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Tebow Article #1,000,000

January 12, 2012

By Ross Mitchell

Did you hear? Tim Tebow beat the Pittsburgh Steelers 29-23 Sunday in the AFC Wild Card playoffs. According to fans, media, and players, Tim Tebow, who can’t throw, completed an angelic left-handed strike to himself, out of sheer luck, miraculously breaking nineteen tackles, attempted by an injury depleted, improperly schemed, league-best pass defense, which entered Sunday’s game allowing a paltry 172 yards per contest. He let loose a bullet on a slant route, caught the pass, and raced 80-yards into the end zone, to the delight of the Denver faithful, all while carrying former Defensive MVPs James Harrison and Troy Polumalu on his back. A historic performance by a guy who will be out of the league before Week 1 of next season. What a dynamic, trail-blazing hack.

Enough hyperbole. Tebow’s performance Sunday was nothing short of excellent. It was also nothing exceeding excellent. It wasn’t historic, it wasn’t remarkable, it wasn’t career defining. He capitalized on a beat up Pittsburgh defense who challenged the Broncos coaching staff to beat them through the air (press coverage to be more precise). Was it impressive? Yes, Tebow and the Broncos were able to torch the Steelers like no team outside of Baltimore had been able to do so far this season. Was it the game of all games, the new precedent by which we will judge post-season quarterback play for the remainder of the decade? I hope not.

What I saw Sunday was what I expect of any good young NFL quarterback, and that is what I believe Tebow to be: a good, inexperienced quarterback. And while opinions centered around Tebow are largely polarized and blown way too far out of proportion, the core of the debate is accurate:

Tim Tebow is exceptional in the clutch and lacks consistency to warrant long term commitment. He misses wide open receivers, his fundamentals break down too often, and from time-to-time releases a Tim Wakefield or Hoyt Willhelm-esque knuckleball. He is also the most dangerous duel threat in the game, has a rocket arm, and possesses the physical attributes to give defenses fits. He needs to improve on his pre and post snap reads (of defensive coverages), and process where the blitz is coming from faster. He also needs, to quote Broncos General Manager John Elway, “pull the trigger” and not take so many unnecessary sacks.

But the same can be said for every quarterback who has yet to play for a full three seasons (or one in Tebow‘s case). Are we ready to cut ties with Blaine Gabbert because he had an absolutely brutal rookie campaign and often looked like he should be playing for the Toronto Argonauts instead of the Jacksonville Jaguars? Sam Bradford, who was the next big thing after the 2010 season is on the trading block after suffering  the notorious sophomore slump. Are we ready to induct Cam Newton and Andy Dalton into Canton? If you are, turn in your credentials as a sports fan.

(Here is where Tebow apologists throw out the, “Were we ready to write off Troy Aikman after he went 0-11 and threw 9 TDs and 18 INTs his first year in the league? Were we ready to do so with Elway, who finished his rookie season with a record of 4-6, throwing 7 TDs and 14 INTs?” argument. I understand their case to a degree, but we are getting way too far ahead of ourselves if we begin comparing Tebow to either of those players. No one is of their caliber after 13 starts, unless we have decided to dismiss longevity).

Ask yourself honestly, “Where does Tebow rank among NFL starting QBs?” I took the time to compile three lists of who I would rather have over Tebow, who I would rather have Tebow over, and who I think Tebow is on par with (I excluded Peyton Manning for health reasons):

Rather have over Tebow: Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees, Jay Cutler, Ben Roethlisburger, Cam Newton, Andy Dalton, Phillip Rivers, Matt Schaub, Eli Manning, Michael Vick, Tony Romo, Matt Stafford

Rather have Tebow over: Ryan Fitzpatrick, Mark Sanchez, Matt Moore, Colt McCoy, Brady Quinn, Carson Palmer, Jason Campbell, Matt Cassel, Blaine Gabbart, Bruce Gradkowski, Vince Young, Rex Grossman, Donovan McNabb, Tavarius Jackson, Kevin Kolb, John Skelton, Josh Freeman

On par with Tebow: Joe Flacco, Kyle Orton, Matt Hasselbeck, Jake Locker, Christian Ponder, Alex Smith, Sam Bradford, Matt Ryan

Don’t blow a gasket, Matt Ryan has played in three playoff games and won zero of them. Tim Tebow has started one game and won one game. Of course it depends on who the Falcons and Broncos matched-up against, but Tebow never had home field advantage throughout the post-season and Matt Ryan never defeated a team with four more regular season victories than the Falcons. Nor has he ever beaten the defending conference champions in the post season.  Tebow has.

