Tebow Knows Alternate Routes to Victory

December 2nd, 2011 at 5:00 pm | 49 Comments |

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The ongoing debate over Tim Tebow’s legitimacy as an NFL quarterback revolves around philosophy as much as football, purchase and has broad implications for sports and beyond.

Stephen Jay Gould divided modern thinkers into two categories: neo-Platonists committed to the “central tendency” of any given system, shop and their antagonists who emphasize “richness of variation.” This division nicely tracks the polar positions on Tim Tebow.

Tebow’s critics insist that he can’t throw the football, here at least not with the accuracy and sharpness required of NFL quarterbacks. Tebow’s supporters counter that there’s more than one way to skin a cat. Tebow’s ability to run, they argue, more than compensates for his throwing deficiencies. What’s the difference whether you advance the ball in the air or on the ground? Denver, which looked hopeless earlier in the season, is 5-1 since Tebow took over at quarterback. What counts is not how, but how many.

Tebow’s critics reply that when the defense knows you can’t throw, they will focus on the run. Thus, by lacking a credible passing threat, Tebow dooms his team’s running game. He forces the Broncos into an unconventional offense (they use the pass/run option much more than any other team) that can work only against weak opponents, and beating weak opponents won’t get you deep into the playoffs.

I’m with Tebow’s supporters (while agnostic about how he will pan out). For one thing, his critics stack the deck. If Denver loses in the Super Bowl, they will claim vindication. Sure, the team went far, but it was only a matter of time before the Broncos ran into an opponent that made them pay the price for their heretic approach.

Only one team wins the Super Bowl, and it usually has a quarterback like Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, Drew Brees or Aaron Rodgers. There aren’t enough guys like that to go around. If you’re not fortunate enough to have a quarterback with a Hall of Fame arm, you better look for other ways to win. If you’re fortunate enough to have a quarterback with a weird skill set that wins games, you’d be foolish to worry that he can’t win every game. Not even Brady does that.

The skepticism surrounding Tebow may ultimately come down to this: the establishment becomes wedded to a vision based on a sport’s central tendency, and fails to realize that the common approach presents only one way of winning. It may be the easiest way, but it’s not the only way.

Knowing this, the best coaches adjust a team’s style to its personnel. Pat Riley built his Lakers teams around the fast-break. With Magic Johnson at the helm, why not? (Riley’s predecessor, Paul Westhead, earned a pink slip because he clung to the half-court offense and alienated Magic.) But when he took over the Knicks, Riley realized that, with a front-line of Patrick Ewing, Charles Oakley, and Anthony Mason, his new team could best succeed by being the antithesis of his old. The erstwhile coach of “show-time” inculcated smash-mouth, grind-it-out basketball, and the team thrived.

Other coaches, such as Don Nelson and Mike D’Antoni, contribute to the richness of variation by introducing idiosyncratic styles of play they happen to enjoy. After teams coached by Riley and Chuck Daley succeeded through lock-down defense, it became the conventional wisdom that only a team built along those lines could win. Nelson and D’Antoni went in the opposite direction, playing “small ball” that permitted innovative offenses.

Like Tebow and the Broncos, they attracted brickbats. Despite tremendous success (Nelson was Coach of the Year three times, and both he and D’Antoni coached several teams that vastly exceeded expectations), they were lambasted. Thank goodness they were willing to pay that price. A sport becomes monotonous when all teams play the same style.

There’s no sport in which a single template for success renders all others ineffective. Different approaches produce good results. You can dance and jab or plow forward and slug, rush net or stay back, and so forth. The key is mastering what you do, not doing any particular thing.

But, at any given time, there’s likely to be a mob wedded to a central tendency. Tim Tebow and the Broncos coaching staff are discovering that winning isn’t everything: if you go against the grain you catch hell, and the moment you lose a game or two, folks will say you were doomed all along. Such is the mindset of those who fail to appreciate the richness of variation that enlivens sports.

