The Fallacy of Comparing Stats Across Different Eras

I had hoped it wouldn't be necessary to explain why comparing John Elway's rookie stats to Tim Tebow's. It appears the media is very good at duping the public into pointless diatribe. Who can blame them, clicks and ratings is good for business. I fully support Tim Tebow as the quarterback of this football team, so don't take what I am about to share the wrong way. 

Now if you are a complete Tebow maniac then everything I am about to cover will fall upon blind eyes and unbelieving minds. Nothing I say or do will change your view of Elway as an ego maniacal, jealous, self-serving jerk face, so save yourself 15 minutes and click here -->

If you are Denver Broncos fans for life, then educate yourself a bit before buying into the comparison's of the two quarterbacks. There is a reason why so many young quarterbacks are successful in today's league and it has little to do with some magical increase in the talent of the players and everything to do with the NFL Rulebook.

In 1983, a quarterback was a much more difficult position to play than it is today. Pass Interference in 2011, was good coverage in 1983. Roughing the pass in 2011, was a reminder to the quarterback to get rid of the ball quicker in 1983. Illegal contact down the field in 2011, was also good coverage in 1983. A running quarterback in 2011 could slide to protect himself, while a sliding quarterback in 1983 was fresh meat. To name just a few differences off the top of my head. 

The fact is, the NFL today is a much safer league to play in, especially for quarterbacks. Wide receivers can get open more easily today than they could 30 years ago and quarterbacks have a much bigger window to fit the ball. Here is a list of all the rules changes since 1983 involving the passing game (Courtesy of Steelers Fever):

1988: At the NFL annual meeting in Phoenix, Arizona, a 45-second clock was also approved to replace the 30-second clock. For a normal sequence of plays, the interval between plays was changed to 45 seconds from the time the ball is signaled dead until it is snapped on the succeeding play.

Until 1988, John Elway had 30 seconds between plays from the end of one play to the snap of the next. In a typical game of 60 or so plays on offense, that is 15 minutes of time quarterbacks today have to identify the defense and make his decisions in each game. If you think that doesn't matter, ask Tim Tebow next time he has a delay of game penalty. One of those little things he needs to work on, saying such isn't an attack on the man just an accurate assessment of his ability right now.

1995: Quarterbacks may now receive communication from the bench via a small radio transmitter in their helmets. This proposal was originally run on a test basis last year during the preseason, but was scrapped.

Perhaps having the quarterbacks receive instructions directly into their ear might help too. I don't know, ask Elway. The best seasons of his career seem to coincide with this little change in the rulebook. Quarterbacks no longer had to think about the next play, only to read the defense and audible if necessary.

1996: The five-yard contact rule will be enforced more stringently.

Hits with the helmet or to the head by the defender will be flagged as personal fouls and subject to fines. This is being done to protect the offense, particularly the quarterback.

The age of the wide receiver was about to begin thanks to the five yard contact rule. Bigger windows mean a more passing friendly league and an easier job for quarterbacks to protect the football.  Also of note, the NFL outlaws hits that lead with the helmet, but they were careful to point out that the quarterback would be protected more stringently. 

2001: Protecting the passer will be emphasized even more.

Anyone else laugh at this one? I did. I am sure John Elway, who was sacked an NFL record 552 times in his career, did as well.

2002: It is illegal to hit a quarterback helmet-to-helmet anytime after a change of possession.

Yes, so if the quarterback throws an interception, he is to be protected from real football play until the play is over. So now they are kickers? Part of me is glad we have a real football player like Tim Tebow. 

2005: Unnecessary roughness would be called for blocks away from the play on punters or kickers, similar to the same protection quarterbacks have after interceptions.

Yep, they are kickers! 

2006: Defenders are prohibited from hitting a passer in the knee or below unless they are blocked into him. This rule was enacted in response to the previous season's injuries to Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Carson Palmer, Pittsburgh Steelers' Ben Roethlisberger, and Tampa Bay Buccaneers' Brian Griese.

Okay, I guess this rule change is okay. I'm sure John Elway's 23 knee surgeries would have appreciated this common sense rule 30 years ago, but hey, he is just an ego maniac who needs to go to hell.

2007: Forward passes that unintentionally hit an offensive lineman before an eligible receiver will no longer be an illegal touching penalty, but deliberate actions are still penalized.

Roughing-the-passer penalties will not be called on a defender engaged with a quarterback who simply extends his arms and shoves the passer to the ground.

During situations where crowd noise becomes a problem (when it becomes too loud that it prevents the offensive team from hearing its signals), the offense can no longer ask the referee to reset the play clock.

Wow. Apparently the NFL realized it was going too crazy to support the passing game, so they backed off a little to allow quarterbacks to be, well, football players. 

2008: The "force-out" rule on catches made near the sidelines has been eliminated. A receiver now must come down with the ball and both feet in bounds for a pass to be ruled complete; previously, passes would be ruled complete if the receiver was pushed by a defender while in the air and the official judged that he would have come down in bounds had he not been pushed.

Another backwards move by the NFL for the passing friendly league.  If you think this trend was going to continue, you'd be wrong.

2009: The initial contact to the head of a defenseless receiver is also prohibited.

The NFL gets back on track here. Suffice to say, the forward pass has evolved quite a bit over the last 30 years and comparing John Elway's performance in 1983 to Tim Tebow's today is a joke. You people are making yourself look stupid and the media hacks are all laughing at you from behind the camera. Don't let yourself be played.

To see how the NFL overall has trended over the years, Maxwellsdemon wrote a solid piece earlier this year on this very subject. I can tell you right now what is the key difference between John Elway the rookie quarterback and Tim Tebow the first year starter. Tim Tebow isn't a passing quarterback yet. 

John Elway's struggles in 1983 were solely due to his inability to read NFL defenses. It took him three full seasons to start figuring it out, because in the mid 80's the league was dominated by defense, not offense. The NFL has slowly turned the league into one dominated by offense instead.

Tim Tebow's struggles are two fold. He can't read NFL defenses yet, plus he has a ways to go to become a legitimate NFL passer. That is not to say he won't figure it out, but he should not be above reproach from the man who has the power to decide Tebow's fate. 

If you listen to John Elway, he has concerns about Tebow the passer, but you can tell he is sold on Tebow the quarterback of the Denver Broncos. He can't give Tebow a long term endorsement, because frankly, Tebow has not yet EARNED it.  Just like the Pro Bowl Tebow will get voted too. Tebow didn't earn it, yet his legion of fans could care less. As a Bronco fan, to see that kind of crap happen only makes me understand why many in the league don't respect Tebow. Then to have Elway be called all kinds of names on Twitter because of his honest assessment of Tebow it just makes me sick. Those are not Broncos fans...at least none that I know.

Next time you want to complain about John Elway being the King, well, he's earned the title. Tim Tebow has a long ways to go to match this career:

GO BRONCOS!

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