AFC East: Wildcat

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The New England Patriots are set to take a step back offensively in 2013. They lost both starting receivers -- Wes Welker and Brandon Lloyd -- from last year’s group that led the NFL in scoring and replaced them with mostly unproven players and rookies.

New England also has huge question marks at tight end. Rob Gronkowski has had five surgeries on his arm and back since last November and may not be fully recovered for Week 1, and fellow tight end Aaron Hernandez also had major shoulder surgery and missed six games last season.

The Patriots signing quarterback Tim Tebow off the scrap heap isn't the answer to New England’s offensive woes. If anything, it shows an unexpected sign of desperation for a New England offense searching for answers.

This is yet another sign that New England’s run of Super Bowl appearances and NFL dominance is coming to an end. Future Hall of Fame quarterback Tom Brady and coach Bill Belichick have made it to five Super Bowls -- winning three. But it looks more and more like last year may have been the Belichick/Brady-era Patriots’ final shot to win a fourth championship when they lost at home to the Baltimore Ravens in the AFC title game.

To put it bluntly, New England simply is not good enough to win a Super Bowl this year. Last year’s team was better, especially on offense. Brady, who will be 36 in August, is a year older and has less firepower. Adding Tebow to the mix doesn’t fix anything. It simply brings more media and a huge distraction, which is something Belichick usually tries to avoid.

And what exactly is Tebow’s role in New England?

Tebow is certainly not playing quarterback. Brady is clearly the franchise starter in New England, and I would take my chances with the strong arm of Ryan Mallett over the inaccuracy and poor mechanics of Tebow any day. Tebow is the No. 3 quarterback at best.

Would the Patriots really take Brady off the field to insert Tebow in a Wildcat package? Taking an elite quarterback like Brady off the field for any amount of plays is a huge mistake. Opposing defenses would love to see less Brady and more Tebow on a weekly basis. Would the Patriots be silly enough to oblige?

Maybe Tebow can play H-back or on special teams in New England. But that is nothing more than what he did with the New York Jets last year when things went awry. Is all of that worth the extra attention that Tebow brings? The Jets got their answer last year. Now, it's New England's turn to make the same mistake.

I do not see how adding Tebow makes the Patriots a better team. This is a franchise which prides itself on competing for championships. But New England took yet another step backward on Monday.

Does Tim Tebow's story add up?

December, 26, 2012
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Popular New York Jets backup quarterback Tim Tebow lashed out at critics who put him through the wringer last week for reportedly asking not to play in the team's Wildcat package. That brought many critics out of the woodworks, including NFL analyst Merril Hoge, who made headlines by calling Tebow a "phony."

Tebow has long been praised for his character and work ethic and didn't appreciate facing criticism in that regard for the first time in his career.

"For people to not know the situation and to bash your character and say you're a phony, you're a fake and you're a hypocrite, I think that's what's disappointing and that's what's frustrating," Tebow told reporters Wednesday. "It's a football game. That's one thing, if you're good or bad at football, but your character and integrity, that's who you are as a man. That's a lot more important. That's what's disappointing for me and frustrating because I take that way more serious than I'll ever take a football game."

Tebow
Tebow denied ESPNNewYork.com's report that he asked out of the Wildcat package.

"I never said, 'Hey, I don't want to do anything or I won't do anything,' " Tebow said. "That wasn't the talk at all. He knows that and everybody on this team knows I would never not do something if I was asked.”

But this is where things get murky. Does Tebow's story really add up?

If Tebow never asked out of the Wildcat package, why did receiver Jeremy Kerley replace him last Sunday against the San Diego Chargers? Did the Jets, suddenly in Week 16, think Kerley was better at running Tebow's package than Tebow? That's unlikely. Tebow also wasn't injured and practiced all week.

The timing of Tebow not playing in the Wildcat also was conspicuous, as it lined up with the same week Tebow was bypassed for third-string quarterback Greg McElroy. Jets head coach Rex Ryan has dodged questions of about whether Tebow asked not to play in the Wildcat.

Tebow also told ESPN's Adam Schefter that he smoothed things over with Ryan Friday and told the Jets' coach he'd perform any role to help the team. But why would Tebow have to say that to Ryan if Tebow claims he never asked out in the first place? Something had to happen prior for Tebow to feel the need to clear the air.

If Tebow didn't tell Jets coaches he didn't want to play in the Wildcat, then Tebow or the Jets need to come forward and explain why Tebow didn't play in the Wildcat last Sunday. Tebow is shooting down reports without explaining why he didn't play in his usual role. That is not hard to do.

Tebow's story appears incomplete and creates more questions than answers.

Who is the Jets' No. 2 quarterback?

December, 21, 2012
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Someone will hold a clipboard, and someone most likely will be inactive. But the New York Jets have been mum on the roles quarterbacks Mark Sanchez and Tim Tebow will play Sunday against the San Diego Chargers.