Recent Posts by Alan Hirsch

49 Comments so far ↓

  • Oldskool

    Tebow invited brickbats for his persona more than anything else. I, for one, dislike athletes or anyone who thanks the Loward for touchdowns or three-pointers or Oscars because they fail to give him the same credit for all the crap he hands out in equal amounts. They do it to preen for the crowd, imo.

    • Fart Carbuncle

      Let the HuffingFrum Post regulars go crazy with their anti-God rants…

      • Oldskool

        As an insult, that’s terrible. A solid F for effort. You need a few more years playing on RedState.

    • roubaix

      And yet their beliefs could easily have contributed to their successes.


      Before they were famous, many of the biggest pop stars in the world believed that God wanted them to be famous, that this was his plan for them, just as it was his plan for the rest of us not to be famous. Conversely, many equally talented but slightly less famous musicians I’ve interviewed felt their success was accidental or undeserved—and soon after fell out of the limelight. As I compiled and analyzed these interviews for my new book, I reached a surprising conclusion: Believing that God wants you to be famous actually improves your chances of being famous.

  • CarbonDate

    Thus far, Tebow has run the ball well and thrown it poorly. If that wins games, then great, but Trent Dilfer was able to win a Super Bowl by being able to run the offense “well enough” (at least in comparison to Tony Banks) to allow the defense to carry the team. Tebow may be “good enough” for the Broncos’ purposes, but I would posit that it’s no more valid to credit him with his team’s success than it is to credit Dilfer for the Ravens’ Super Bowl win.

    I’m glad that the article focuses strictly on football reasons to support or disparage Tebow, however. His open displays of faith are no different than what Kurt Warner did early in his career as a starter. Like Warner, Tebow will learn that when one makes one’s faith public, it is open to public ridicule. Keep it private, and people will focus on his performance on the field.

    • sweatyb

      +1 for being exactly right about Tebow’s displays of piety

    • Oldskool

      For any article to ignore the obvious is a fail. Our Panthers have one of the best rookie QBs of all time so you could argue he’s much more deserving of an article about wins and loses.

      But, he isn’t surrounded by controversy that he himself created, so…

      • sweatyb

        Cam Newton has gotten his fair share of press. But even though Cam is playing quite well (for a rookie) his team is 3-8 and is not going to the playoffs.

        Also, Cam’s story fits snugly into the standard QB profile. So it would be kind of hard to write an article about how Cam’s success (or lack thereof) is challenging the status-quo of the NFL.

        • Oldskool

          “Best ever” is not often used to describe rookie QBs. Tebow gets press because he’s been a polarizing figure since his college days.

        • nwahs

          Polarizing is code for “not buckling to pressure from the left.”

    • Ray_Harwick

      You never had to suffer Trent Dilfer’s religious piety. He made a career of it at Fresno State (my alma mater) and continued with it into and after his pro career. He was all “Jesus has blessed me” as a college freshman where, as I recall, he got his first start about 10 games into the season. Seems to me he was the architect of the “end zone revival meeting” at Fresno State where it looked like the players were getting the Holy Ghost. They were “Tebowing” before Tebow finished elementary school. There’s a big box church in Fresno called “People’s Church” whose chief pastor was a football fan and you’d swear he and Dilfer slept in the same bed. I was gratified to see Dilfer flop. He was a fake from the beginning.

  • Martyb

    You do realize that Don Nelson & Mike D’Antoni have pretty pedestrian playoff records, right?

  • sweatyb

    I’m a Tebow believer. Not just because he turned the Bronco’s derelict ship around and seemingly willed/prayed them into playoff contention (though that’s pretty impressive by itself).

    I’m looking at the upside here. He’s a rookie. He’s winning games. By all accounts he effortlessly has taken leadership of that team. The other players believe in whatever Tebow’s doing. You can’t scout that. You can’t coach that.

    If the Broncos make the playoffs this season, that’s gravy. Honestly, it might be better for them if they just barely lose out on the wildcard.

