Defending Tebow (just a little)

I find myself in a strange place today. I'm going to speak in defense of Tim Tebow.

It's an interesting time in Broncos history. I can't remember a time when a Broncos player--in a matter of one week--has gone from the highest of highs to the lowest of lows. Tim Tebow was a polarizing figure to begin with, but his performance against the Lions last week seemed to give every Tebow critic the opportunity to jump into the arena.

As an OG of Tebow critics, my personal space was being violated. Every analyst in the entire world, outside of Mike Lombardi, said Tebow regressed from the week before in Miami. John Elway's assessment was only slightly better. He said Tebow simply hadn't improved.

It was suddenly safe to come out of the closet; declaring oneself openly anti-Tebow was cool.

The worst of these criticisms went something like this: Tim Tebow is the dumbest quarterback in the league and reads a defense like a high-school quarterback.

This sort of criticism seems particularly brutal; it strikes me as piling on.  I also believe it's wrong.

I took a look at two plays from last week's game to find out for myself.  I didn't want to cherry pick any particular play, so I simply grabbed Tebow's first two sacks of the day.  I also wanted to keep things as objective as possible (given my own bias against Tebow) so I clocked Tebow's sacks using this cool online tool.  Tebow had been accused of actually causing most, if not all, of his sacks last week.  If this were true, it would be reflected in the sack times.

We know that, on average, sacks in the NFL--from the snap of the ball until the first hit--take about 2.7 to 2.8 seconds.

Sack 1 - Elapsed Time: 1.954 seconds

Tebow's first sack of the day came as quickly as you are going to see in the NFL.  There are two frames worth noting.  The first is what Tebow saw on his presnap read:

As I said last week, I refuse to believe Tebow is as stupid as many analysts are saying.  I am 100% sure he quickly assimilated and recognized the above coverage in his presnap read.  This coverage is clearly a Cover 1 with man coverage underneath; the easy and clear indicator is the free safety in the deep middle of the field.  The cornerbacks are also playing at the line of scrimmage with inside leverage (using the sideline as an extra defender). 

This is a coverage Detroit played for much of the game.  For your assistance, I took the liberty of drawing the route of Tebow's primary wide receiver, Demaryius Thomas.  He is supposed to get to the sticks and come back.  The key question here is how long do you think it takes Thomas to run a route like this?  Here's the next slide:

I stopped the play about 1.7 seconds in.  Notice that Thomas (1), still hasn't finished his route. 

Guess who is almost finished, though?  Cliff Avril, that's who.  He's reached Tebow at light speed--so fast, in fact, that the wide receiver hasn't even had time to get to his break.  Too late, Tebow takes the strip sack, and his elongated motion wouldn't have mattered anyway.  

The point of showing this play is two fold: First, it's to show that Tebow's presnap read and choice of receiver was more than adequate (were Thomas was his primary read or not).  Second, it's to show that the sack came too quickly (almost a full second, in fact) for Tebow to have done anything different other than to possess eyes in the back of his head.

Sack 2 - Elapsed Time: 2.859 Seconds

Tebow's second sack was on par with the league average.  Here's how things looked presnap:

We see the Lions playing Cover 1 yet again. And again, we see it's man coverage underneath.  We also see the Lions trying to disguise the blitz by playing slightly back from the line.  Nice try, but it's obvious they are coming.

Tebow has three routes to choose from, but really, it's two. Outside receiver Demaryius Thomas' job is to clear out for Eric Decker. Decker's job is to get to the sticks with his out route.

I've highlighted the defensive back on Decker because I believe it's the key to Tebow's decision and presnap read on this play. The defender is playing with outside leverage, so Tebow probably thinks he's predisposed for the flat.  He should ignore this, however.  Thomas' job is to pick off Decker's man as we see here.  That's the reason for the route combination.

At any rate, he's left with Eddie Royal right up the middle, and right into the teeth of the Cover-1 safety. It's a recipe for trouble. The next slide will show why:

I stopped the tape at about 2.2 seconds into the play. Tebow is in real trouble already. First, although it's hard to see perfectly from this angle, Orlando Franklin is beaten badly. Cliff Avril is steamrolling towards Tim.  Second, Tebow has chosen poorly. He's looking for Royal, but Royal's route led him into the coverage.  

The correct decision here is to hit Decker in the flat--no matter what else Tebow thinks he sees. The play is designed for Thomas to clear and for Decker's out pattern. Decker (given what we see on this play) was probably Tebow's primary receiver. Tebow went away from him, though, and from a young quarterback's perspective, it's understandable. His presnap read told him that Decker's defender would be covering the flat and giving away the inside route. Since he knew Decker wasn't going to the inside, he was fearful of putting the ball there. In fact, he didn't even look.

