On gunslinging and rookie quarterbacks

I’d like to tell you a story, because, let’s face it, I always set up my football articles with personal stories which may or may not be relevant to my chosen football topic.  You know what, though?  It’s my platform, and I get to say what I want.  This story takes place last Wednesday, December 29th, in lovely Cleveland, Ohio.  I like the Christmas season, without actually liking the holiday itself.  The reason I like it is that a lot of my closest friends who’ve skipped town for jobs, or spouses, or whatever, come home for the holidays.

Last Wednesday, I organized a get-together at a bar called Becky’s, which is right behind my alma mater, Cleveland State University.  It was my fraternity’s key hangout when I was an undergraduate, and it’s pretty central to the Cleveland metro area, which runs east and west along Lake Erie.  I invited about 30 people on Facebook, and about 20 showed up, which is a good turnout.  It was lots of fun.  It came to pass, at around 11:30 PM, that a long-time female friend of mine, Ashley, asked me to help her with something.  She had taken her boyfriend’s truck, and she had had a couple drinks, and it occurred to her as she was getting ready to leave that there was a loaded gun in the glovebox.

She’s not such a gun person, and really, neither am I, but I was in the military, so I’ve used them before.  She was (smartly) worried that if she got pulled over after drinking any alcohol at all, and the gun was found, she’d be charged with a felony.  I was asked to unload the gun, and agreed to do so.  She, and I, and another guy went out to the parking lot, and she showed me the gun in the glovebox, a holstered .38 revolver.  I am more of a 9 millimeter guy, but whatever, I figured out how the cylinder released, and I dumped the bullets into my left hand.

As this was happening, a random vagrant-looking fellow came up behind us, and hollered something on the order of “Yo, yo, yo!”  My friend Kevin told the guy that we were in the middle of something, and he told us that that had nothing to do with him.  I told him that it did, in fact, and that we needed him to move along.  He saw the gun in my right hand, and said “Oh, you’re going to pull a gun on me, huh?”  Then he pulled his own 9 millimeter, and showed it to us.  He was about 5 feet away from me, and I instantly went on alert when I saw it.

I can honestly say that I wasn’t scared, but I’ll get back to that.  I looked at the guy, and I focused on his right hand, and I calmly explained to him what I had been doing, and why, and that we weren’t a threat to him.  I asked him again to move on, wished him a good night.  He paused for a second, and then put the gun away, and did so, and was grumbling that all he wanted was 3 dollars so he could get something to eat.  In hindsight, I wish I’d given it to him, because I respect him for being calm, and for not raising up with the gun.  If he had, I was 100% ready to charge him, and then, who knows what the outcome would have been?

First of all, on not being scared,  that was the third time I’d had a gun pulled on me, and it ended up being the third time I’d talked my way out of trouble.  I was a very scared teenager the first two times, but I got through it.  Afterward, my heart had gone a mile a minute.  In this moment, both Kevin and Ashley were calm, or at least silent, in the moment, and were upset afterward.  This time, I was perfectly calm, both before and afterward, and I’m still surprised by that.  I can only conclude that it’s because it wasn’t my first rodeo.  I’m glad to be alive, and in good health, but if the guy had raised up, I was more than ready to fight, and let it be what it would be.  You deal with the situations life gives you, the best you can.

So, now onto Quarterbacks.  Think about a rookie Quarterback, who’s never been on an NFL field, against NFL competition, and NFL schemes.  How many of these guys have you seen just look overwhelmed, especially in their first few games?  Remember Jay Cutler’s awful first start against Seattle?  Joe Flacco struggled in his debut in 2008.  Matt Stafford looked lost in his first start in 2009.  Mark Sanchez started pretty strong, but finished his rookie year with 26 interceptions. This year, how about Jimmy Clausen?  Or maybe Colt McCoy?  Even Sam Bradford had a fairly rough first start.