Jets coach Rex Ryan continues to deflect questions about his backup quarterback situation. Things changed dramatically this week when the Jets promoted third-string quarterback Greg McElroy to the top spot ahead of two former first-round picks in Sanchez and Tebow.

But if McElroy gets injured, who comes into the game?

"When I'm ready to let you guys know, I'll let you know that," Ryan told reporters.

Why Ryan isn't answering this question is a little baffling. Perhaps he still hasn't made his decision. But there is no gamesmanship to be played with the backup quarterback. The Chargers are not losing sleep this week over who will enter the game if McElroy is injured.

Our guess is Tebow remains the No. 2 quarterback because of the Wildcat option. The Jets would have to essentially take the Wildcat out of their playbook against the Chargers if Tebow was the No. 3 quarterback.

That would cap quite a fall for Sanchez, who was once thought of as the Jets' franchise quarterback of the present and future. Going from a starter to inactive in one week shows how bad a year Sanchez had.
Although nothing is made official, multiple reports indicate the New York Jets are leaning toward starting third-string quarterback Greg McElroy Sunday against the San Diego Chargers.

This move is interesting for several reasons.

First, this decision benches Mark Sanchez, who is guaranteed $8.25 million in 2013. What does this mean for Sanchez’s future with the team?

Second, why did the Jets pass over No. 2 quarterback Tim Tebow, who is healthy? It shows New York's coaching staff doesn't believe in Tebow as a backup. Tebow was acquired by the Jets to run the Wildcat offense. But it's clear New York doesn't want Tebow to do much else other than gimmicks.

McElroy played well in spot duty two weeks ago in a win over the Arizona Cardinals. The Jets want to see what they have in the second-year quarterback over these final two weeks. This is a good audition for the young quarterback.

However, this move is more telling about how the Jets feel about Sanchez and Tebow. We’ve said in the AFC East blog for a while that neither quarterback is the long-term solution. It appears the Jets have finally come to that realization.

Also, check out our poll from earlier Tuesday on who AFC East readers think should start.

Update: It's official: The Jets officially name McElroy the starter Tuesday afternoon.

Resting Tim Tebow the right thing to do

November, 30, 2012
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The New York Jets plan to sit backup quarterback Tim Tebow (ribs) for Sunday's game against the Arizona Cardinals, ESPN’s Ed Werder reports.

Following last week's injury fiasco on Thanksgiving, this is clearly the right thing to do.

Tebow first complained of rib discomfort after his Nov. 11 game against the Seattle Seahawks. But the Jets didn’t diagnose Tebow with broken ribs until two days before their Thanksgiving loss to the New England Patriots. The Jets dressed Tebow anyway but didn’t play him. After the game, Tebow admitted to the injury.

There is no point in dressing Tebow again this week if he isn't healthy enough to contribute. The Jets are wisely waiting until Tebow gets healthy.

Tebow's Wildcat package wasn’t doing much for the Jets anyway. The only way sitting Tebow becomes significant is if Jets starting quarterback Mark Sanchez is injured. That would pave the way for third-stringer Greg McElroy to get playing time in Tebow’s spot.

Bills ready for Tim Tebow, Wildcat?

September, 5, 2012
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The New York Jets have been hiding their Wildcat package with Tim Tebow all summer for the regular season. Now, the wait is over as the Buffalo Bills will be the first opponent to face the Jets and their Wildcat package under new offensive coordinator Tony Sparano.

There is a lot of mystery surrounding how Tebow will be used offensively. How many plays will the Jets run the Wildcat? Will there be new wrinkles compared to what we saw with Sparano in Miami? Can Tebow take pressure off starting quarterback Mark Sanchez by moving the chains?

Since the Jets haven't put it on tape, the Bills are preparing for the unknown. If Buffalo can stop Tebow and the Wildcat, that would go a long way to shutting down the sputtering Jets offense, which failed to score a touchdown in three preseason games.

"You have to pay attention to it. You know they've got it," Bills coach Chan Gailey said on a conference call with New York reporters Wednesday. "They've got a good weapon in Tebow, so you have to expect it. You have to work on it. You're guessing what they’re going to do a little bit, but you have to spend time on it. I’m just glad we have the extra day or two to get ready for it. In a regular week it would've been very tough."

We mentioned earlier this week that Buffalo has several advantages on its side. First, Bills quarterbacks coach David Lee introduced the Wildcat to Miami while working with Sparano. That should make for few surprises. Second, Buffalo played against Tebow last season and successfully pummeled the quarterback while running a similar system in Denver. Finally, the Bills have a Wildcat package of their own that the defense practices against regularly.