But the option he's taking here is worse.  Royal had no chance of getting open.  Perhaps Tebow thought Royal would be a better option with the blitz coming, but Royal's route wasn't made to beat the blitz.  

Would Tebow have gone back to Decker on this read?  We'll never know.  A half-second later, he was sacked.

Depending on your point of view, one is left with one of two conclusions.  Either Tebow can't read a simple Cover-1 defense, and therefore has no idea to whom he should throw the ball (causing a sack that correlates to the league average) or, conversely, that he actually tries to make a read, but that read happens to be wrong.  Again, I choose to believe the latter.  It would be unfathomable to think Tebow is that out of touch with the game of football as to not recognize this coverage (young quarterbacks have been known to make stupid reads, after all).

Yet that's exactly what many analysts will have you believe--Tim Tebow is the stupidest man in football.

Question Tebow's accuracy; question his timing and progressions; even Christian ponder his offseason book tour and sponsorship deals at the expense of his committment to working with a quarterback tutor like Cam Newton did; wonder why eighteen months isn't enough time to make a dent in a seven-step drop; yell feverishly at television that he still throws the football like an outfielder; but don't play the Forrest Gump card, please.  The guy scored a 22 on his Wonderlic, which is still six points higher than Dan Marino.  Run, Marino, Run!

Stuff That Doesn't Get Clicks or Promise-Ring Chicks

1. It will be interesting to see what happens if Tebow goes into Oakland and gets the win.  I'm guessing we'll see the pundits pull the intangibles card back out of the deck as they backpedal quickly away from Tebow-as-Rain Man narrative.   Conversely, if Tebow tanks, watch the entire planet jump into Merril Hoge's camp (possibly John Fox as well).  If you thought this week was piling on, you ain't seen nothin' yet.  I'll be worried for Tebow's mental health, and that's no joke.  This week, he already began bristling when reporters brought up the anonymous quote from Mike Silver that he was a "joke."  Certain reporters are cackling in delight at Tebow's potential demise.  If they get the chance to hasten his fall, they are going to bring out the daggers, fair or otherwise.

2. All of this being said, I don't feel bad for Tebow.  How could you?  The guy is already wealthier than your children's children's children (but not Garth Brooks').   The orphans will be doing alright after he's done with them.  He could walk onto the set of the 700 Club right now and sell portable cold-fusion machines.  You want to feel sorry for someone? Feel sorry for someone like Eric LeGrand, who is getting back to a normal life again after breaking his neck during a game.

3. What will the legion of Tebow supporters (Mark Schlereth has been affectionately calling them cult-like) do if Tebow wins?  Silently pray and send ESP blessings?  I doubt it.  Three words: Book of Revelation.  You might want to go brush up on it (that thing gets interpreted literally, bro) before you notice a weird marking on your body Monday morning.

4. John Elway is scouting Andrew Luck?  It's shocking.  Suggesting Elway and John Fox wanted Luck (or Wonder Twin, Matt Barkley) this whole time was crazy, right?  I've never heard so much distancing language coming from a general manager and coach.  You didn't need police training or facial-cue recognition software to figure it out.  Just a pencil and some dots.

5. I don't understand why you keep talking about Tebow.  Why aren't you guys talking about Rahim Moore?  Already did, pal, in last weeks' Mail Revue, complete with slides.  But you don't really care, do you?  All you want is Tebow 24/7, 365.  We know.  We look at the numbers.

6. Peyton Hillis, stop behaving so badly. Don't you know that your gritty white boy and blue-collar redneck parking permit is about to expire unless you add a few  coins to the He's Like Us meter?

7. Can Carson Palmer beat the Broncos this weekend?  The Raiders might win, but Palmer is going to look as bad as people expect Tebow to play.  If there is a week to win the turnover margin, this is it. T.J. Houshmandzadeh may have a cool first name, but the magic he and Palmer shared turned to ice a long time ago.

8. I couldn't go another day without thanking Philip Rivers for his divisional gift the other night.  Not only did he cost his team a victory, but he might have ensured that Todd Haley remains the coach of the Chiefs for another year.  That can't be a bad thing.  The last thing I need to see is Josh McDaniels returning to the AFC West next year.  Now, if we can somehow keep Norv Turner in place, we'll be okay.

9. Von Miller will win Defensive Rookie of the Year.  I don't care what anyone says.

10. The Broncos are two games out of first place.  Why does it feel like they are five games back?

I’m glad we had this talk.  Now, vaya con Dios, Brah.

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