Tim Tebow is exciting and polarizing, and he has a magnetizing effect that prompts the worldwide sports leader to create Tebow Hour. There is nothing wrong with this.
Tebow is also confusing. As an audience we’re drawn to results, and we connect those results with value and parade Tebow as the primary and often sole driver of the Broncos’ 6-1 record since Week 7. There is something wrong with this.
There’s no reasonable explanation for Tebow to be legitimately included in the MVP discussion this year. But that discussion is actually taking place, with some saying that he’s behind only Aaron Rodgers, the Packers quarterback who’s on pace to break two records (QB rating and passing yards). What we have here is a problem with the concept of value, how a players’ value fits with his team, and how it impacts his team’s overall performance. It’s a problem that’s been wrestled with many times, and in many different sports debates.
Baseball, a sport in which the stat nerd population is far higher than football, struggled mightily with the same question this past season as Detroit Tigers starting pitcher Justin Verlander continued to dominate. The naysayers said that pitchers already have an award (the Cy Young Award), while the supporters countered with a shoulder shrug, and the argument that in a unique season headed by a uniquely talented pitcher, Verlander’s position is irrelevant because he made the greatest contribution to his team’s record. In the end, Verlander won both the Cy Young and MVP in the American League.
Baseball also had a blatant act of homerism when a Rangers beat writer from the Dallas Morning News voted for Michael Young during the AL MVP balloting. His name is Evan Grant, and the logic he used to support Young sounds eerily similar to the thinking many are using to justify their Tebow MVP love.
Grant wrote that the average fan and media member doesn’t see or acknowledge Young’s “intrinsic value,” and he then proceeded to list such immeasurable and unquantifiable intangibles like Young’s leadership abilities, and the versatility he’s demonstrated while playing multiple positions.
Dustin Parkes, the editor of theScore.com’s Getting Blanked baseball blog, blasted Grant’s rambling nonsense in his “poorly formed thoughts” column, and he succinctly summarized the problem with this biased and wayward thinking:
The very fact that [Young's value] is intrinsic means that it’s incomparable to what other players do. So, by definition, it shouldn’t be used to judge and compare with other players.
This is nearly identical to the argument often used by Tebowites (Tebow is so divisive that his supporters need a nickname, and we’re sure that will stick). He’s a winner, they say, and a leader whose sheer drive and intensity propels his team to victory every week. He has charisma and energy, moxie and poise, and various other attributes that we can only imagine, but never grasp.
And all of that might be true. This post is going to be read as the anti-Tebow manifesto for those Tebowites residing in the most extreme end of his extreme divide. It isn’t, or at least it’s not supposed to be.
As someone who consumes more football than what’s deemed healthy for a normal human, I genuinely and thoroughly enjoy watching Tebow run Denver’s option offense. That’s mostly because right now it’s still a novelty act in the NFL, but part of it is simple intrigue. As Gagnon noted yesterday, Tebow may be the biggest story of 2011 in the NFL, and that status makes him a compelling and intriguing figure.
Since long before draft day in 2010 we’ve wondered if Tebow can be an NFL quarterback, and now each week we get to watch as he either validates or counters our pre-conceived notions of exactly how a professional quarterback should think, act, move, and, most importantly, throw.
But entertainment value and intrigue shouldn’t supersede reality, yet for many it does, with the belief lingering that if Tebow can turn around his team and be a “winner,” he deserves MVP consideration. He doesn’t, because if the season ended today two other Broncos may win hardware of their own.
Tebow isn’t even the best player on his team. Von Miller is.
When we refer to Tebow as a winner, what we’re really doing is marveling at his ability to lead late-game drives and be a clutch performer. His ability to consistently accomplish those two tasks is indeed impressive, but there’s a reason why wins don’t exist as a statistic for quarterbacks in the same manner that they do for pitchers in baseball and goalies in hockey. The control over a win is far more widespread.
If we’re strictly talking about wins, why isn’t Andy Dalton a winner? In 10 career starts Tebow has seven wins, while the rookie Bengals QB has seven wins in 12 starts. Rodgers is the easy, no doubt 2011 MVP, and he’s only lost seven times over his last 37 games, including the playoffs.
Tebow wouldn’t be able to succeed and be praised by Jon Gruden on national TV as a winner if it wasn’t for the re-emergence of Willis McGahee, and the support from his suddenly staunch defense. Led by Miller and Elvis Dumervil up front, the Broncos have allowed only an average of 17.8 points during Tebow’s six wins this year, sacking the opposing quarterback 19 times. Overall Denver’s run defense is still hovering in the bottom half of the league (ranked 20th), but their yards allowed on the ground per game have improved by 33 yards over last year’s atrocious 154.6.
Meanwhile, Knowshon Moreno’s season-ending ACL injury in Week 10 may have been beneficial for Tebow and the Broncos’ offense, as cold as that sounds. At the time McGahee was still very much on the high end of a backfield platoon, and I’m using that word very loosely since Moreno received 7.7 carries per game between Weeks 7 and 9 to McGahee’s year-long average of 16.5 per game, and that stretch even factors in a bump for Moreno when McGahee missed a week.
Still, Denver’s running game has become solely focused on McGahee now, and he’s responded with six 100-yard outings, three of which have come over the Broncos’ last five games. Of course, the final and perhaps most generic argument regarding value is when the arguer asks where the Broncos would be without Tebow, and with Kyle Orton or Brady Quinn under center instead.
It’s a line of thinking that can be easily turned in the other direction. Matt Flynn is likely the best backup in the league, but the Packers would still experience a swift and sudden drop if they had to rely on him for a long stretch after an injury to Rodgers. The Patriots staying afloat without Tom Brady in 2008 is the exception, not the norm, and even then New England went from Super Bowl participants, to clawing for the playoffs and eventually missing that mark.
Tebow has many unquantifiable qualities, and they’ve planted the seed for both his success, and the Tebowmania that’s followed. But his value in an MVP race when compared to his peers is sorely lacking.