Tim Tebow Critics Need to Get over It and Just Enjoy the Kid's Play
Various pundits around the nation have had their shot at Denver’s starting quarterback, but with Tim Tebow a winner in three of his first four starts, it’s time to just sit back and watch the kid play.
We’ve heard how Tebow isn’t a prototypical NFL quarterback. We’ve heard all about how he won’t last running the ball, how his throwing motion is flawed and that he can’t pass accurately.
But the kid is a proven winner.
Tebow brings energy to games and a belief that the job will get done no matter how poorly he plays. They have a name for that kind of belief: Hope. Hope is infectious, and often times, it translates directly into success.
While teams will eventually figure out how to stop Denver’s zone reads on offense, for now, can't we just enjoy Tebow’s success in the face of extensive criticism?
Speaking of which, let’s take a look at some of the old knocks on Tebow, and consider how the young man has answered them.
Criticism: Tebow Can’t Throw Well
Perhaps the biggest criticism of Tim Tebow is that he cannot throw the ball well.
Through four starts, Tebow is 43-of-95 for 526 yards, six touchdowns and one interception. Most recently against Kansas City, Tebow completed only two passes out of eight attempts.
It’s not that Tebow misses receivers, it’s that he misses them badly, throwing inaccurate passes to even the most wide-open targets. He has yet to show he can throw on the move, which you would have expected a mobile QB like Tebow to be able to do.
Some critics point to Tebow’s slow, elongated throwing motion as the root of the problem, while others blame his inconsistent footwork. Whatever the cause, Tebow has yet to prove he can be a threat through the air week after week.
Answer: Tebow Hasn’t Needed to Throw
At the professional level, of course you would expect your starting quarterback to be able to throw the ball with some moderate degree of success. But for the Denver Broncos in 2011, Tim Tebow hasn’t needed to.
Again, the Broncos are 3-1 with Tebow at the helm. Sure, the wins have come against shoddy defenses, but a win’s a win. If he had needed to throw to win those games, then we’d have a problem.
Keep in mind, the guy has only spent a year and a half in the league and has started only seven games. He missed valuable OTAs due to the lockout this year, which hampered his development as a QB.
Not every mobile quarterback out of college becomes a great pocket passer overnight. It took Michael Vick years to become the passer he is today, and even now he sometimes struggles.
What’s important is that Tebow continues to try the pass, but as he proved against the Kansas City Chiefs, he can win games without his arm. One of his two competitions was a 56-yard touchdown to Eric Decker, which is a pretty good TD-per-completion ratio.
If he continues to try the pass, hard work and time will eventually make Tebow a throwing threat. Until then, be content with what he can do and enjoy the wins he’s already accumulated.
Criticism: Tebow Can Only Run
The logical corollary to the previous criticism is that if Tim Tebow cannot pass, he can only run.
While he has shown impressive foot speed, the fact that Tebow seems to run better than he throws is problematic if we’re talking about a quarterback. Over his four starts, Tebow has gained 281 yards on the ground in 41 carries, scoring one touchdown.
John Fox must really have a set of lousy quarterbacks on his bench if he cannot start one who throws.
Tebow frequently looks to run more than to pass, essentially removing any threat to defenses through the air. His run-first attitude is not becoming of an NFL quarterback, and he should be derided for it.
Answer: Tebow Has Won Games Primarily with His Legs
Again, much like my answer to the first piece of criticism, it doesn’t matter that Tebow specializes in running as long as the team is winning games.
At 6’3’’, 236 lbs, Tebow is built like a running back and frequently acts like one. He masks his inability to throw by being a consistent threat on the ground, and so far, that’s been a winning formula for the Broncos.
Unfortunately, he’s done so against the soft part of the schedule. Miami is terrible this year, the Raiders and Chiefs are sliding and Detroit is out of form. Three out of those four teams boast rushing defenses in the bottom fourth of the NFL, with only the Dolphins surprisingly in the top 10.
If Tebow can continue to run effectively against teams like the Jets, Chargers, Patriots and Bears (all of whom he will play), then he will be for real on the ground. Until then, Tebow has shown he can be a consistent rushing threat against mediocre defenses—one of the few things he has done well as the starting quarterback.
Criticism: Tebow Only Plays Well in the Fourth Quarter
As the starter, Tim Tebow has displayed an unfortunate habit of not playing well in games until the fourth quarter. While that trait is celebrated in so-called “crunch-time” quarterbacks like Tom Brady, Tebow’s play is so lackluster outside the final 15 minutes that he is criticized for waiting too long.
Most famously, in his first start in 2011 against the Miami Dolphins, Tebow went 4-of-14 over the first 55 minutes of the game before leading his team back from 15 down to force overtime.
As bad as he looked for most of the game, Tebow somehow manufactured 15 points, including a two-point conversion he scored himself, to force overtime, where the Broncos eventually won.
Tebow also threw perhaps his best pass yet to Eric Decker in the fourth quarter against the Kansas City Chiefs. The former Gator threw a perfect 56-yard bomb to a streaking Decker to seal the win.
His fourth-quarter heroics are as surprising as they are frustrating. If Tebow could throw like that for the entire game, we wouldn’t be having this discussion. Unfortunately, his poor play for most of the game invites derision.
