Thoughts on the Broncos’ QB situation

It seems to be sucking all of the oxygen out of the room lately, so I decided to weigh in on the Broncos' QB situation.  Another voice in the crowd sounds off, right?  So why even bother to do it?  I’m doing it because this is IAOFM, and we’re here to produce the best Broncos content in the world.  We’re not going to beat other sites on quantity, but we’ll crush them on quality every day.  Today is Friday, so here goes.

I have some thoughts about this whole holistic Orton-Tebow discussion that I’m simply going to lay out by number and discuss.  From the department of analysis in the face of sucky journalism:

1.  Quarterback competitions are stupid, and this is not a quarterback competition that's going on in Denver.  There’s an old football adage that if you have two QBs, you have no QB.  Inept teams allow themselves to be in this situation, and I don’t think for a second that this football management team in Denver is inept.

A team’s direction at the QB position is a key organizational decision.  It’s not something that should be left to who looks better in practice, or in some preseason games.  To do that is to idiotically behave as if there is nothing more riding on the decision than a subjective value judgment of on-field aesthetics, or some stats on a piece of paper.  There’s simply a lot more to the decision than that.

If you’re doing QB competitions for any reason other than the optics of creating drama and/or letting the fans and media down easy, you have a loser program in place, and the football leadership is going to get fired before long.  I don’t care if you’re talking about Tarvaris Jackson vs. Charlie Whitehurst or John Beck vs. Rex Grossman; the players in both cases may seem roughly even (in lousiness), but I promise you that the Seahawks and Redskins have an organizational strategy that favors one player over the other.

The Broncos are not holding a QB competition.  They pretty clearly made an organizational decision in the offseason that going with Tim Tebow is their long-term strategy.  They then attempted to turn Kyle Orton around for a useful asset and had that process go a little bit sideways, at least for now.  I believe that the Broncos still want to go with Tebow, and that they’re keeping their options open with Orton for now.

Some of you will undoubtedly point out that the Broncos are giving Orton all of the first-team reps, and that’s true.  The Broncos may go with him as the starter in the short-term, but unless he leads them to unexpected success, I’d be shocked if it lasted very long.  I still think a trade is more likely before the season starts.

2.  Practically nobody who has been commenting on the performance of the QBs in camp really knows what the hell they’re talking about when it comes to QBs.  The most intelligent analysis has been from Cecil Lammey of, but he’s the only person with any semblance of a clue who has been in camp and evaluating the play of the QBs.  As TJ mentioned yesterday, that doesn’t mean that they aren’t allowed to have opinions, it just means that you probably should be careful how much stock you put in those opinions.

Do you want to know how you tell who’s full of crap in talking about the QB position?  If they’re regurgitating “scouting points” that they heard about at a cursory level during Draft season, then they almost certainly don’t know what they’re talking about.

Scouts like ideal mechanics and technique because it mitigates some projection risk for them, and in their minds, it lessens the likelihood that a misevaluation will make them look bad.  If one guy throws the ball very similarly to another guy, the scout feels more confident in comparing the two players.  If a guy with sub-optimal mechanics ends up being really good, though, the scouts that didn’t like him can always say, well, he improved his mechanics in little ways since I evaluated him out of college, and that’s why he ended up being able to play.  In other words, it’s much less risky for a scout to say a guy can’t play than it is for one to say that he can.

Ideal mechanics aren’t strictly necessary, though, not in the least.  That’s not what ESPN will tell you, but that’s because Trey Wingo is a grinning know-nothing jackass, and most of the rest of the crew at the Worldwide Leader are right there with him.  Watch Philip Rivers throw the ball sometime, and tell me that he has a textbook delivery, and I’ll laugh you out of the room.  Rivers can play in the NFL, though, right? 

It’s funny, because Rivers’ sub-optimal throwing mechanics received a lot less scrutiny than Tebow’s have, and I maintain that that is because Tebow is a great athlete who’s dangerous with his feet.  It somehow was easier for people to picture the slow-footed, weird-throwing Rivers as a “pro-style” QB coming out of college, than it was/is the quick-footed, equally weird-throwing Tebow.  I continue to consider this to be a myopic penalization of Tebow for having more skills rather than less skills.

As I've mentioned before, I’m a second-year golfer, and I’m very inconsistent at it. I can hit shots that really good players hit sometimes, and I can duff the ball 25 yards on the ground with a 3 hybrid at other times.  When I started last year, I took five group lessons with a golf pro, which were held at a very basic level - like how to grip a golf club.  This year, I’m currently taking more group lessons with the same pro at an intermediate level. 

When I was at the lesson last Tuesday, the pro was talking to the whole group about how you don’t want your swing to be either too vertical or too horizontal; you want a swing plane that’s roughly evenly vertical and horizontal.  Then he came to me individually and told me that I’m really vertical, but that it seems to work for me more often than not, so he wanted to encourage me to tweak my swing to just be slightly more angled than is currently my habit.

This golf pro recognizes that not everybody is going to be naturally geared to swing exactly the same way, so he moves players toward building their mechanics in a direction that will be consistently effective for them.  That’s what a QB coach does too, and it’s the difference between a coach and a scout.  A golf scout would say that I can’t play, and that I’ll never be consistent.  A golf coach would say that I need some work in a few small ways, and that I can definitely have consistent mechanics and effectiveness if I work at it.

