in the first three quarters. Only eight teams rush five or more at a lower rate in the fourth than the Patriots.

John Parolin, Jason Starrett and John McTigue contributed to this post