    Next off season, the coaches will work on shortening his throwing motion and speeding up his reads. If he’s as smart as his turnover ratio leads me to believe he is, he’ll have no problems making the adjustment away from their simplified two-reads then run it offense. In which case he’s looking more like Mike Vick with the Falcons than Trent Dilfer.

    The thing about upside, though is that it’s just a guess. Tebow could just as easily follow the Vince Young model.

    (Which I guess means, no matter what, he’s going to end up playing for Andy Reid.)

  • balconesfault

    It pains me to say this as a HUGH Texas Longhorns fan …

    But does anyone remember 2006 Offensive Rookie of the Year Vince Young? The guy whose rookie QB rushing record Tebow will break in a few weeks?

  • Bagok

    I live in central Denver. Just assume I can’t be impartial, or even rational at times, about the local sports teams.

    Three cheers for the Denver defense. I can’t imagine Tebow would be nearly as effective if the offense had to score more than two touchdowns a game. He isn’t a QB to eek out a win if down by 21 at the half. He is an exciting, fourth quarter come from behind play maker with craptastic (though improving) skills. He’ll be a fun quarterback if he can learn to read a defense and execute a pro offense.

    Honestly, I was ready to despise Tebow. His overt religious displays, his annoying fans (the whining/gloating on the after game call-in show has been epic), dumbing down the offense to make him successful, all of it left me feeling Tebow was getting a free ride because of his rabid fan base. I assumed the Broncos were sacrificing him for the fan’s cash, that Tebow wasn’t ready, would choke and end his QB career in one season. I started listening to the games for the first time in years anticipating the Schadenfreude.

    But damned if he isn’t a decent, well liked, hard working kid who can make the occasional big play. His performance on and off the field have earned him some respect. No one around here has a really negative opinion of him.

    I know another half dozen atheist Bronco fans who have walked this same road and come to the same conclusions. If he practices his religion like other NFL players, I’ll be supportive. If he doesn’t grow out of being a pious dick about his faith, well, I can be a Bronco fan without being a Tebow fan.

    I wish him the best of luck, I really do. He’s got a lot to learn and some maturing to do before next season.

    • sweatyb

      If I was his agent, I wouldn’t allow him stop “Tebowing” even if he wanted to. His little worshipful pose has gone viral (http://tebowing.com). If he can hold onto the starting job in Denver, it’ll be as iconic as Jordan’s jumpman logo.

  • JohnMcC

    A curious Original Post. Various allusions to religion are seeded throughout while the overt message is specifically about the sport. What’s the point of that?

    As with so much of the output of so-called-conservatives, the thinking behind it is amazingly ahistorical. Has Mr Foster never heard of Roger Staubach? Apparently not.

    The point seems to be that an offense based on the skills of an excellent quarterback has some chance of playing at the highest level in the NFL. Might be true. Fran Tarkington and Staubach had similar skills on foot and helped their teams win at championship levels. Wonder if there is an InTrade category for NFL teams using the option offense likely to win/play in the SuperBowl? Or is the actual point of the post to hint at the religion issue without specifically saying anything about it?

    Gives me a chance to mention that the best ever at the quarterback slot, John Unitas, said that the only reason he tucked the ball in and legged it was “sheer terror”. But he famously had the skinniest legs in the NFL back then. And the Colts had a better playoff record than the Vikings under Tarkington.

  • Rabiner

    If Denvers team was allowing 20 points each game instead of 13 Tebow would be 1-5. It isn’t him, its the defense that has drastically improved over the season that has had the greatest impact on their season.

    • sweatyb

      And yet their defense is the same one that started the season 1-4.

      The more time the defense spends on the field, the more likely they are to give up points. A run-heavy offense shortens the game and wears down the opposing defense (leading to low scores and 4th-quarter heroics). Turning the ball over shortens the field for the opposing offense and discourages your defense.

      The one thing that Tebow certainly deserves credit for is not turning the ball over. That means, even on a 3-and-out drive, he’s taken time off the clock and given his defense (Which is playing very well) the best opportunity to stop the other team.