Answer: Tebow Is Slowly Improving His Play over the Game’s Entirety
While it’s easy to nitpick two performances in which he struggled for most of the game, Tebow has slowly improved his overall play as the games have gone by.
Sure, a 2-of-8 performance through the air against Kansas City looks bad on paper, but he did much more with his feet throughout the whole of that game which doesn’t appear on the stat sheet.
Other than his comeback win over Miami, Tebow has been able to play effectively, whether by air or land, over the full 60 minutes. He was an excellent game manager in Denver's win against Oakland, and he showed more of that in the Chiefs game.
After four starts, I’m not sure it’s fair to criticize Tebow as an “only in the fourth quarter” QB anymore. He threw and ran for over 100 yards against the Raiders, something you cannot do only in the fourth. He’s learning how to manage the game, and that’s all Bronco fans should expect from him.
Criticism: Tebow Can Only Work in One Style of Offense
Part of Tim Tebow’s early struggles could be accounted for by the fact that he was playing in an offense which catered to the talents of a pocket-passer like Kyle Orton. Only when John Fox began implementing an offense styled out of the college spread did Tebow begin to succeed.
Isn’t that a knock on Tebow that he can’t operate a pro-style offense? He’s had to have an offense specifically tailored to his running talent to have any success in this league. Originally, that’s what former head coach Josh McDaniels had in mind when he drafted Tebow, but he was fired before the kid ever got a real shot.
The fact that Tebow can only succeed through zone-read fakes and quarterback draws seems to speak to his weakness as a quarterback. Traditionally, if a quarterback can’t make a three-step drop and hit an open receiver consistently, he can’t make it in the league.
If Tebow can’t be flexible offensively, how can he be a legitimate QB in the NFL?
Answer: Most Quarterbacks Have Preferential Offenses
Think most quarterbacks don’t have systems tailored to their skills? Think again.
Look at what’s happened to the Indianapolis Colts without Peyton Manning. That team designed a potent passing offense so closely around his skill set that few other quarterbacks could probably operate in it.
Look at the New England Patriots and Tom Brady. While Brady himself had to adapt his West Coast skills from Michigan to Bill Belichick’s Erhardt-Perkins offense, that offense has evolved over the years to accommodate Brady’s immobility. Just as Tebow wouldn’t do well in Belichick’s offense, it’s almost comical to imagine Brady operating in a spread-styled offense.
To a certain extent, every offense in the league is retrofitted around the skills of whichever quarterback happens to start. If teams plan well, they’ll have backups who can function inside the same type of offense that the starter can.
In Denver, Tebow was unlike Kyle Orton or Brady Quinn in that he was not a pocket-passers, but a runner, and the offense needed to change dramatically to accommodate him. It’s not a negative that Tebow can’t function outside of his zone reads, it’s actually a positive that his coaches believe in him enough to try it.
In that respect, Tebow is no different than any QB in the league. He just operates under center very differently. Winners of three of their last four, Denver is very much in the race for the AFC West and might be on to something.
Criticism: Tebow Won’t Last as an NFL QB
Due to his limited skill set and the high probability of injury inside the only kind of offense he can run, it’s hard to imagine that Tim Tebow will last long as an NFL quarterback.
As we previously discussed, the Denver Broncos run a spread-styled offense for Tebow, which takes advantage of his running speed. By spreading out receivers and faking a handoff to his running back, Tebow can use his legs to get outside the pocket for big runs into the secondary.
He can use zone reads to determine whether it would be wise to actually hand the ball off or execute the fake and keep it for himself. A large part successfully executing a zone read is checking how committed the defense is to the running back. If they don’t bite on the back, hand it off. If they over-commit to plugging up the hole inside, keep it and run for your life.
Constantly running as a quarterback might work well in college, but usually, NFL defenses are too savvy or physical for that offense to be used reliably. Putting your quarterback in danger on every other play is not a recipe for keeping him healthy. Tebow seems physically fit, but how long will he stay that way after taking repeated punishment from hard-hitting defenders?
Add in his struggles through the air, and can you realistically say Tebow is a franchise quarterback? Could you build a team around a guy who is one big hit away from missing games?
Answer: Tebow Isn’t a Franchise QB Anyway
Despite fans' support that borders on religious-grade fervency, Tim Tebow has never been franchise material at quarterback.
Without dramatically improving his passing skills, Tebow won’t be able to last long in the NFL as a QB, but honestly? That was never what he was supposed to be in the first place.
Don’t get me wrong, I genuinely like the guy, but drafting him to be a starter under center was a mistake. At best, Tebow should have been a package guy, someone who could reliably come off the bench and give the defense a different look, maybe in some sort of wildcat formation.
There is no way Tebow can last as an every-down QB with Denver forced to run an offense that defenses will eventually figure out. Once they do, it’s game over.
I do see a future for Tebow in the league, but not as a quarterback. The kid is a good enough athlete that he could probably make it at tailback on some teams, and he is good enough in the locker room for teams to be willing to work with him.
Right now, Tebow is living the dream. Sit back and enjoy it while you can, Broncos fans.