By Anthony Zonfrelli
It’s “Tebow Time” in New England. The Patriots’ signing of the former Broncos star and Jets backup has catalyzed yet another mass analysis of the poor guy. All of New England is now wondering, “What in the world could Tim Tebow possibly add to New England’s powerhouse of an offense?”
The statistic posted in various places by ESPN suggests that Tebow actually hurt the Jets’ offense last year, averaging 3.8 yards per play when he was on the field versus 4.7 yards per play when he sat. But this doesn’t quite encapsulate the Tim Tebow experience. For one, it includes plays in which Tebow simply handed the ball off, where he likely had little to no effect on the play. What the New Englanders really need to know is how well Tim Tebow did in situations where he will be relevant.
It’s common knowledge by now that Tebow is probably best suited in short yardage situations, using his size, athleticism, and childlike enthusiasm to get those tough first downs. It is highly unlikely that the Patriots will ever try their luck with Tebow on 1st or 2nd down when they have an elite quarterback like Brady at their disposal, let alone permit him to chuck the football. Instead, the Patriots are probably only looking to use him as a pounding running back when they would have otherwise risked Brady’s health by sneaking him up the middle. So how well did Tebow do in these situations?
Using play-by-play data from Advanced NFL Stats, I compiled all rushing plays by the Jets on 3rd or 4th down with less than 5 yards to go. Rather than simply comparing Tebow plays versus non-Tebow plays, I looked specifically at plays where Tebow made an impact – only plays where Tebow actually ran with the ball. I found that, when rushing the ball on 3rd or 4th down with less than 5 yards to go, Tebow averaged 2.86 yards per play, while the rest of the Jets averaged only 2.00 yards per play. Furthermore, Tebow converted every first down when he had to go less than 5 yards to attain it; his only shortcoming resulted from a single 3rd and 5 attempt.
In the situations that mirror those in which New England expects to see him, Tebow provided nearly an additional yard of value for his former team. The Patriots can use Tebow’s dependability in these 3rd and short situations, granting them the privilege of not having to risk their starting quarterback. Brady will no longer have to grind his way through the trenches with the obedient Tebow at the ready. That said, Brady is certainly no slouch when it comes to short yardage situations; as Bill Barnwell noted on Twitter, Brady is 18-for-19 in converting 4th and 1 sneaks since 2002.
Still, it appears as though the Patriots may have found yet another valuable role player to add to their roster. Either that, or Belichick is just using Tebow for information on the Jets (we wouldn’t put it past him) and will dump him by the end of training camp. Once the season comes, we’ll see if Belichick deems Tebow’s athleticism and divine touch worth the media circus that will likely follow him to New England.