      He’s not magical and he’s not blessed by The Lord, but his critics need to account for how much better Tim Tebow’s Broncos are than Kyle Orton’s Broncos.

      • Rabiner

        The defense has improved considerably, and primarily because their rookies are now playing at a much higher level. Look at the games individually and you wouldn’t be impressed with Tebow:

        Miami game: Miami goes for 2 when up 15-0 instead of kicking the extra point and end up being tied 15-15 going into overtime.

        New York game: Sanchez throws a pick 6 or that game is never within 7 points in the fourth quarter.

        I’m just not impressed by a Denver offense that is scoring 10-17 points per game. This makes me think of the argument that pitcher wins are important statistically to see if the pitcher is good or not rather than the statistics they can have an actual impact on.

        • Bagok

          Agreed with all of that Rabiner. He’s a below average player on an average offense being supported up by an above average defense (and special teams). The spread offense Tebow requires is a hack that is working just enough to win games, with a little luck. But hey, the Broncos’ season has been full of drama and was over early. The wins (especially against the Raiders) have been a hoot, very exciting. The fun will end when someone starts stuffing the option and makes Tebow throw the ball on the rollout.

          He’ll have to learn a “West Coast” offense and watch a lot of film during the off season. Personally, I think he’ll eventually end up a running back or tight end, maybe a safety (isn’t that where washed out QBs go?). He can block and run well enough. It’s up to him. I just can’t hold any animosity toward him personally, as I said above.

  • Graychin

    I was a big Dallas Cowboys fan when Staubach was their quarterback, and I don’t remember his overt piety being in the same league as Tebow’s. Not even close. Just look at Tebow’s stupid eyeblack in that picture!

    The knock against Tebow for being a running quarterback and not much of a passer reminds me of Barry Switzer’s coaching at Oklahoma. Troy Aikman had to transfer from Oklahoma to UCLA because he had no place at OU. Aikman wasn’t as good running Switzer’s one-note “wishbone” offense as some other guys were. But then Switzer was the Dallas coach when Aikman (and Dallas) won their third Super Bowl.

    There may be other ways to win in the NFL, but I suspect that the road is a lot wider and smoother using the tried-and-true passing game most teams there use.

    (I always thought Switzer’s success at Oklahoma was due mostly to superior talent, and in spite of a flawed, rarely-passing offensive scheme.)

    • JohnMcC

      During the period of Mr Staubach’s best years I was involved in very conservative Christianity. Perhaps my exposure to his piety was greater than that of other folks because of that. Or perhaps if one was not part of fundamental religion there was more publicity than you knew. In any case I think they have pretty similar media fingerprints. (But that Roger was classier. The college scouts who clustered around Mr Tebow 6 or 7 years ago called him ‘The Anointed’.)

  • SpartacusIsNotDead

    I agree with just about all of the commenters, but I think a lot of credit should go to Coach Fox. After all, it’s not Tebow who has adapted his game, it’s the coach who has adapted his offense to Tebow’s skills.

    Tebow also happens to benefit from being so bad at throwing that the coach was willing to quickly switch to an option offense even though he knows there’s no way he’ll consistently win in the playoffs with it. If Tebow was better at throwing the ball, I doubt the coach would risk his health by playing the option offense.

    Nevertheless, like Bagok, I was ready to dislike him primarily because I don’t like his fans, but then I remembered I’m not a right-winger. He seems like a genuinely nice guy and I hope he is successful at quarterback.

  • SpartacusIsNotDead

    Balconesfault wrote: “But does anyone remember 2006 Offensive Rookie of the Year Vince Young? The guy whose rookie QB rushing record Tebow will break in a few weeks?”

    But can you imagine how many more yards Young would have had if his coach had been like Denver’s and simply decided to let Young run as often as he wanted? Tebow benefits by having absolutely no throwing skills and by having a coach who’s given up on trying to get him to play the traditional way.

  • sheckylovejoy

    Let’s look some actual FACTS about Tebow, instead of all the conjecture. These stats are for the six games he’s started.