The Bills are probably the most prepared team for the Wildcat that Tebow and the Jets will face all season. It's another reason Sunday's AFC East matchup will be very interesting to see who executes the best to start the season.

Joe Namath rips Jets, Wildcat

August, 29, 2012
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In the least shocking news of the week, Joe Namath is back to ripping the New York Jets.

The former Jets quarterback and Hall of Famer didn't hold back during an interview with Adam Schein on Sirius NFL radio. It doesn't appear "Broadway Joe" is a big fan of the acquisition of popular backup quarterback Tim Tebow.

"I'm concerned with how the Jets are trying to build a team and win a championship," Namath said. "They seem more interested in the headlines."

Ouch!

But Namath did not stop there. He also had choice words for the Jets' offense and the Wildcat package. New York has yet to score a touchdown this preseason.

"The only reason to run the Wildcat is if your offense isn't working," Namath said, according to Schein.

The good news is Namath predicts the Jets to win nine or 10 games, mostly due to the defense. That's higher than most people in our AFC East community project. The AFC East blog set the over/under at 8.5 wins, and more than 70 percent took the under.

Is "Broadway Joe" right about the Jets, their Wildcat package and win total this season?

Can the Jets fix their offense?

August, 21, 2012
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Sanchez & Tebow & Holmes US PresswireMark Sanchez, left, Santonio Holmes, middle, Tim Tebow and the Jets have no TDs this preseason.
The New York Jets' offense can't run, can't pass, can't protect the quarterback and cannot get into the end zone.

Other than that, things are going pretty well.

The Jets are putting on a "Bad News Bears" type of performance offensively this preseason. Granted, these games don't count in the standings. But we haven't seen anything from the Jets to inspire confidence that they will improve on last season's No. 25 ranking in total offense during the regular season.

A full slate of organized team activities, minicamp and training camp have produced only three field goals in eight quarters. The Jets currently hold the embarrassing distinction as the only NFL team yet to score a preseason touchdown.

The much-hyped and much-anticipated quarterback battle between Mark Sanchez and Tim Tebow has fizzled. Sanchez is 13-of-17 for 80 yards, with one pick-six and five sacks. Tebow is 9-of-22 for 96 yards, one interception and four sacks. The Jets' offense this preseason is best measured in inches, not yards.

At some point, confidence might become an issue. This is a group that struggled all last season under former offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer. But with "Schotty" gone, there is no scapegoat left to point the finger at besides the players failing to execute.

"Obviously like anything else, you want touchdowns because you want to see kids smile," Jets first-year offensive coordinator Tony Sparano told reporters this week. "You want to see the smile on their face. You want to see some validation on what it is that we’ve been doing and how hard they’ve been working."

There weren't many smiles from the Jets' offense in last weekend's 26-3 loss to the New York Giants. The Jets looked very frustrated for only a second preseason game.

Jets starting tailback Shonn Greene voiced his frustration after a failed fourth-down conversion in the first half. Tebow also was vocal and upset with his teammates for missed assignments. Tebow was sacked four times by the Giants' backups.

There are so many issues with personnel and execution that you wonder if the Jets can fix their offense in time for their Week 1 showdown in the AFC East against the Buffalo Bills.

Starting with the offensive line, the Jets must figure out what to do with starting right tackle Wayne Hunter. In his first preseason game last weekend, Hunter allowed three sacks and had a fourth called back because of a Giants penalty. Hunter was a major problem last season and has shown no signs of improvement.

"That stuff happens to everybody," Sanchez said of Hunter's bad game. "I don't care who you are."

Sanchez also spoke of building up Hunter's confidence and continuing to have faith in the struggling right tackle. New York's coaches say Hunter's problems are correctable. But the truth is he's just not a good player. If the Jets had a viable replacement, they would have benched Hunter by now. The problem is New York's options are very thin.

The Jets might have to turn to third-year tackle Austin Howard. I don't know if he's any good, but he can't play much worse than Hunter did in the last preseason game. New York should start Howard on Sunday against the Carolina Panthers. If Howard doesn't give up four sacks in the first half, consider it progress. Another option would be to move draft bust Vladimir Ducasse from guard back to right tackle.

Whether it's Hunter, Howard or Ducasse, it's clear the Jets must give their right tackle help this season by consistently leaving in an extra tight end or running back. That takes away options in the passing game, but it is better than having Sanchez or Tebow laying on his back.

It's also time for the Jets to use their Wildcat offense. New York has been holding this formation close to the vest, but this wrinkle might be the best thing the Jets' offense has going for it. Tebow has proven he can move the chains with his legs, both with the Denver Broncos and the Jets in the preseason. I understand the Jets not wanting to show too much before they play the Bills on Sept. 9. But they should at least do a few basic, Wildcat plays to jumpstart the offense, get some work in and build the group's confidence.

