KANSAS CITY, Mo. —Chiefs linebacker Derrick Johnson spent the last couple of days studying video of the Denver Broncos offense and initially had a difficult time remembering the last time he played against an opponent that ran so much option.
"It would be in college," Johnson finally said. "That's definitely a college game plan when you do so much option."
Johnson and the Chiefs can expect to see a lot of the option on Sunday when the Broncos play at Arrowhead Stadium in the first of two meetings between the teams this season. The Broncos changed much of what they do on offense since replacing former starting quarterback Kyle Orton with Tim Tebow three weeks ago.
"He may not have the traditional way (of) standing in the pocket and delivering certain (passes)," Johnson said. "But as long as you win, it doesn't really matter."
The Broncos are doing that with Tebow. After starting the season 1-4, the Broncos have won two of their last three games and are just a game behind the Chiefs, Raiders and Chargers in the AFC West race.
Tebow is having problems when he passes. He is completing 46 percent of his attempts, which is well below the league average of 60 percent.
But the Broncos ran for almost 200 yards in two of their last three games and then nearly hit 300 in last week's win over Oakland. Tebow had more than 100 rushing yards against the Raiders.
"They're finding an identity and that identity is running the football for a lot of yards," Chiefs coach Todd Haley said. "When you have a quarterback that can run the ball the way that Tim does, it creates major issues for defenses ... essentially (the Broncos) gain an extra offensive player in the run game. When that player is your quarterback and can throw the football, it becomes different than just some of the wildcats and things we see.
"The difference is that generally, the guys running the wildcat aren't the quarterback. (The Broncos) have the quarterback running the option, which then makes it a triple threat with the running back running, (Tebow) running or him throwing."
The Chiefs this week in practice are having not only backup quarterback Tyler Palko, like Tebow a left-hander, plays as the Denver quarterback. They're also using backup wide receiver Jerheme Urban, who isn't as big as Tebow but a nifty open-field runner.
Urban was a sprinter for his college track team.
The Broncos aren't exclusively an option team. They also do some conventional things on offense.
But to accommodate Tebow, a former Heisman Trophy winner at Florida and Denver's top draft pick last year, the Broncos had to do some things in line with his abilities. The option is one.
"It's something (Tebow) is more comfortable with, he has a lot of background in it, he's got a lot of confidence in it," said Denver coach John Fox, formerly with the Carolina Panthers. "We're asking a lot, not just of Tim, but our entire offense, the coaching staff, everybody involved. We've kind of grown it as we've grown with Tim.
"I've spent a lot of time in the NFC South and we competed against the Atlanta Falcons when they had Michael Vick. Call it what you like, it was that quarterback having the ability to run that creates havoc on defenses because they don't count that guy as a runner. It's kind of been done but maybe not to the exact level where we're kind of at right now."
Fox would prefer to see the Broncos crank up their passing game. They have 125 passing yards or less in each of Tebow's starts.
"There is no question that we are looking for balance in the run and the pass," he said. "We're probably leaning a little bit more on the run right now. We have to improve in the pass game because in this league, you have to be two-dimensional, not one-dimensional, and it's something that I'm sure he'll grow, we'll grow, in time."
Veteran running back Willis McGahee resurrected his career this season. He's one of the AFC's leading rushers and has picked up many of his yards since Tebow took over at quarterbacks.
But even he believes the Broncos are in trouble if they don't improve their passing game.
"I think (the option) can be something that can help us going forward, but we have to do some other things like getting the ball to receivers," he said. "We have to get more passes in. It's good to run the ball and I'm a running back. I probably shouldn't be saying it, but there are going to be some times when you're going to need to pass. The good thing about it is, the coaches are working with Tim and the receivers. We've got to get those guys on the same page."
The point could be moot for the Chiefs on Sunday if they don't stop Tebow as a runner. The Broncos scored 38 points against the Raiders last week even though they did little of their damage with passes. "You've got to be even more spot on because this is a guy that can beat you in the running game," Johnson said. "He's a heck of a running back when he decides to run the ball.
"I've seen some 260-, 270-pound guys hit this guy and he's just shrugging them off. He has some wiggle to him, too. He's hard to defend. He's gets a lot of (criticism) for not being accurate here and there but he just poses a lot of problems."