    Tebow is 61 for 133 (46%) for 773 yds which is a measly 5.81 yds/attempt. This puts him second-to-last in the league, behind Curtis Painter (6.34), behind Kyle Orton (6.32), behind, well, everyone except for Blaine Gabbert (who?). For comparison, Aaron Rodgers is at 9.6

    The point of offense is not to gain yards or complete passes, but to score points. In the 6 games Tebow has started, the offense has scored 18, 10, 31, 17, 10, 16, which even with the outlier is only 17 pts/game. The league average is about 21.

    Mitigating all this is his impressive running, which is better than his passing by a lot — 71 for 418 for a 5.89 average — better than his yards per pass attempt.

    He hasn’t thrown a TD pass, though he’s run for 2 in 6 games.

    His passer rating is about 77, which places him 25th, behind such luminaries as Kevin Kolb and Colt McCoy, but at least ahead of Curtis Painter and Blaine Gabbert. For comparison, Aaron Rodgers has a 128 QB rating

    Conclusion: he is a below average quarterback, amongst the worst in the league.

    Another rook, Cam Newton, has a 61% completion percentage (14th best), 7.9 YPA (8th best), 5.4 YPC (couldn’t find league-wide stats for this) and has a rating of 81 (18th best), averaging 23 points/game but no one cares.

    • Oldskool

      … and more rushing TDs than any rookie QB since the merger, about 40 years ago.

      As much as I liked Fox when he was at Carolina, he bored us to tears with all the running plays. They’re much more fun to watch this year and they could easily be .500 with as many high scoring close games as they’ve had, playing the toughest schedule in the league this year.

    • sweatyb

      Nothing beats statistics, except, you know accurate statistics…

      ESPN says Tebow’s got 8 passing TDs and 3 rushing in 6 games. He’s got a QB rating of 80.5.


      So, there’s that.

      Cam Newton’s stats don’t really seem that impressive in comparison. In 11 games, he has 12 TDs passing and and 10 TDs rushing, but he’s also thrown 14 picks. His QB rating is 81.1


      So, there’s that.

      And it’s not like Cam’s not getting press. He started out really hot. But he’s struggled lately (including a scary bad game against the Lions — who also roughed up Tebow).

      Half a season isn’t much to go by. But there are 32 starting QBs in the league and only one of them is Aaron Rodgers. Throwing Tebow under the bus because he’s not keeping up with the record-setting pace of the defending World Champion QB seems a bit harsh.

    • Secessionist

      Tebow won again. The most important stats are the scoreboard and the won/loss column.

  • jakester

    I could care less about football or quarterbacks but if some pro team thinks he is good enough to be a QB and he wins games, I will defer to their judgment.

    But I am also sure the Lord doesn’t give a hoot about which bunch of overpaid jocks runs/catches the ball or wins a game either.

  • Secessionist

    With a defensive minded coach like John Fox, the Broncos can go along way with Tebow if they build the right kind of team around him. Trent Dilfer won a SB. Ben Roethlisberger won 2. With a strong defense, you don’t need Rodgers/Manning/Brees/Brady to win.

    • more5600

      I agree with you about Dilfer, however he had one of the top 5 defenses in the history of football and if Denver’s defense elevated its play to that level then Tebow may have a chance. The Roethlisberger analogy doesn’ t work, sure Pittsburgh had a great D but Ben can throw the hell of the ball unlike Tebow.

      Long story short: Tebow can win a Superbowl as long as his team fields a legendarily great defense and then plays mistake free in the game.

  • Secessionist

    Proven Wrong:

    He can’t make NFL throws like deep outs.
    His running style will never work in the NFL.
    He can only beat really bad teams.
    He can only beat teams that don’t have good defenses.
    He’ll never win when the other team puts up a lot of points.

    Next on the list:

    He can’t beat teams that score many points and have great defenses.

  • roubaix

    Merril Hoge checking in: Tebow can’t win a Super Bowl.

  • nwahs

    It his second year. Remember John Elway starting out? He sucked for 2 years. The “Elway watch” turned into the “Elway – don’t look!”

