Tim Tebow’s fourth quarter and overtime heroics cannot be sustained over a long period of time. This is not an attack on Tebow, it’s simply a reality. And it has to be conceded as we both celebrate what he’s accomplishing, and as the Broncos enter a critical phase in which they must remove all Tebow’s training wheels in order to evaluate whether he is a viable, long-term solution at quarterback.
I watched every Tebow throw his last year at Florida, and have seen every play in his 2 year career with the Broncos. One advantage he has shown as a mobile quarterback is the ability to compensate for his deficiencies as a pocket passer with his ability to make plays outside the structure of the offense. That’s a positive.
Through Tebow’s first 8 NFL starts, the argument had been presented that because the read option and its corollaries were anomalies in the NFL, they were more difficult to stop. But the numbers did not support that. In quarters 1 through 3 of those 8 starts, Tebow and the Broncos offense had 79 possessions. They scored only 8 touchdowns, or, about 1 TD every 10 possessions. Such poor offensive production is not emblematic of a system that’s hard to defend.
In addition, Tebow completed less than 39% of his passes in the first 3 quarters of those 8 games. So the idea that the read option was creating all kinds of problems for defensive coaches was more perception than reality. Almost all defenses had devised aggressive game plans that severely minimized and often shut down both Tebow and the Broncos offense. They played that defense with conviction through 3½ quarters.
Then, in the fourth quarter, defensive coordinators abandoned what had worked and deployed the conventional wisdom of “prevent” defense: soft zones, minimal pressure, trade yards for time. In other words: defenses against which Tebow could thrive.
But even with his late game success, Tebow’s overall third down passing numbers remain deficient: Just 23% of his third down throws had resulted in first downs. That was the lowest percentage in the NFL. It is not possible to achieve real long term success with those kinds of third down metrics.
This past week against the Patriots, the first team the Broncos played over the last 2 months that could score for 4 quarters, Tebow threw the ball better, with more consistent accuracy. He just wasn’t asked to throw it enough. Yes, he continued to miss some routine throws, but more than in any previous game, he looked like he could develop into a more efficient passer from the pocket. There certainly are limitations — his inability to throw with anticipation being one of the most glaring — and he must be carefully managed and manipulated by the offensive game plan. But that’s what must be done with almost all young and inexperienced quarterbacks.
Tebow’s heroics have been epic in scope, and mythic in appeal, but they are not sustainable over time, and they will not make Denver a championship contender. With Buffalo and Kansas City remaining on the schedule, it’s time to find out if Tebow can develop into an NFL quarterback in a passing league. It is time for the Broncos to increase Tebow’s responsibilities as a passer, to throw the ball more proactively and aggressively. They must recognize that to be truly competitive in the AFC, and the entire NFL, they must continue to evolve into a more conventional passing team. It is time to find out if Tebow can handle it. If they don’t, they won’t know whether he can be the answer at the most important position on the field.