There's an old joke about a landlubber couple that get on a boat to be ferried to an island, across a dangerous passage. The husband thinks he's pretty smart - he's checked up on the boat and knows how deep it goes below the surface, and how the water gets unexpectedly shallow in places. He's checked up on the route - he knows the waters there are dangerous and rocky, and that boats have sunk there in the past.
So while they're on the boat, he's talking to the boat's captain.
"So, Captain. I read up on this channel. I read up on this boat. I can trust you, right? What I mean to say is, you do know where the rocks are, don't you?"
The husband is alarmed by this and looks at his wife. He gets flustered and blusters a bit, talking about the dangers of the rocks, the boat, the shallows, as the grizzled captain looks calmly ahead into the waters. The husband is basically telling the captain how to do his job, and ends with a strained tone in his voice: "How can we trust you if you don't know where the rocks are?"
"I know where they ain't."
In a weird way, this sums up a lot of my feelings about Tim Tebow, and why I am so relieved about the next few weeks. Obviously, one reason we can be relieved about the next few weeks is that for way too long we've only had theory, and we've had to put up with everyone having wildly different theories of how Tebow would do. We've had people look at his previous three games, and they've cherry-picked the good ("Give him a break, he's a rookie!") and they're cherry-picked the bad ("It was late in the season and those other teams had nothing to play for!"). And now we get one last bout of crazy theorizing before the reality starts to happen, and a lot of this theorizing will start to disappear.
But the other reason I'm relieved is because of that captain that doesn't know where the rocks are, but knows where they ain't. Here's how I look at it. Say you have a quarterback - a really damn good quarterback. He's back in the pocket. He's got impeccable footwork - he glides in the pocket, finds a few extra millimeters of space, and then accurate fires a laser beam, into a tight window, for a twelve-yard gain.
Then say you have another quarterback - he's got a loopy delivery. He waits a bit longer, and can't fire it into that window - his pocket breaks down, he scrambles a bit. He gives himself more space. He sees someone downfield getting open, maybe not anticipating it perfectly, but he throws it - the receiver was able to use the slightly longer play to get more separation, so he's able to cleanly catch the ball even though it was maybe a yard off target, and it's a twenty-yard gain.
One more comparison. You can have a quarterback with a mastery of timing that throws a quick outlet to a running back for a six-yard gain. But then you have another quarterback that can't get the pass off that quickly, and bounces out of the pocket and runs the ball out of bounds for an eight-yard gain.
My point is not that these plays are equivalent, nor that the percentage-success of these plays are similar. My point is this: say these two quarterbacks win their games, each by three points. I guarantee that out there in media-land, you're going to have the talking heads claim that the first team, the one with the pretty quarterback play, won their game *because* of their quarterback. And they're going to say that the second team won in spite of their quarterback, even though his plays were more successful!
I don't know what it is - these talking heads, even if they used to play the game, they forget what the game of football is about, and they start thinking it's a ballet. They get elitist or something, and they start to think that football should be about pretty, clean, no-muss no-fuss plays. And they turn their nose up at the tough stuff. Even when it's from a physical quarterback that has gotten hit so much (usually from him initiating contact) that he knows how to get hit without catching damage, and is probably on average going to get hit a hell of a lot less than Jay Cutler or your average pocket passer that isn't behind an All-Pro line. And they'll believe that even when the "messy" quarterback is getting more yards-per-play than the clean quarterback will.
You see, the clean quarterbacks, they know where the rocks are. They've perfected their release, their footwork. They know every play in their playbook. They've probably catalogued every single one of them in their perfectly indexed, color-coded brain matter. They know that when a defense shows one look, they answer with this response. They're thinking in terms of schemes and players. And they're a perfect match for those husbands that are all worried about where all the rocks are.
But players like Tebow - they're not thinking about the rocks. They're thinking about the water. They know the schemes and the players, but they aren't limited by them. They're also thinking about the field - those huge empty spaces that you can run to, that maybe none of the existing plays are designed to get to. They're thinking about touchdowns, and the quickest, most brutally efficient way to score them.
That's why I think Tebow is going to do a hell of a lot better than most people expect. I firmly believe that Tebow's biggest strength is a very basic trait that we can call "football wisdom". Each play is basically a situation that forces you to make choices. And some of those choices are the ones that can end up looking pretty ugly, but somehow give you more yards or more of a chance for scoring than you would normally expect in that situation. And Tebow makes those choices routinely.
And that's what that kind of football wisdom gives you. For each play that goes by, those choices incrementally give you more and more possibility that at the end of the game, you'll be looking at a win. You can call it EPA or WPA or BFE or whatever you want, but it adds up.
Last week, deep in his own territory, Tebow scrambled and threw a long bomb to Eric Decker, who was just coming free, with a little cut just as Tebow was throwing the ball. The pass was incomplete. I LOVE that Tebow threw that pass. How often will that throw end in a completion? Maybe 40% of the time? If that throw is complete, it's a touchdown. Compare that to the average chances of a touchdown for any drive in that down-and-distance scenario. The risk didn't pan out for that particular play, but over time, it definitely will. More touchdowns means more points means more wins. Most of the quarterbacks in the league wouldn't have even been able to get that pass off. And somehow that's reckless?
You can use this as a thread to go on record - what do you believe is going to be the outcome of this 11-game experiment? Not so much in terms of wins and losses, since other players weigh into that, but in terms of how Tebow performs? I'm on record now - my opinion of Tebow has everything to do with that captain that's figured out the rocky channel.
That's really the secret of Tebow, I think. It isn't that he's mobile. Michael Vick is mobile, and he's even accurate, but somehow he doesn't win a whole lot. It's about football wisdom and making choices. People get too hung up on where all the rocks are. Tim Tebow's going to lead to more wins for the Broncos, and I think it's because he's unafraid to throw or run to where they ain't.