(Also I have Tebow on the same level as Kyle Orton. Do I believe the Broncos would have finished the season 7-4 and AFC West champions with Neck Beard at the helm? Not at all. But put Orton on a team that better suits his skill-set, say Kansas City, and he can win games. I am also confident if we asked ten people to generate the same three categories we would be given seven different results, bare minimum)

I have to be honest: I hate that I’m writing a Tebow article. I detest how he has been a hotter topic this season than the Packers potential undefeated season, the Lions resurgence, or Newton and Brees’s record setting performances. I loath how we dissect each throw, how we justify his NFL existence on each individual pass. I despise the excuses his supporters cling to (weak receiving core, lack of support from the coaching staff and front office, poor play-calling) as much as I lament his critics refusal to cut him any slack when he struggles. He has started thirteen games, and there are going to be growing pains. Why is that suddenly a foreign concept?

But what scathes me the most is the refusal to admit Tim Tebow is a player the likes which we have never seen, and that’s positive. His style isn’t better, it isn’t worse, but it’s not the norm.  He’s a mold unto himself.  He’s competing in an era not conducive with his style of play. He is an obtuse, power-running, power-passing quarterback in an age of precision and grace. He is the hammer to Aaron Rodgers paint brush, and there is nothing wrong with that.

Tebow is an enigma. To best describe his effect on the field, I make this baseball comparison: Tebow is a clean-up hitter batting third in the lineup. He has the lowest completion percentage in the league (or batting average, comparatively, say .235). But Tebow has also attempted a staggering number of attempts over twenty-five yards (most in the league). A power-hitter is swinging for the fences. Will he miss the sweet spot more-often-than-not and fly out? Of course, but he will also hit 40-50 home runs and drive in 100-120 RBIs every year. He will also avoid the double-play (turnovers).

Will Tebow have games where his completion percentage is sub-.500? Yes, but he will also throw for 316 yards and two touchdowns, avoid interceptions and fumbles while rushing for another 40 yards and an additional score. Most importantly, he will allow the Broncos to lead the league in rushing and control the clock. You’d like to have someone with a higher average hitting third, but for whatever reason that player isn’t on the roster. Why not give the run production opportunities to your most dangerous threat? Here are two stat lines supporting my case:

Tebow versus the Steelers (W): 10-21; 316 yards, 2 TDs; 10 carries; 50 yards; 1 TD

Matt Ryan versus the Giants (L): 24-41; 199 yards; 3 carries; 3 yards

The only category in which Matt Ryan exceeds Tebow is completion percentage (48% for Tebow, 59% for Ryan). Tebow is most frequently criticized for his completion percentage. To me, a sub-.500 completion percentage is worth average 31.6 yards per completion (Ryan’s calculates to 8.3 yards per completion).

(Now is a good time to point out Tebow is a hailstorm regarding far more important issues; Race and Religion to name two. I’m not going to discuss either in this forum. This is a strictly sports posting…if you ignore this tangent)

In conclusion, all the debates circle back to this indisputable fact: Tebow has to improve. Every young quarterback needs to develop. Every player needs to fix the flaws in their game. If they fail to work on what they are bad at, regardless of their draft status, their college pedigree, or post-season success (see Rex Grossman and Mark Sanchez), no number of excuses or supporters can make up for perpetual deficiencies. Coordinators will exploit you for what you are, a fad.

Now I need to take a shower, because I feel dirty.

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