Tebow's 80-yard OT pass: Why it worked

AP Photo/Joe Mahoney

Broncos WR Demaryius Thomas (88) breaks away from Steelers DB Ryan Mundy (29)
for the winning touchdown in overtime in Sunday's overtime AFC Wild Card Game.

Demaryius Thomas' game-winning 80-yard touchdown grab from Tim Tebow in overtime was set up by trends earlier in the game (and season) that the Denver Broncos bucked to their advantage.

Prior to the snap, the Steelers aligned in their base 3-4 defense but both safeties crept into or near the box in an effort to stop the run. Entering the final play, the Steelers had used eight or more men in the box on 16 plays, with the Broncos rushing 13 times and passing three.

Broncos Offense
Facing 8+ in the Box Sunday

The Steelers' strategy had worked well in stopping the run. The Broncos averaged 4.4 yards on 20 rushes, including Tebow’s touchdown, when leaving seven or fewer defenders in the box. When Pittsburgh had eight or more in the box, the Broncos averaged 3.5 yards on 13 rushes.

When the Broncos did pass against eight in the box, the attempts came with a play fake.

All four of Tebow’s pass attempts against eight or more in the box Sunday came with a play-action fake. The first three attempts racked up 57 yards, all to tight end Daniel Fells. Tebow was 2-for-2 targeting Fells and 0-for-1 targeting Thomas before the game-winner.

Tebow was 4-for-15 for 43 yards with no scores passing against eight or more in the box in the regular season, which may have contributed to the Steelers’ comfort packing the box.

With the setup in motion, the Broncos needed to get the pieces into place. This too, allowed the Broncos to go against their norm.

When Tebow used play action this season, 62.8 percent of his pass attempts went to the left side of the field, with Tebow completing 51.0 percent of such throws, including four touchdowns.

Tim Tebow Play-Action Passing
By Direction This Season

Thomas caught the game-winner on a route over the middle of the field. Prior to the play, Tebow had been completing 25.0 percent of his play-action throws over the middle or to the right with no touchdowns.

Tebow was able to throw comfortably on the play, with no Steelers putting him under pressure. Entering the postseason, Tebow posted a 26.4 Total QBR when he was not under duress, duress being defined as the quarterback being forced to move or alter a throw due to pressure.

The touchdown pass to Thomas helped Tebow to a 99.9 Total QBR in the game when not under duress. Since 2008, only Michael Vick in Week 10 against the Redskins last season posted a 99.9 when not under duress.

Tebow was 8-for-12 for 293 yards and two touchdowns on the game when facing no duress.

All-in-all, the play helped the Broncos become the fifth team without a winning record in the last 10 years to win their play first playoff game. However, the previous four teams all lost in the Divisional Playoffs.