    But the left has not ever gotten over Tebow’s pro-life ad, so they use their predictable childish taunts to smear him. The jury is still out, but I think with the strides he’s making he will evolve into a good QB. If anyone deserved the load of crap that is being dumped on Tebow, it would be Jamarcus Russell ( anyone remember that #1?). But he didn’t make a pro-life ad.

    My vote for most underrated QB ever – Steve DeBerg.

    Started ahead of Joe Montana, John Elway, Steve Young, and Vinny Testaverde.

  • Secessionist

    The anti-Evangelical bigots hate Tim Tebow not because of his football skills but because of his religion. They are bigots. Small minded, anti-Christian bigots of the worst sort.

    Those same people would be sent over the edge and need confinement in a mental institution if people mocked a Jewish or Muslim athlete the same way they mock Tebow. Bigots don’t think in terms of intellectual consistency; however, they think in terms of hate.

    All QBs need time to develop. I don’t know if Tebow if the answer for Denver, but he ought to be given a reasonable amount of time to develop his skills like every other rookie. There was no off season this year.

    Peyton Manning went 3 – 13 his first year. No, I don’t think Tebow is the next Peyton Manning, but you need more than a rookie season to judge a player.

    • Oldskool

      I don’t know anyone who hates the guy but he does make it easy to dislike him.

      While we’re at it, explain why the Nascar yahoos booed the first lady at a recent race. Or were they booing the injured Marine and his family.

  • more5600

    I am an atheist and liberal and as much as I think Tebow’s public displays of religiosity are very annoying and hardly Christian in the Biblical sense (I studied New Testament Theology for 9 years) I have the greatest respect for the kid. He works hard and plays harder, he is, in short, a winner. However I have been a football fan for the last 45 years and while it is true that the Broncos are presently successful with their offensive scheme, I don’t think it will last. There is a reason the triple option is not run in the NFL, although it does seem to make a comeback every decade or so when a team finds they have a quarterback who runs much better than he passes. Defenses adapt and the option is abandoned. Another reason the option is not practical is that most NFL teams do not want their multi-million dollar QB taking the same number of hits as their HB, it is only a matter of time before an injury occurs and then unless there is another Tebow waiting on the bench, the offensive strategy must be abandoned or executed poorly.

    However I find the statement “even if the Denver loses in the Super Bowl” amusing, wow that is a great leap forward. They have to make it to the Super Bowl, which is a long shot and if they do make it and lose they will have beaten two playoff calibre teams to get there and I would find it hard to imagine anyone disparaging Tebow for leading a team to the Super Bowl even in a losing effort.

    Enjoy this season Denver it’s not going to last.

    • roubaix

      Well, Denver released Orton and they have not renewed Quinn’s contract. They’re in the market for QBs regardless of how the season goes, and I’m sure Elway will be pushing hard for Luck or Barkley.

  • Michigan Outsider

    1. Leadership is a big part of being a QB, and Tim Tebow seems to have that down.
    2. Tim Tebow seems to be getting the most out of his talents, which is something that everyone should admire.
    3. While the Denver defense is certainly a big part of the Denver team success, Denver was not winning nearly as much by playing other QBs on the Denver rooster, who have better arms and completion percentgages than he does.
    4. It seems really unlikely that the Tim Tebow show will be long running. The “Wildcat” did okay for a year or so, and then NFL defenses caught on to it, and the Wildcat has more or less disappeared. “Greatest Show on Turf?” Really good for a little while, then the Patriots showed how to beat it. Then, throw in the fact that the average career of RBs in the NFL is really short because of how hard and how often RBs get hammered by really big, fast, defenders. It seems reasonable to conclude that Tim Tebow will not duplicate his success next year and that he might be out of the league in less than five years.
    5. Given the choice between a player whose displays of Christianity might be a little overt to my taste or a player who happens to be around when homicides are going down, I would prefer the Christian to the criminal.

  • Fart Carbuncle

    Tebow has seen The Light.

    Do you see The Light?