Tim Tebow's Success for the Denver Broncos Isn't as Far-Fetched as It Seems

Michael Schottey@SchotteyNFL National Lead WriterNovember 29, 2011

SAN DIEGO, CA - NOVEMBER 27:  Tim Tebow #15 of the Denver Broncos prays before the game against the San Diego Chargers at Qualcomm Stadium on November 27, 2011 in San Diego, California.  The Broncos went on to win 16-13 in overtime.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
Harry How/Getty Images

Tim Tebow is the most polarizing player in the NFL. Conventional wisdom says he shouldn't be able to succeed in the NFL, yet Tebow is 5-1 and no one seems to understand why.

Maybe it's time to be more than conventional as we talk about Tebow. Perhaps Tebow being successful is a known fact ,and rather than parroting the reasons he won't be successful, it would be wise to figure out why the Broncos' grand experiment is working.

The Definition of a Quarterback and Why Tim Tebow is a Great One

The most important facet to any Tebow discussion is a clarification of terms. Tim Tebow is a quarterback. In fact, he's actually a really good quarterback. Quarterbacks have always been judged on things like offensive efficiency, turnover differential and (most importantly) wins.

This isn't a new or novel concept. It's simply one that goes against the grain of NFL trends in 2011. In college football and in the pre-modern era NFL, great quarterbacks didn't necessarily have to be great passers.

"Slingin" Sammy Baugh split time between quarterback and halfback. Sid Luckman played tailback at Columbia. Joe Namath barely completed 50 percent of his passes during his career.

Horrible passer, heck of a quarterback.
Horrible passer, heck of a quarterback.David Maxwell/Getty Images
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All of those guys are Hall of Fame quarterbacks.

Where Tim Tebow fails, as did those men above, is as a passer. Tebow is not a very talented passer. In fact, if you go to ESPN.com, Tebow isn't even listed in the passing statistics because he doesn't make the minimum amount of attempts per game.

In nine appearances this year, Tebow has completed only 45.5 percent of his passes. For comparison, Aaron Rodgers and Drew Brees are both completing over 70 percent.

While there is little Tebow does well as a passer, there are things Tebow does well as a quarterback.

He doesn't turn the ball over—one interception and two fumbles in six starts. He gets the ball in the end zone—eight passing touchdowns and three rushing touchdowns. He keeps the ball out of the other quarterback's hands—the Broncos' offense has had the ball about a minute a game more than their opponents during Tebow's starts.

If Tebow doesn't fit the public's preconceived notions of what a quarterback should look like, maybe that isn't on Tebow. Maybe the paradigm has room for something different.

The NFL Is Ready for a Change at the Quarterback Position

The NFL is notoriously cyclical.

One minute, defense wins championships. Next, top offenses dominate. If you think spread offenses are innovative, take a look at Don Coryell's air attack in the 1980s. Teams that switch to the 3-4 defense in 2012 need to pay respect to Bud Wilkerson, who was running it at Oklahoma in the 1940s, or Bum Phillips, who brought it to the NFL in the 1970s. Meanwhile, the Patriots are switching back to the 4-3 and having more success rushing the passer than in the past.

NFL teams may be adapting to survive, but they're recycling old ideas more often than coming up with new ones.

Likewise, Tebow is not a new type of player. He is not a fad. He is not strange. He just isn't what we're used to.

For the last decade, teams have known that passing is the most direct path to a Super Bowl. Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees, Peyton Manning and Tom Brady have championship rings; Adrian Peterson, Chris Johnson and Matt Forte do not.

Because of that, defenses in the NFL have adapted to beat those quarterbacks. Edge rushers get faster, smaller and move farther away from the center of the field. Teams invest in nickle and dimebacks and teach their middle linebackers to drop back instead of step up into the hole.

Teams like the Philadelphia Eagles spend millions on cornerbacks and start rookies in their front seven.

What if, just if, the NFL is perfectly set up for a guy like Tim Tebow to succeed. For 14 or 15 games, teams have to game-plan for teams that want to pass more than they run (or at least as much). For the Denver Broncos, the script is flipped about as drastically as it can be.

Teams in the NFL today are not built to stop the Broncos, and right now, that is working in the Broncos' favor.

The Option Apparently Works in the NFL and Should Continue to Work

Eric Crouch would've loved the shot Tebow is getting.
Eric Crouch would've loved the shot Tebow is getting.Robert Laberge/Getty Images

For years, the common thread among analysts was that the option could never work in the NFL.