Very few players start out looking comfortable or efficient, because it’s pretty hard to be either thing.  Josh Freeman and Matt Ryan had about the best recent starting debuts, and Freeman completed less than 50% of his throws, while Ryan only had 13 attempts, amid a run-heavy attack.  Tim Tebow has never looked rattled, for even one moment.  From the perspective of the eye test, that’s the most impressive thing to me.  It’s frankly shocking, when you think about it.  Has he even had to burn a timeout because he was confused, or taken a delay-of-game penalty, yet?  I don’t remember anything like that, personally.  It’s almost like he’s had a gun pulled on him once or twice in the past, and he knows how to act in those situations.  Maybe big-game experience in college translates better than people think it does.

Let’s actually expand our thinking, and get statistical, and consider the first three starts of these guys against Tim Tebow’s.  We’ll compare apples-to-apples below:

The leaders in each category are in green.  A few things jump out quickly, don’t they?  First of all, Tebow sweeps the rushing stats, which is no surprise.  Some people are going to say that that is somehow negative, but they’re full of crap.  We’ll get back to that.  Just generally, it’s clear that Tebow compares just fine as a passer when stacked up against these other players, who are either good, most probably going to be good, or 2010 highly-drafted rookies.  There’s no JaMarcus Russell, Matt Leinart, Vince Young, or Brady Quinn to bring the averages down here.

Getting specific, you can also notice that Tebow has the lowest completion percentage, but the highest yard-per-attempt.  Doesn’t it seem like that shouldn’t compute?  He had 41 throws that definitionally got nothing, but he still led the way in yards-per-attempt.  Well, for one thing, he’s the only guy on this list who had a 300 yard passing day in his first three starts.  For another, check out this supplemental chart, featuring yards per completion:

Player Team Year YPC
Jay Cutler DEN 2006 12.33
Matt Ryan ATL 2008 15.03
Joe Flacco BAL 2008 10.23
Matthew Stafford DET 2009 10.87
Mark Sanchez NYJ 2009 12.37
Josh Freeman TB 2009 11.21
Sam Bradford DET 2010 9.49
Jimmy Clausen CAR 2010 10.97
Colt McCoy CLE 2010 11.50
Tim Tebow DEN 2010 16.28

That’s the real story there.  Completion percentage is a fairly worthless statistic, because it measures completions against attempts, and all completions and attempts are clearly not created equally.  It’d be a little hard to track discretely, but a better measure would be a weighted average, with weighting based upon distance the ball the travels in the air.  Yards per attempt is the best mainstream statistic available, but it can even be inflated by a lot of yards-after-catch.

In any case, when you’re averaging more than 16 yards per completion, you’re going down the field with the football, and you’re going to throw some incompletions, rookie or not.  I know what you’re thinking. How does 16.28 yards/completion stack up against the rest of the NFL?  Check out the top 10 for the 2010 season:

Tebow’s 16.28 yards per completion would lead the NFL, by far, over a full season.  His 8.04 yards per attempt would be fifth, behind Philip Rivers, Aaron Rodgers, Ben Roethlisberger, and Michael Vick, and just ahead of Tom Brady.  The difference between first and fifth is his 49.4% completion percentage.

I’ve seen a lot of hand-wringing among un-knowledgeable media people about Tebow’s “inaccuracy”, so let me reiterate this.  It’s a small sample, but 49.4% completion percentage is the difference between first in the NFL, and fifth, in terms of productivity on a per-attempt basis.  You’d like to to be first, but fifth is pretty good, right?  It may be a small sample, but I have a lot of reason to believe that with absolutely no improvement, Tebow could continue to put up the numbers that he’s put up over the last 3 games.  He’s always thrown a great deep ball, and that’s what has been putting up these numbers.

It’s not at all realistic, though, to expect that Tebow won’t improve.  He’s already improved his mechanics and pocket presence, a lot, and he’s well-known for being the hardest-working Bronco.  He’s going to keep hitting the screens, and improving on it, and he’s going to learn how to hit checkdowns.  Once, he does, his completion percentage will be in the low 60s, and he’ll still be super-dangerous down the field.  Safeties can’t sell out for the deep pass, because they have to watch him in the running game, and it’s only going to get worse when he improves his short passing.

