Tim Tebow confounds quarterback metrics, moves Broncos closer to playoffs

December 6, 2011

Tim Tebow continues to confound critics and delight fans as he guides the Denver Broncos to win after win, moving them ever closer to a playoff spot. One victim of Tebow’s success has been the statistics-driven metrics that are supposed to define success at quarterback. As Joel Achenbach wrote :

Obviously, football has needed a way to recalibrate passing excellence over the course of many decades and changing rules. We need a new algorithm. This was what got me interested in the book idea. I’d come up with a new formula and it would make Joe Namath look like a great quarterback again and not so much like he should have been nicknamed Bowery Joe.

Well, naturally, other people had already thought of this idea. Indeed, sports in general has entered the Moneyball era, with sabermetrics all the rage [here’s Michael Lewis recalculating basketball excellence]. Everyone wants a better measure of performance. So here comes ESPN this year with a whole new algorithm for measuring quarterbacks. ESPN calls it QBR. As I understand it, ESPN has spent several years and gobs of money analyzing every single play by every single quarterback, assigning value and virtue based on a complex set of criteria that can only be calculated with the computers being used by the Large Hadron Collider to discover the hypothetical Higgs particle.

There’s just one problem with ESPN’s new algorithm: It can’t figure out Tim Tebow.

According to ESPN, Tebow is terrible. He can’t play this game. He ranks 30 out of 34 quarterbacks this season. He hasn’t had as good a year as, for example, Rex Grossman, according to ESPN’s metrics. The system uses a scale of 0 to 100, with 50 being the hypothetical average performance for a quarterback, and Tebow is well below average at 36.3..

This is all scientific and precise. QBR measures passing, running, fumbling, sacks taken, audibles slurred, egregious sideline posing, questions dodged in post-game interviews, and all the other important factors that go into being a quarterback. And, as the WSJ recently noted, there are a lot of things Tebow can’t do.

The only thing he’s got going for him is that he’s winning, and winning in the clutch, and making defenders look as if they’re trying to impersonate a matador as he runs past them. He has turned the Broncos into America’s Team, and has performed so many miracles that the Achenbro has declared, “This is God’s plan to convert the non-believers.” But he’s a zero to the ESPN algorithm.

One person who isn’t taking Tebow’s success as a guarantee of future greatness in the NFL is John Elway, the VP of football operations at the Broncos. As Cindy Boren explained :

John Elway, the Denver Broncos’ Hall of Fame quarterback and executive vice-president of football operations, wasn’t ready to look too far into the future, despite the Broncos’ 6-1 run under him.

“I know everybody wants to know, but our future's right now,” Elway said in an interview Monday on Denver’s 102.3 FM The Ticket in Denver (via Sports Radio Interviews). “When you look at where we are, the future is the Chicago Bears [the next opponent].

“I think the city's excited about it, the fans are excited about where we are right now. The future is now, and I think the key thing is for us to continue to keep focused on each game coming up and try to win this division and get in the playoffs and see what happens.”

Tebow threw for a season-best 202 yards with two TDs and had a personal-best 149.3 passer rating in a 35-32 victory over the Minnesota Vikings.

“We saw him take big strides [against Minnesota],” Elway said . ”He read out the two long passes … and I think that, offensively, especially the second half, we came out and did a little play-action, which really helped us. The receivers did a heck of a job getting open and Tim was able to get them the ball.”

Tebow and the Broncos are just one team that is flirting with playoff contention, even as their uneven play makes them long shots for a title run. As AP reported :

Even with the enticing story they are writing with Tim Tebow, a forceful defense and some great clutch performances, it’s difficult to see the Broncos riding deep into the playoffs. Same for the Raiders, who are tied with Denver atop the AFC West but who have huge issues on defense and with penalties. One of them will win the division — their schedules are similar and they don’t meet again — and not much more.

Dallas can be dangerous in the NFC East, and also can be a flop, as it proved Sunday at Arizona and nearly did on Thanksgiving Day against Miami. You don’t face anyone on the Cardinals’ or Dolphins’ level in the playoffs.

The Cowboys might not even get out of the division if they don’t at least split with the Giants, who trail them by a game and have significant problems running the ball and covering the pass.

Cincinnati can’t beat any of the good teams on its schedule, Chicago is down to a backup quarterback and its key offensive player, RB Matt Forte, has an injured right knee. Undisciplined on the field, Detroit is in semi-free-fall.

Related Content:

Early Lead: Kurt Warner says Tebow should tone down religious rhetoric

The League: John Fox, the man behind Tim Tebow

Q&A: Why does Tebow grab so much attention? How far can he go?

Early Lead: John Fox says Tebow would “be screwed” running regular offense

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