Now, the Denver Broncos are using it to lead the NFL in rushing offense, and Tebow isn't the sole reason. The Broncos have also gotten useful rushing yards from such elite running backs as Willis McGahee and Lance Ball.

If run correctly, against defenses that aren't equipped to stop it, the option attack can turn pedestrians into world-class athletes. When you start putting world-class athletes into the mix, special things can happen.

Tebow isn't a world-class athlete. He isn't a speedster, he isn't that quick and he isn't bigger than the linebackers he faces every weekend like he was in the SEC. If Tebow is going to be the quarterback of the future, the Broncos need to eventually put world-class athletes around him.

If the option is working now, it will work with better talent.

Another common objection is that teams will learn to stop the option.


Credit Chris Brown SmartFootball.com
Credit Chris Brown SmartFootball.com

Option football has been around since the 1940s and reached a heyday in the 1970s. If coaches have had 70 years to figure out the option, what will change in the next 10?

There is no easy way to stop the option. It's a numbers game, not a simple hope that the defense makes mistakes. The option is designed to create a two-on-one dilemma for the defense at various points on the field. If the offense is run correctly, every defender can do exactly what they're taught and still be wrong.

The Broncos are ahead of the game. They're learning option football faster than other teams can dedicate to learning how to stop it. More importantly, as teams learn how to stop the Broncos one way, the Broncos can run the option a thousand different ways.

Change personnel groups, change the mesh point, change the read, change the pre-snap motion, change the blocking scheme and so on.

The only thing that has ever stood in the way of a successful NFL option attack in the modern era is the money that NFL teams pay quarterbacks. That makes Tebow the perfect person to run this experiment. The Broncos are paying Tebow first-round money, but he's not able to return on their investment any other way.

John Fox Is Putting Together a Championship Defense, and Tim Tebow Is Helping Him

It is more than true that Denver's defense is more important to their success than Tebow has been.

That is OK.

Yet, football is not a game of 11-on-11. It is a game of offense, defense and special teams—multiple facets of the same team that play off each other in varied and unexpected ways. The excitement of one group can bleed into the play of another. The performance of one side can affect the statistical appearance of the other.

If a return man puts his offense in good field position, they will score more often. If a defense can get more stops, the offense gets more possessions to score. The offense turns the ball over consistently, the defense will tire more quickly and defend a short field more often.

Tebow has had an effect on the Broncos' defense. Kyle Orton led the Broncos to a 1-4 record. During that stretch, the Broncos gave up 28 points a game—including a 49-point beat down by the Green Bay Packers. With Tebow under center, the Broncos are 5-1, and their defense is giving up 20 points a game.

The San Diego Chargers were able to beat the Orton-led Broncos, scoring 29 points. Against the Tebow version, the Chargers were only able to score 13, and Tebow's offense was able to score in overtime.

The biggest reason the Broncos are winning, but he's getting help.
The biggest reason the Broncos are winning, but he's getting help.Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

Von Miller is the clear-cut pick for Defensive Rookie of the Year, and guys like Brodrick Bunkley, Champ Bailey, Chris Harris Jr. and Elvis Dumervil are having great seasons. Even guys like Andre' Goodman and Robert Ayers are having better seasons than expected under John Fox.

So, why the sudden improvement with a new quarterback?

Orton turned the ball over nine times in five games. Tebow has only turned the ball over three times in six games. Those are important numbers to a defense. Going out onto the field more than needed and in less-than-ideal situations puts pressure on a defense, pressure this Broncos defense didn't handle well.

Pressure they don't need to handle anymore.

Tim Tebow isn't what an NFL fan expects when he thinks of a quarterback, and he doesn't fit in with current NFL trends. So far, that's been all right for the Denver Broncos. This isn't about Tebow's faith or his intangibles. It's about wins and losses. The question is not about whether Tebow can win. He already has.

So, while everyone talks about why Tebow can't or why we should believe he can, let's change the conversation to what he does and why it works.

Michael Schottey is an NFL Associate Editor for Bleacher Report and an award-winning member of the Pro Football Writers of America. He has professionally covered both the Minnesota Vikings and the Detroit Lions, as well as NFL events like the scouting combine and the Senior Bowl. Follow him on Twitter.

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