New York Jets  

 

Tim Tebow will make Jets much better, even as part-time player

Ben Liebenberg/NFL
The Jets saw for themselves the impact Tim Tebow can make in a Week 11 loss to the Broncos last November.

Uh-oh!

That's what defensive coaches around the NFL should be saying after getting wind of the finally consummated trade between the New York Jets and Denver Broncos that puts Tim Tebow on Broadway.

Though the fan-favorite QB was unceremoniously dismissed in favor of Peyton Manning in the Rocky Mountains, Tebow's arrival in New York could produce big results for the Jets in 2012. And I think he can have a major impact, even as a part-time player. Here are three reasons why:

1. Tebow makes the Jets' running game more explosive.

It is not a coincidence that Denver finished as the NFL's top rushing offense with Tebow at quarterback. The third-year pro is a legitimate running threat in the backfield, and his ability to contribute as a runner made the Broncos' rushing attack very difficult to defend.

Unlike most pro offenses that feature the tailback as the primary runner, the Broncos' utilization of the quarterback forces opponents to defend an additional threat. This eliminates the numerical advantage for the defense, rendering eight-man fronts ineffective against base formations. Without an additional defender available to stack the line of scrimmage or aggressively pursue the ball, defenses suddenly become vulnerable to big runs.

For instance, the Broncos routinely instructed Tebow to carry out bootleg fakes following handoffs to occupy the backside defensive end or linebacker. By forcing one or more defenders to stay at home to prevent Tebow from escaping out of the backdoor, the Broncos were able to create cutback lanes for runners, leading to big gains on the perimeter.

In looking at the Jets' running game, the big play was the missing element last season. The unit only produced seven runs of 20-plus yards, and averaged a pedestrian 105.8 yards per game, ranking 22nd in the NFL. (By comparison, the Broncos finished the season with 20 runs of 20-plus yards -- like this one -- and averaged 164.5 rushing yards per game).

Tebow also gives the Jets a dangerous runner to use in short-yardage and goal-line situations. He has shown an uncanny knack for getting into the end zone, with 12 rushing touchdowns in two seasons. With the majority of those scores resulting off short runs inside the 10-yard line, he gives the Jets another weapon to use in critical situations and makes their running game problematic for defensive coordinators.

2. Tebow is an ideal fit in Tony Sparano's "Wildcat" offense.

Tony Sparano, the Jets' new offensive coordinator, was the mastermind of the Wildcat formation that took the league by storm in the 2008 and '09 seasons. He incorporated the modified Single Wing formation into his game plan early in the season to create numerical advantages in the running game.


The premise of the formation, which featured an unbalanced line, numerous shifts and motions, and the Fly Sweep concept, was to put defenders in a quandary using the triple option as a threat. Ronnie Brown, the Dolphins' tailback and primary runner, would act as the triggerman in the offense, with the option to give or keep the ball based on the reaction of the defense. With defenders suddenly asked to play assignment football, the Dolphins were able to exploit seams in the defense created by hesitant defenders unsure of the gap responsibilities. As a result, the Dolphins fielded an impressive rushing attack on the way to capturing the AFC East crown with the gimmick offense serving as the catalyst.

In New York, however, the tactic becomes more dangerous with Tebow installed at quarterback. As a veteran of the spread formation, he is a masterful ball handler, adept at running the zone-read option. His extensive experience with option plays from his days at Florida results in convincing ball fakes and makes the execution at the point of attack flawless.

Looking back at some of the Broncos' biggest runs in 2011, it is not a coincidence that the zone-read play was the common denominator. Tebow's deft ball fakes routinely fooled defenders, leaving Willis McGahee to scoot untouched through seams created by hesitation and indecision. With that dynamic in place in New York, Shonn Greene and others might benefit from the attention on Tebow in the backfield.

Tebow's passing skills will also take the Jets' version of the Wildcat to another level. In spite of his shortcomings in the pocket in Denver, he is a talented enough passer to exploit isolated matchups created by the formation. He demonstrated that ability in the AFC wild-card game with his game-winning strike to Demaryius Thomas.

If Tebow can convert on a few of those chances in the passing game, the Jets' flirtation with the gimmick formation suddenly becomes a headache for defensive coordinators.

3. Tebow's arrival will bring out the best in Mark Sanchez.

Following a disappointing 2011 campaign by Sanchez, several teammates -- including LaDainian Tomlinson -- suggested the Jets needed to add a talented backup capable of challenging the young star for his job. There is a sense that Sanchez had grown complacent without a legitimate threat to his job, and the team needed to spark his urgency by bringing in a challenger in 2012.

The arrival of Tebow increases the pressure on Sanchez to step up his game or lose his job to the popular challenger. Although no one would suggest that Tebow is a finished product at the position, it is not necessarily a given that he couldn't unseat the incumbent with his gritty play. Tebow is coming off a remarkable run where he led a team from the doldrums into the playoffs, and his impressive performance in the wild-card win suggests he has the moxie to play on the big stage in New York.

In addition, Tebow possesses the work ethic, character and leadership skills that endear him to his teammates and a fan base clamoring for a consistent winner.

Those factors are enough to force Sanchez to work on the finer points of his craft. From his decisions to accuracy, Sanchez needs to raise his game to help the Jets maximize their potential as title contenders. Most importantly, he has to develop into the consistent playmaker coaches and teammates expect from their franchise quarterback.

With Tebow's mere presence raising the level of competitiveness on the practice field and in the film room, Sanchez has no choice but to improve or step aside. For the Jets and their fans, that development could be exactly what everyone needs in 2012.

Follow Bucky Brooks on Twitter @BuckyBrooks

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