Tebow & Elway — Cousins?

After Peyton Manning’s visit with the Broncos, several articles have appeared regarding its meaning for Tim Tebow.  The Wall Street Journal’s Jason Gay writes

This is a young quarterback who, for all his shortcomings, inefficiencies and bridling against convention, transformed the Broncos last season. After beginning the 1-4 under Kyle Orton, Tebow guided the Broncos to wins in seven of eight starts to put the Denver atop its division. They lost their final three games, but they slipped into the playoffs for the first time in seven seasons, winning a thrilling playoff game against the Pittsburgh Steelers before falling to New England in the next round.

Yahoo! Sports’ Michael Silver, a tough critic of Tebow, titled a recent column, “Tim Tebow Getting Shafted with Broncos’ Pursuit of Peyton Manning.”

Both writers acknowledge the fact that if Manning is obtainable (presumably on reasonable terms), then he makes the Broncos and most other teams better.  It’s not the pursuit by the Broncos, per se, troubling Gay and Silver but the indifference to Tebow in the way handling of the pursuit and the blatant signals about the underlying assessment of Tebow’s future.

The initial predictions that Tebow would fail with the subsequent feelings that his success could not endure strikes at the difficulty of managerial insight/foresight — “entrepreneurial activity” in a narrow sense.  As I wrote last August in NFL QB Bias, player shortcomings in obvious ways relative to peers stand out and capture the attention of “analysts” — passing accuracy, for instance — while implicit or less direct outcomes such as yards per completion are pushed to side points.  For example, in the playoff game with the Steelers, Tebow completed less than 50 percent of his passes — ridiculously low by current NFL standards.  However, his 30 yards per completion ranged off the charts on the positive side.  His running ability leads defenses to play in ways that create big opportunities.   Instead of defenses stacking the field with 5 or 6 defensive backs, many of whom are small cornerbacks, they play with a lineup resembling something out of the 1970s.  Yet, many “analysts” (and seemingly the Broncos) see the low percentage as a long run outcome and the big yards per completion as transitory — not as a fundamental shift, not as an alternative means of winning games over the long run.

It’s easy to dismiss Tebow.  After all, who would know better than his current coaches and GM?  This is where managerial econ discussions diverge from descriptive/positive econ discussions.  Didn’t Babe Ruth’s Red Sox managers know best — who would switch a highly successful pitcher to position player?  Weighing implicit costs and looking ahead is tricky business.

On a related point, ironically, Tim Tebow’s performances evoke images of John Elway himself, particularly in the first half of his career.  Somehow, this seems lost on most NFL commentators.  My lasting memories of young Elway are of him throwing a swing pass at a player’s shoes on one play, and then scrambling around and whipping a 50-yard rope for a TD on the next play.  Or, of a player not looking very good for 3 quarters and then playing much more effectively in the 4th quarter by improvising.  While effective, Elway’s performances, especially young Elway, do not jump out by standard metrics.  While maybe not brothers will Tebow’s stats, they are cousins.  Below, I list some of Elway’s stats in his 2nd and 3rd season alongside Tebow’s:

Elway(84,85)Tebow (2011)
Completion %5546
QB Rating7373
Game Winning Drives86

By 1993, Elway developed into a more polished passer as reflected in QB rating, TD-INT ratio and other stats.  Nonetheless, his career passing numbers look great only in a cumulative sense.  On a per season basis, they are ok.  His career QB rating of 79.9 rises slightly  above players from his own era such as Jim Everett (78), Jim McMahon (78), Chris Chandler (79) but below players such as Boomer Esiason (81), Bernie Kosar (81), Randall Cunningham (81), Rich Gannon (84), or Dan Marino (86).  His TD-INT ratio is a not-so-sparkling 300-226, and he was sacked a ton –second all time.  Often, the O-line is blamed, but players like Elway, Roethlisberger, Vick, Tebow hold the ball a long time, leading to high sack figures.

Was John Elway just an “ok” QB?  That’s not my theme.  Instead, he succeeded in the most important way — by winning games –in spite of rather obvious flaws.  His rushing yardage compensated, particularly late in games.  He rates second all-time in game-winning-drives.  It’s funny how QB running and improvising late in games is viewed as a good trait, but not in the first 50 minutes.   But, John Elway as GM (along with a lot of others) holds much less confidence in his playing cousin — Tim Tebow.



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Author: Brian Goff

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5 thoughts on “Tebow & Elway — Cousins?”

  1. Yes, the the average passer rating in the NFL has gone up in three decades as the game has changed (specifically certain rule changes). In the 80’s, teams were much more balanced between running and passing the ball. Where Elways 73 rating in ’84-’85 made him around average, Tebow in 2011 with a 73 rating makes him decidedly below average.

    Check out: http://www.coldhardfootballfacts.com/Articles/7_1907_Yearly_league-wide_passer_rating_&_passer_rating_leaders.html

  2. In 1984, Elway’s 56.3 completion % put him 14th out of 28 QBs.
    In 2011, Tebow’s 46.5 completion % put him 33rd out of 33 QBs (worst by 4%).
    The same can be done for QB rating.

    Obviously the passing game has drastically changed in the nearly 30 years between the two so to compare them outright is a mistake. So I don’t think young-Tebow is young-Elway.

  3. wait–a theme on this site is to measure a player’s contribution to his team’s wins. is that gone? everything I’ve seen about Tebow is that his production/contribution to the Broncos was negative vs. that of Kyle Orton. the offense scored less under Tebow, and their passive offense was definitely worse. a counterargument is that under Tebow their running offense took off–but I’m not sure that’s a convincing argument when it’s a result of the Broncos simply deciding to hand off a *lot* more with Tebow. they could have done that with Orton.

    as far as 4th quarter comebacks go, I sort of expected this blog to figure out that they’re *significantly* misleading as a metric of performance. impressive as they may be (and they are!), they are never necessary if your team is actually winning after three quarters.

    that’s not to condemn Tebow. I think the Broncos did the right thing last year and went with the player with more upside. but I’m not convinced it was him and not the defense that led their playoff push. but I also think they’re doing the right thing this year by doing the same thing–going after a player with a lot more upside.

  4. Peyton Manning has played 12+ seasons and won a lot of amazing games. Tim Tebow has played fewer games than Manning has played seasons. The Broncos did make it to AFC championship game, only to be blown out by the Patriots in a very lop-sided game. Maybe with Manning, the Broncos make the game much closer, maybe they win – who knows? I don’t think you can compare Tebow with Elway or Manning – that is just foolish and premature. The Broncos have the most salary cap room of any of Peyton’s suitors, but the Titans are throwing in probably some ownership shares. The Broncos would have to lose the option offense they put in for Tebow and put him in, maybe, 6 plays a game for trick plays. But I really don’t think signing Manning means Elway has given up on Tebow or is being disrespectful. There is too much of this disrespect crap in sports and the Bronco fans would overwhelmingly approve of bringing in Peyton. Tebow is for the future – Manning delivers now – if he stays healthy.

  5. two primary responsibilities of a qb are to move the ball downfield; and minimize turnovers. Wouldn’t the best stat be something like yards/game per turnover? after all, if you run for 6 yards vs throw a short pass for 6 yards; its still 2nd and 4 yet the passer gets to prop up his completion percentage.

    I have no idea where Tebow would rank on this scale vs other qb’s; but i suspect he’d do better than by “standard” metrics.

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