Perfect mechanics don’t win football games - making plays wins football games.  Next time you hear anybody from the Denver Post or any Broncos website other than this one dogging Tebow for his mechanics, I recommend that you laugh at them otherwise and ignore it.  They’re equating a qualifier that scouts use to cover their asses with a measure of on-field success.  Can the guy make the plays?  That is the only pertinent question.

3.  As Cris Collinsworth says, wait until the fist fight starts, and then judge. 

One thing I have learned over the years is that there are a lot of guys who look great in practice. Every year with the Bengals they would bring in guys that were freakish athletes for camp. Every year I found myself saying, "how am I going to beat THAT GUY out?" Then we put on the pads and started hitting. Amazing what happens to most of these freaks when their body is put in harms way.

Collinsworth is a Florida Gator, obviously, so he’s got love for Tebow, but that’s an insightful article from a smart guy who played the game for a long time.  It gets to the heart of something that I was talking to my brother Chris about the other night, which he agreed with.

Kyle Orton is very good when the offense is on schedule and the defense doesn’t know what’s coming.  Things are optimal, and he can drop back and put the ball where it needs to go.  At times, he looks as good as Tom Brady in doing so.  It all goes horribly wrong in long-yardage situations, though, when the defense knows that a pass is coming.  Brady, Peyton Manning, and Drew Brees stay calm and make plays in those situations, but Orton panics and fails to make those plays.

Orton also has poor timing and accuracy on screens, so they tend to be called infrequently with him in the game, and they’re mostly ineffective when he does run them.  This deficiency has to do with his poor feet, which get tangled up a lot of times in the chop-stepped/seemingly panicked dropback that QBs use for screens. 

I know what some of you Orton guys are thinking.  Wait a minute, you just said that people shouldn’t worry about mechanics.  I’m not; I’m talking about the typical results of an Orton screen, and then I’m saying why they mostly fail.  If he could make these plays smoothly and on time, and enable the receiver to gain yardage after the catch, I couldn’t care less if he hopped on one foot in his dropback and did a little spin move while singing Ring Around the Rosie.  My only concern for aesthetics is for what I wear, or how my home is decorated.  In football, I care about results.

I make the screen point again because it’s a key part of the reason why Orton faces so many third-and-long situations, and why he doesn’t convert a few more.  Effective screening is a good schedule-keeper on early downs, and it’s also good for picking up a couple third and longs per game.  That leads to a slowed-down pass rush, which leads to even more third-and-long success. 

If Orton improves his performance in these areas, I’ll be the first to say so, but I think I know what we’ve got there, and I personally find it to be wanting.  I recognize that we have a small sample size on Tebow, but I prefer what he does on the field in games to what Orton does.  If the team management regime sees that differently, then good for them.  I’m a Broncos fan, and they’re not asking for my opinion.  I do think that Tebow’s going to show really well in games during the preseason, though, and that that will make it harder to keep him on the bench, if that’s what the plan actually is.

4.  Tim Tebow’s stats over his three starts were actually excellent, and indicate that he’s ready to be the starter now, aesthetics be damned.  My Wordpress domain name for OneManFootball auto-renewed last month when I ignored some warning emails, so I got charged the $30 or whatever for the next year.  I had it redirecting to IAOFM, but since I don’t think anybody is probably looking for me there anymore, I took off the redirect today so that I could link to an article I wrote in January on this topic, and also to my piece on screens, which I linked above.

It allows me to reiterate the point that Tebow averaged 16.28 yards per completion in his three starts, and that that would have beaten the NFL’s league leader Ben Roethlisberger by 2.95 yards per completion, if you project it over a whole season.  His 8.04 yards per attempt would have been fifth in the NFL, and it was obviously only held back by a low completion percentage.

Then, there’s the fact that Tebow produced 199 yards on the ground and three rushing TDs in just three games.  You may not like running QBs that much sylistically, but do you not like yards and touchdowns?  That’s actual productivity that Tebow brought to the table in three actual NFL games.  It's productivity that Orton can't match, so he'd have to be vastly better at getting the ball down the field than Tebow, which he's not.  Orton averaged 12.4 yards per completion and 7.34 yards per attempt last season.  It's likely that Tebow's numbers would come down some over a larger sample size, but it's highly unlikely that they'd come down enough below Orton's to mitigate 700-800 rushing yards and 12 or so rushing TDs.

Right now, Tim Tebow is a better football player than Kyle Orton is, when the fist fight is going on.  If you want to have a QB be a guy who is a strictly an executor of the script and who never deviates from it, Orton is your guy.  Some coaches are like that, such as Brad Childress, who discourages any audibling or freelancing by the QB.  I think it’s arrogant, and that it’s tantamount to saying that scheme and play-calling from the sideline is what wins games, but some coaches are like that.

On the other hand, if you’re the kind of coach who wants to free up your great players to make plays, Tebow is your man in a landslide.  You know who else wasn’t a precision guy?  John Elway, that’s who.  He was a guy who needed the freedom to make plays, just like Tebow.  He had a much stronger arm than Tebow, and he wasn’t as good a runner as Tebow is, but that same backyard feeling where the best athlete on the field was going to make a play was there.

5.  It’s only the second week of training camp; relax.  Things are going to work themselves out.  I think that Tebow is the better player, and that it makes much more strategic sense to play him, and others like Orton better.  We’ll see what the team wants to do.  In any case, it will be the Denver Broncos on the field, and I’ll support what they decide to do, even if I don’t necessarily agree with it.  There are worse things than having two QBs who can competently start in the NFL, and maybe even a third, even if the present lack of clarity is a mite unsettling for now.

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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Ted's Analysis