Diagnosing the Problem: Third Down and Out?

OAKLAND, CA - NOVEMBER 06: Tim Tebow #15 of the Denver Broncos celebrates after throwing a touchdown pass to Eddie Royal #19 against the Oakland Raiders at O.co Coliseum on November 6, 2011 in Oakland, California. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

About eleven months ago, I finally gave up on Kyle Orton and jumped squarely on the Tim Tebow bandwagon for the rest of the 2010 season. The post was titled "Third Down...and Out" and it centered around the obvious failings of the starting quarterback to convert on third downs. 

I have always maintained that the quarterbacks most important job during a drive is to find a way to convert on third downs. Just because Tebow is the quarterback doesn't mean this rule is going to be viewed any differently. There are differences between the glaring indictment I laid upon Orton's feet last season and this analysis of Tebow's fledgling career.

A different formula will be used this time around than what I used against Orton last season, but that is because I was able to locate a source of information that provides readily available situational stats. However, I will also include stats from his five starts as a fair comparison with the change in focus. 

The overall idea here is that converting on third down is part of a team stat, but mostly a quarterback stat. A quarterbacks job is to manage the game, get the offense into the right plays and to pick up third downs to keep drives alive. That is nearly straight from our own horse's mouth - John Elway.

So let's get to it.

Quarterbacking Matters

Before I delve into the situational stats, I wanted to provide a backdrop of how the team has been trending with each quarterback at the helm.  Let's examine Kyle Orton's efficiency first.

Kyle Orton
Week
OPP
3rd Down
Conversion
Pts. QBR
1 OAK 6/13 - 46% 20 71.3
2 CIN 5/12 - 41% 24 111.3
3 @TEN 8/15 - 53% 14 67.6
4 @GB 4/11 - 36% 23 87.1
5 SD 2/6 - 33% 10 21.0
Averages 43.9% 20.2 75.7

 

Kyle Orton was actually doing better in 2011 than he was when I wrote my piece last year. He was converting on third down. He was averaging close to 20 points per game. There are so many stats I could include that I intentionally kept it brief because I hate rabbit holes - its easier just to stick a hose and fill them up with water.  The biggest factors to Orton's failures came from two areas. The first was turnovers and the second was his performance in clutch moments of games. I'll get into the latter later in this post, but first lets see how Tebow is faring.

Tim Tebow
Week
OPP
3rd Down
Conversion
Pts. QBR
5 SD 0/3 - 0% 14 101.7
7 @MIA 4/16 - 25% 18 91.7
8 DET 2/14 - 14% 10 56.8
9 @OAK 3/12 - 25% 38 98.1
Averages 20% 22.9 80.1

 

The points is a bit skewed by the big plays from last weeks game, but overall the biggest difference between both quarterbacks is third down conversions. Why then is Tim Tebow winning football games and Kyle Orton could not?

The answer lies in intangibles. Kyle Orton is a seven year veteran who had put up similar results in team offensive statistics, while losing game after game. Tim Tebow on the other hand is just a six game starter and is able to use those dreaded intangibles statistician love to make fun of as irrelevant. This is why football will never be baseball.

In The Clutch

One of MileHighReport's most contentious issues prior to the quarterback change was the so-called clutchiness of a player. Well, let's put it to the test in black and white - or orange and blue rather.

We can all easily look up each players overall statistics, but lets break it down into what really matters. How does each quarterback perform when the game is close and when the game is on the line. This is where the overall performance similarities between the two quarterbacks diverge once and for all and shows us all exactly why Tim Tebow is keeping his job in spite of his underwhelming overall stats. 

Kyle Orton: Game Within 0-7 Points
ATT
COMP
PCT YDS TD INT QBR
123 69 56.1 665 5 4 72.7
Kyle Orton: 4th Quarter & Game Within 0-7 Points
ATT
COMP
PCT YDS TD INT QBR
16 8 50 114 1 1 71.1
Kyle Orton: Final Two Minutes
ATT
COMP
PCT YDS TD INT QBR
20 7 35.0 48 0 3 4.2

 

Overall pretty terrible, but the last section is the most troubling and the most damning of all the stats displayed here today. Whether Tebow is given a full season in 2011 or not, it is doubtful we will see Kyle Orton take the field again as a Denver Bronco. 

Tim Tebow: Game Within 0-7 Points
ATT COMP PCT YDS TD INT QBR
37 17 45.9 210 3 0 94.4
Tim Tebow: 4th Quarter & Game Within 0-7 Points
ATT COMP PCT YDS TD INT QBR
4 2 50 40 0 0 95.8
Tim Tebow: Final Two Minutes
ATT COMP PCT YDS TD INT QBR
25 11 44.0 106 1 0 73.3

 

We obviously need a few more games to get more situational stats, but so far any layman can see the biggest difference between the two quarterbacks is how they take care of the football when the game is on the line. We'll get to see if Tebow continues this trend, but so far he is making things happen with the game is at hand and that is a huge factor between winning and losing.

There is Always a BUT

This post should not be construed as a glowing recommendation/endorsement of Tim Tebow. John Elway was 100% correct that Tebow needs to start completing more passes and converting more third downs. If he doesn't, this team will never win consistently. Period.

So far, Tebow is improving his throwing accuracy slightly each week and that trend needs to continue as well. I'm not talking completion percentage either, I'm talking about how on target his throws are from his first start to now. Long term, Tebow needs to do more to keep to his winning ways.

Last year, I exposed Orton's failures on third down as being one of the singular reasons the Broncos were unable to win football games under his guidance. Why? Because Orton doesn't seem to have that innate ability to play like a cardiac cat, so he could ill afford to not put enough points on the board to stave off any late rallies from the opposing team. In fact, as I was discussing this with Kirk Davis he pointed me towards an article that came out a few weeks ago that showed that had the Broncos been a better team Orton would have given the Broncos the best chance to win, but since the Broncos are not a good team they need that risk factor that Tebow obviously brings to the table.

This year, with Tim Tebow having similar deficiencies on third down he is able to somehow lead his team to victory when the game is close. Tim Tebow is a cardiac cat. Much like Elway once was. My comparison's of Elway and Tebow stop there, however, as Tebow is not yet even half the quarterback Elway was in 1983, much less 1998. Time will tell if the comparison's should expand.

For now, we can only conclude that the jury is still out on Tim Tebow.

GO BRONCOS!

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