IN PASS-HAPPY NFL, EAGLE TEBOW BRINGS KNIFE TO A GUNFIGHT

By Peter Gleason

Will Tim Tebow make the Eagles’ 53-man roster?

Can his improved throwing motion make a difference to a great college player who has gone nowhere in the NFL?

Who cares?

It seems that everyone in Eagles Nation cares, so let’s look at the facts.

NFL talent evaluators interpret Tebow’s 2011 season differently from his fans. Even though Denver won games, talent evaluators saw only red flags in Tebow’s performance.

For one thing, he played terribly in Denver’s five losses (including a postseason rout by New England). As a result, Denver averaged only 14 points per game in those games and had little chance to win.

In addition, several Broncos victories required touchdowns from an interception return, a punt return, or a long touchdown run from scrimmage; also, an improbably long field goal following an inexplicable blunder by the opposition. Tebow gets no credit for those important plays.

Tebow did perform superbly in several fourth quarters – five of the seven wins were come-from-behind – leading some to proffer him as a clutch player who could play poorly throughout most games but reliably win at the end. In contrast, football experts view his unexpected late game heroics as flukey. They consider his larger body of (poor) work as the better measure of his abilities and predictor of his future performance.

In baseball, almost all hitters perform in clutch situations similar to how they do in other at-bats. Superior hitters outdo lesser hitters in important situations, sometimes generating reputations as clutch hitters, but they do so by performing at their usual high level.

Quarterbacks such as Johnny Unitas and John Elway became known for engineering many late-game comeback victories, but accomplished that because they were great quarterbacks. The historical ranking of the most fourth-quarter comeback wins per quarterback essentially iterates the Hall-of-Fame roster.

In fact, there is no precedent in NFL history for the ability to routinely turn three quarters of bad play into Hall-of-Fame closing skills. Thus, Tebow’s come-from-behind wins in 2011 did not strike NFL front offices as sustainable phenomena.

Tebow has thrown poorly in his NFL career, but has been working on his throwing mechanics with ex-baseball pitcher Tom House. His mechanics might improve, but it’s unlikely that anyone can help him (at this late stage) with bigger problems: His difficulties reading defenses and finding second, third, or fourth receivers. This contributes to Tebow, like other failed NFL scramblers before him (e.g. Bobby Douglass, Vince Young and Terrelle Pryor), holding the ball too long, leaving the pocket too quickly, and committing to the run when outside the pocket.

NFL defenses keep getting more complex and increasingly able to take away a quarterback’s first receiving option. Successful quarterbacks often shine more in their ability to find open secondary receivers than with unusual arm strength. It’s hard to imagine how Tebow could have learned that in two years off the playing field. This deficiency will continue to hinder his passing performance even if he improves his mechanics.

He’s also not likely to get much opportunity to demonstrate new skills; not even under the auspices of the open-minded Eagles coach Chip Kelly. NFL coaches must win and win now, and they’re not fond of risking their careers by playing previously failed quarterbacks, hoping that they learn on the job. Tebow will need to shine in circumscribed playing time, and not just in running the football. He’ll have to reliably pass the ball downfield.

Otherwise, he’ll be diminished again. In the current NFL, where quarterbacks routinely throw for 300-plus yards and several touchdowns a game against good defenses, playing a quarterback who runs well but passes poorly is like bringing a knife to a gunfight.

And few, if any, NFL executives believe that Tebow can turn himself, on demand, into a fourth quarter gunslinger.

 

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