On to the topic of Tebow’s running, I wish a lot of people would shut the hell up about it.  More than any player I’ve ever seen, people love to deduct points from Tebow because he has extra skills which aren’t usually seen at his position.  I’ve said that before, and it’s as true as ever, as completely asinine as it is.  Now, the narrative is that you can’t play like he plays over a long period of time.  How do you know?  There’s never been a player like him before, so nobody knows.  I think his college performance indicates that he probably can run the ball 8-10 times a game, and stay healthy enough in doing so.  He was running it an average of 12 times per game in college.  I know, I know, it’s college, but the SEC annually has (clearly) the biggest, fastest, and best defensive players in the country, and he was running a lot of straight up dive plays, which should only be run in goal-line situations in the NFL.  He missed only one start in college, and it was due to a concussion suffered on a blind-side sack, when his right tackle completely whiffed on a block, and Kentucky’s DE got a clean, full-speed shot on Tebow.  He tended to lead with his right shoulder, intelligently, and while it was banged up in his junior year, he played through it.

Something like 2 goal-line runs, 3-4 QB draws, and 4-5 scrambles per game is sustainable for a guy who is as big, tough, and strong as Tebow is.  He’ll learn to slide and go out of bounds some, but when you need him to run somebody over, he will.  Remember, this is the strongest human being ever to play the position, stronger, even, than 80% of the defensive linemen in the NFL.  Running the ball is always going to be a weapon for Tebow, and it’s one that should be embraced, not discouraged.

The running threat combines with the threat of the deep ball, and defenses are severely threatened.  They’ve been more threatened the last three weeks than they were with Kyle Orton under center, haven’t they been?  Orton was hitting throws, but good defenses were able to adjust to that, and limit it.  He struggled mightily against the blitz, so everybody started blitzing him.  Tebow is a huge threat to escape the blitz, and exploit a lot of open field, and that has to give you pause.  Wait until the pass patterns are designed to take advantage of Tebow’s mobility next season, like they were when John Elway was around.

John Bena of Mile High Report wrote a story today which posited that willingness to work with Tebow shouldn’t be a prerequisite for hiring a new coach.  I respect John, but I couldn’t disagree more.  Tebow is a transcendent talent, a great team leader, and a winner. As I write this, I’m watching Andrew Luck in the Orange Bowl, and I like Luck, but I’d rather have Tebow.  Luck is going to be a more mobile Matt Ryan, showing very comparable (excellent) accuracy and poise, and (strictly average) arm strength.  (Luck’s opponent Tyrod Taylor from Virginia Tech actually a significantly stronger arm than Luck does.)  Luck is a franchise quarterback, but Tebow is a franchise player, which is different.

Being a franchise player goes beyond what you can do on the field.  It’s how you lead, it’s how you present yourself to the public, and it’s how you become the embodiment of your team, without even necessarily trying to be that.  It’s the guy that you just KNOW is going to dominate, and make it really hard to beat his team.  There have only been three of them lately in the whole NFL, and Tebow is the fourth.  Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, Ray Lewis, and Tim Tebow.  This is the guy who finally has the IT needed to fully succeed John Elway, and BE the Denver Broncos.

Everybody knows that I’ve been on the Tebow bandwagon since I first saw him play at Florida, and you know that if I’m wrong, I’ll cop to being wrong.  I’m not, though.  Given some decent help from the front office and coaching staff, Tim Tebow is going to win Super Bowls, plural, and he’s going to do it in a Denver Broncos uniform.  It’s just like Champ Bailey said; I’ve never seen a winner not win.

On a final note, let’s do our part to retire the word gunslinger, vis-a-vis characterizing quarterbacks, okay?  It’s a stupid term, and it basically minimizes gun violence, which is very serious.  It’s a lot like calling a scandal whatevergate, or a Draft room a War Room.  Gun violence, Watergate, and wars are very serious things, and they shouldn’t be equated with much less serious things, because it damages people’s perspective and understanding.  Thanks.

/dismount from soap box

Originally posted at One Man Football

1.  I’m not in the arguing business, I’m in the saying what I think business.
2.  I get my information from my eyes.

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