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Sunday, November 20, 2011

Mailvox: thinking Tebow through

castricv is skeptical that the Veer can work in the NFL:
Tebow is a great person, a stand up leader, and will always give his all. However, there is no way he is starting for any team past next year and though he may remain as a great backup or a pinch runner/QB, he will never be able to keep pace with the Brees, Brady, Rodgers of the league.
I said much the same thing after watching the Miami game. And I still THINK that's the case now that the Broncos are 4-1 with Tebow at the helm, compared to 1-4 when starting Orton. (So much for Coach Fox's ability to correctly calculate his team's chances to win.) But I'm no longer so certain it can't keep working in the long term, because there is the possibility of a running-heavy game being very effective for a team in an era when the entire NFL has gone passing-mad for two very important reasons. Turnovers and game time.

The Broncos simply don't turn the ball over in the Tebow offense. In six games, he has one INT and one fumble lost. That is absolutely huge in the day of the frequent pick-six. Let's look at the three elite quarterbacks castricv mentioned. Drew Brees has 7 INT 0 FL in the last six games. Brady has 5 INT 1 FL in the same span. So, you have to factor in Tebow's turnover rate of .333 compared to 1.16 and 1.0. Part of Aaron Rodgers incredible value as a QB comes from his low turnover rate of 0.333, the same as Tebow's. I think this is an aspect of the position that analysts are leaving out of the equation and helps explain why the Broncos are winning despite everyone's expectations.

Imagine if the Broncos acquired a very good running back to pair with Tebow, one that can break a stacked box like Adrian Peterson. The quarterback being a runner helps address the stacked box issue because there is an additional blocker. I'm not saying this definitely would work, I'm simply saying that I can imagine that it COULD work. And it has a lot more potential than throwing another mediocre quarterback with a turnover rate of 2+ like Orton out there.

The lack of turnovers is particularly significant since a running team reduces the number of possessions for both teams from 12 to 9. Since the average points scored in a game by one team is 21, the average number of scoring possessions is around 3. (Keeping it simple here.) An average NFL quarterback turns the ball over twice per game, so in normal game he's got to lead his team on a scoring drive three times out of ten to give it a reasonable chance to win, but three times out of seven when playing Tebow and the Broncos. How many quarterbacks can be expected to score every other drive?

Tebow, on the other hand, only has to generate a scoring drive one out of every three drives. Throw in the field position advantage provided by the nearly two turnover advantage, and you can see why the approach might theoretically work so long as Tebow can continue to avoid turning the ball over. He'll never be able to keep pace with Brady, Brees, or Rodgers, but then, he doesn't necessarily have to. Remember, this is not all that different from the approach that Bill Parcells and Bill Belichick used to beat the superior K-Gun offense of the Bills in Super Bowl XXV.

The three things that struck me when watching the final Denver drive to beat the Jets were as follows:

1. Tebow has excellent vision and patience when running the ball. It's really striking. This makes stopping him much harder than it looks. There must have been four or five times when a Jets defender would have had him if he hadn't seen the opening and taken it at just the right moment. It also explains why he is so much more effective towards the end of games when the defenders are a little tired and slow.

2. His teammates have his back. Champ Bailey has been the most openly supportive, but after the last touchdown, when Tebow returned to the bench, one of the Denver cornerbacks, Cassius Vaughn, bent down, hugged him, and the microphone caught him telling Tebow "You keep turning it on! We love you, boy." In the ultimate team sport, this is more meaningful than most spectators understand.

3. The coaches can't believe what's happening and really don't know what to do with him or about him. There were more similarities than differences between the reactions of Fox and Ryan. After the touchdown run, Fox had his hands on his head, happy, but with a look of incredulity on his face. Ryan looked equally incredulous, but totally disgusted too.

But the NFL has to be loving the situation. A mediocre Denver team has somehow become must-see TV for NFL fans around the nation. Not only was the Denver stadium shaking with the chanting of the fans, but I have seldom heard the TV commentators more intrigued with the last five minutes of a 13-10 non-playoff game. They were actually laughing after Tebow scored. The whole drive was so awesome and ugly that I had to watch it twice. Make that three times.

Now, I can't see it happening. I honestly can't. I could see Denver winning the AFC West and perhaps even upsetting New England in the playoffs, but I can't see them beating Pittsburgh or Baltimore. But just for the fun of it, can you imagine how utterly insane it would be, how totally nuclear the sports media would go, if Denver were to face Green Bay in the Super Bowl?

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