Tebow and the QB Revolution

Tim Tebow threw the pass that shocked the football world. Tim Tebow's passing stats in the Denver Broncos-Pittsburgh Steeler overtime playoff game were supernatural. He completed 10 of 21 passing for 316 yards. In the "speed" overtime he completed only one pass -- for 80 yards -- a record setter. He had no turnovers. This meant that as a quarterback he had an enormous 125.6 passer rating for the game out of a perfect 158.3. This is a rating achieved only by the likes of those greats currently playing: Drew Brees, Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers and Ben Roethlisberger. The legendary retired QB Kurt Warner was perfect three times out.

Yet the usual sports commentary naysayers were ubiquitous prior to the game. Some were saying Tebow could not play the game, his wins were freak accidents, that Denver would draft a quarterback in April and that on third down passing situations Tebow could be replaced by backup quarterback Brady Quinn. Instead, Tebow gave an awesome performance.

Tim Tebow is a winner as a quarterback. Many bettors saw it coming: The pre-game line went from nine points favoring the Broncos to approximately seven points on game day. What did that mean? It meant that many gamblers were placing large bets on Denver who believed that the Tebow team could cover the spread -- meaning the game would be very close. So what do the gamblers get that the usual sports commentators and the old-fashioned coaching staff do not? Gamblers bet on big picture reality, not just on what happened in the last game. They saw the ability of the Tebow led team to perform. Couple that with the scary possibility that the Tebow factor might again surprise -- take the points and go for it.

A great quarterback in the pros must exhibit leadership, athletic ability and the will to win. Denver has won four overtime games since Tebow has been the QB. That is leadership. Yet Tebow's abilities were clearly discounted by the Steelers' coaching staff who believed that against the NFL's top-ranked regular season passing defense team that allowed only two passes exceeding 40 yards, Tebow could not be competitive.

But there is a revolution brewing in the quarterback ranks. The new quarterback has to do more than just throw the ball. Some coaches get it too. Legendary college coach Urban Meyer, the new head coach at Ohio State University, helped start this revolution developing the free style of play in football at the University of Utah then carried it forth with even greater success at the University of Florida. The defensive linebackers going into the pros became quicker and faster while the rules have changed giving more protections to the QB. Cam Newton of the Carolina Panthers is a reflection of this new quarterback model. This past year as a rookie he passed for over 4000 yards, an unheard of record. But he could also move as reflected in his gaining an additional 500 yards rushing. Even though they ended up only 6-10, Newton kept his team in contention for many of the games they eventually lost -- although the Panthers came from the worst pro record of 2-14 in 2010, which allowed Carolina to acquire Cam Newton as the first pick in the draft. Newton is clearly going to be the Rookie of the Year. Other young quarterbacks like Matthew Stafford of the Detroit Lions and Andrew Dalton of the Cincinnati Bengals also led their teams to the playoffs. Andrew Luck who will be drafted number one in April is a throwback as a great pocket passer. But as in the case of Aaron Rodgers he can move out of the pocket, run where he has to and throw effectively on the move. Robert Griffin III of Baylor has it (ESPN reported he will forego his final college year and enter the pros) and will also be a tremendous new style quarterback in the NFL. These quarterbacks are natural leaders and can improvise when needed. They are bright young men who are changing the staid structure of an old rigid game.

The rule changes protecting quarterbacks from devastating injuries has also contributed to the new model. The rule evolution started in 2003 with restrictions on quarterback helmet-to-helmet contact in order to lessen concussions and resultant permanent brain damage. In 2006, the league required that rushing/ blitzing defenders had to consciously avert low hits on quarterbacks. As a result of a knee injury suffered in 2008 by quarterback Tom Brady, in 2009 defenders were clearly prohibited from making contact with quarterbacks below the belt. These rules, in addition to quicker defensive linemen, meant a multifaceted quick thinking and moving quarterback could take control of the game. This change is already making a definitive impact on pro football itself and it has left the analysts talking to themselves in many cases. Old line thinking will leave teams ill-prepared to be competitive in the new millennium.

Some of the savvy NFL coaches understand the quarterback revolution: Bill Belichick of the New England Patriots has always adapted on the highest level. Jim Harbaugh of the San Francisco 49ers
and Sean Payton of the New Orleans Saints also totally get where football is going. Still other coaches seem actually clueless.

Some in the peanut gallery still refuse to recognize the legitimacy of the Broncos win over the Steelers: saying the Steelers were not well, or the Steelers lost the game on a bad coaching call. As I saw Ben Roethlisberger running down the field he didn't look like he was hurting. Denver also did not have all of its first team starters. Then there was one referee call and one non-call: The lateral fumble that would have given the Broncos the ball in the Steeler red zone, and the failure to call a face mask violation on Tebow that apparently went unseen except on replay. But let us not dwell here on side issues.

The greatest obstruction to Denver's winning the game, in my opinion, was the Denver Broncos head Coach John Fox and his staff. Remember that the week before when the division title was on the line, Denver was anemic in the scoring column coming up with only one field goal in four quarters and a fifth quarter into the playoff game. The problem very simply is that John Fox is an old school football coach. He and his staff somehow are operating in the yesteryear. What do I mean? The best thing that happened for Denver is that Pittsburgh destroyed the Denver game plan in the first quarter, not only were they not gaining yardage, but they were actually losing yardage on many running plays. Denver was trying to run the same six or seven old plays they ran the last few weeks thinking that their great ground game was going to beat Pittsburgh. By the time the second quarter started there was no choice on what to do -- open up and pray that Tim Tebow would shock everybody including his own coaches. And before anybody knew what happened the score was 14-6. Pittsburgh never knew what hit them. At the half it was 20-6 with no holds barred Denver playing in a very aggressive offensive style. Then we came to the second half. The Denver coaches decided they were going to play a shocking three man rush defense and sit on the game score -- like that was going to stop Ben Roethlisberger. Pittsburgh loved it as they chewed up an earlier tough solid Denver defense. You do not win football games by going in to a prevent defense. That prevent defense nearly prevented Denver from winning. Top flight quarterbacks will tear you apart if given time to throw the ball. In a way it was a miracle that Denver's coaching approach on defense in the second half didn't blow the game entirely. This is all the more reason to realize how completely effective Tim Tebow was when Denver was driving with seven minutes to go on its way to making another score that would have put the game out of reach if running back Willis McGahee hadn't fumbled the ball.

But still with the Steelers' fumble recovery and subsequent touchdown, Denver fought on to get into overtime. The rest is history. There should be no more inane verbiage that Tim Tebow cannot pass and lead a team. The only limitation he will have is if his coaches do not come in to the 21st century. The more experience (only 15 games as a starter -- 14 regular season games and one playoff) and the more opportunities Tebow has with clever innovative play calling next year and acquisition of better receivers, Denver will even be more of a threat to the NFL of the future.

Whatever happens in these play-offs will not diminish the success of Tim Tebow. But which coaches recognize the football revolution will determine the successful franchises. There are two recipes for winning -- players that are coached in a progressive way and top team management from ownership, general manager and coaching staff working as one. It is a new century in football.