Tebow's success due to production and protection, not magic
The Cold, Hard Football Facts are not just drinking the Tim Tebow Kool-Aid. We're mixing up big batches, grabbing innocent football fans off the street and pumping tubes of it down their throats -- much like French farmers force-feed geese to fatten the bird's liver and make tasty foie gras.
OK, that's overstating the case a bit. Foie gras is not so tasty.
But the Cold, Hard Football Fact of the matter is that there is a fundamentally solid statistical foundation beneath the success of the Denver Broncos with Tebow at quarterback.
Put most simply, Tebow consistently outplays the other team's quarterback, often by wide margins. This superior play is the No. 1 reason for Denver's sudden success -- now 5-1 with Tebow at QB this year after a dismal 1-4 start. But these superior performances seem lost on even the most knowledgeable football minds, like that of Broncos executive and Hall of Fame quarterback John Elway, for example.
Tebow's career completion percentage of 47.1 in the NFL is well below modern standards. But completion percentage is only one small part of the story and not a very meaningful one at that.
So Elway and most observers seem to treat Tebow like a circus freak, a statistically deformed football curiosity who wins games in spite of his own feeble ability to pass the football.
You can win one or maybe two games in the NFL with some kind of fluky effort at QB. But the statistical length and breadth of NFL history shows that teams that win consistently do the same things well over and over -- and those same things begin and end with the quarterback position.
And the Broncos are no exception.
There's no doubt that Tebow's passing accuracy has been spotty at times. At the end of the day, though, he has consistently outplayed the other team's quarterbacks. The problem is that most analysts are limited in their ability to analyze and compare quarterbacks with anything more concrete than the old eye test. Or they look at stats that simply do not matter at the end of the day, such as passing yards, and can't figure out how Tebow is winning games.
Smarter analysts might know to look at critical measures of passing success, such as yards per attempt or passer rating -- indicators that traditionally have a very high correlation to victory. But even those indicators fail to tell the whole story of Tim Tebow.
Enter Cold, Hard Football Facts.com's Real Quarterback Rating, which we introduced over the summer and which has quickly proven itself the most important indicator in football outside of final score.
CHFF Real Quarterback Rating measures all aspects of quarterback play, passing, rushing, sacks, fumbles, etc., and spits it out in a number substantially similar to passer rating and that uses the same formula as passer rating. (Passer rating, while extraordinarily useful in its own right, measures only passing and nothing else -- even if many fans and analysts erroneously refer to it as "quarterback rating.")
Our introduction of Real QB Rating this year has proven fortuitous. After all, it provides a perfect way to compare Tebow to opposing passers. (Get a full explanation of Real Quarterback Rating in the footnotes below.)
Here's how Tebow stacks up against each opposing quarterback this year in traditional passer rating and in Real Quarterback Rating.
Real QB Rating advantage: Tebow (+10.9)
Real QB Rating advantage: Stafford (+70.0)
Real QB Rating advantage: Tebow (+38.8)
Real QB Rating advantage: Tebow (+54.8)
Real QB Rating advantage: Tebow (+24.9)
Real QB Rating advantage: Tebow (+25.6)
In other words, Tebow is no statistical circus freak winning in spite of himself. Tebow's Broncos are winning because he consistently outperforms the opposing quarterback when you take into account all aspects of production: passing, running, sacks, total touchdowns, interceptions and fumbles. In fact, he consistently outperforms them by a wide margin.
Denver is 5-0 when Tebow produces a higher
After all, it turns out that no stat in football outside final score -- indeed, maybe no stat in North American sports, period -- is more important than Real QB Rating this season when it comes time to separate winners and losers.
Here's the Correlation to Victory of several notable indicators through Week 12 of the 2011 season.
The numbers are extraordinarily telling: gaudy passing days do not help you win football games and a more prolific day pounding out yards on the ground is only slightly more important. Instead, more effective all-around play at quarterback wins football games -- regardless of how many yards a quarterback produces through the air. And right now, Tebow gives Denver more effective all-around play at quarterback almost every week.
Can Tebow do it over the long haul? Can he consistently pad his stats and performances by running the football like a college quarterback?
Probably not. Sooner or later he'll have to pass the ball better, like Elway said. But that doesn't change the fact that, right now, Denver's 5-1 record is easy to explain: Tebow is consistently better and more productive than the other team's quarterback.
There are two underlying reasons why Tebow is so effective, two reasons that explain his impressive Real Quarterback Rating week after week.
The Broncos clearly have not scored a lot of points with Tebow at quarterback. In fact, Denver has averaged just 19.3 points per game in Tebow's six starts and has scored 18 points or fewer in five of those games. And clearly, the defense has improved dramatically in recent weeks, either purely as coincidence or as a by-product of the fact that Tebow has helped the team improve in all areas by protecting the football.
But Tebow himself has been deadly with the ball in his hands. He produces touchdowns at an amazing clip, better than any quarterback in football in his brief career. Here's a comparison of Tebow vs. some of the more prolific quarterbacks in recent history.
Wow. Tebow may not pass the ball effectively. But he's produced an incredible 22 touchdowns (13 passing, nine rushing) in just 368 touches (225 pass attempts, 121 rush attempts, 22 sacks). Nobody in football gets the ball in the end zone more often.
More importantly, Tebow takes incredibly good care of the football. We track something at Cold, Hard Football Facts called the "interception ladder." It shows us that every interception decreases your chances of winning by about 20 percentage points. In other words, interceptions are destructive plays that severely limit a team's ability to win games.
But the Broncos are winning not just because Tebow protects the football, but because he protects it better than any QB in the game today. Here's how he stacks up against some of the more prolific QBs in the game today.
Add in that Tebow has lost just one fumble in his career (with four INT) and his turnover rate is an incredibly miniscule 1.4 percent.
Tebow has suffered just two turnovers all year, one interception and one fumble. Both of those turnovers came in the Detroit game, his lone loss this year. He has a clean slate, zero turnovers, in Denver's five victories this year.
We're not trying to extrapolate too much out on Tebow's career. Clearly, he's played only a handful of games. The other passers on those lists played over the long haul. A lot can change between here and the end of his career -- whenever and wherever that may come.
But for right here, and right now, Denver is winning because Tebow is consistently the best and most productive quarterback on the field.