My final preseason suggestion is for New York to play rookie receiver Stephen Hill as much as possible with the starters. The second-round pick has four receptions in two games. He is a raw talent in need of playing time. Hill has the size and speed to be an asset for the Jets, and this is the perfect time to develop him.

If Hill is more seasoned by the regular season when No. 1 receiver Santonio Holmes returns from his rib injury, the Jets' receivers will be in much better shape than they are now. Hill also is a solid run blocker who will contribute to New York's ground-and-pound offense.

The Jets have a lot of problems offensively. But benching Hunter, using the Wildcat and developing Hill as much as possible this preseason should patch a few holes.

With a strong defense, the Jets don't need their offense to be world-beaters to win games. New York just needs its leaky ship on offense to stay afloat and keep its head above water.
New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick is known for his detailed preparation. That is why it’s no surprise that New England’s defense is working on the Wildcat offense in August, when the Patriots won't face the formation until Week 4 at the earliest.

Belichick knows at least four of New England's 16 games this year will be against the Wildcat. Both the New York Jets and Buffalo Bills within the AFC East will run Wildcat packages.

The Jets, in particular, plan to use an extensive Wildcat package with backup quarterback Tim Tebow. New York has been keeping the package under wraps this summer, but that won't stop the Patriots from getting ready for it.

"We're working on things that we know we’re going to see during the year at some point," Belichick told reporters Wednesday. "We're going to see unbalanced line, we’re going to see Wildcat, we’re going to see five down looks on defense, we’re going to see odd spacing, even spacing, some things that we don’t do. When you put the play in, you put the play in against the different looks that you’re going to see. Some of them you see; some of them you walk through."

The Jets and Bills are the two biggest threats to the Patriots in the AFC East. Therefore, stopping their Wildcat packages could be one of the gateways to winning the division. Tebow gave New England some problems last year with the Denver Broncos’ read-option offense. New England can expect to see more of that, and the Patriots need to be prepared.

Morning take: Bills work on Wildcat

August, 15, 2012
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Here are the most interesting stories Wednesday in the AFC East: Morning take: The New York Jets aren’t the only AFC East team with a Wildcat. The Bills weren’t great at it last year with Brad Smith. But a little improvement could make a difference.
Morning take: Cromartie is one of the team's best athletes and the Jets need receivers. Maybe "Cro" can be of assistance on offense this season.
Morning take: Spikes can be an important part of the defense if he stays healthy. But staying on the field is most important.
  • It appears quarterback Matt Moore doesn't have a future with the Dolphins.
Morning take: Moore has just one year left on his contract and the team just drafted Ryan Tannehill in the first round. Moore is on borrowed time in Miami. That's why Tannehill is the long-term solution and should play right away.
The New York Jets received a visit from an old friend Tuesday.

Former Jets quarterback Chad Pennington stopped by Cortland, N.Y., to tutor Mark Sanchez and Tim Tebow in training camp. Besides being a former player, Pennington has several additional ties to the Jets. Pennington worked with Sanchez this offseason and also has a good relationship with New York offensive coordinator Tony Sparano, who coached Pennington with the Miami Dolphins.

Pennington is well versed in how to handle the Wildcat. Sanchez can learn a lot from Pennington in that regard. The key is staying in rhythm, despite being taken out of the lineup and having fewer snaps than the average starting quarterback.

Pennington was drafted by the Jets in 2000 and played eight seasons in New York and three seasons in Miami.

Morning take: Dolphins' depth chart

August, 14, 2012
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Here are the most interesting stories Tuesday in the AFC East: Morning take: There are not many changes, with the exception of quarterback David Garrard being injured and receiver Chad Johnson being released. Otherwise, you shouldn't take Miami's depth chart too seriously at this stage of training camp.
Morning take: Both are important players, so that's always alarming. But it doesn't appear to be anything serious. Gronkowski and Hernandez are expected to play this weekend.
  • Buffalo Bills cornerback Terrence McGee continues to slowly work his way back from knee surgery.
Morning take: Buffalo has gone through a youth movement at corner, and I’m not sure McGee makes the team. He’s a solid leader and player, when healthy. But I’m not sure McGee will be healthy enough to show the coaches what he can do before roster cuts.
Morning take: It's no secret Tim Tebow will be spearheading the formation, but the Jets don't want anyone to know how they will use it. New York feels it will be a big success against Buffalo on Sept. 9.

Morning take: Logan Mankins off PUP

August, 13, 2012
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Here are the most interesting stories Monday in the AFC East: Morning take: This is a great sign for Mankins and the Patriots. I had a lot of questions about Mankins making it back for Week 1, but it looks like there's a solid chance. Mankins surely is needed.
Morning take: The Jets are going vanilla in the preseason. Perhaps they prefer to wait until Week 1 to unveil Tim Tebow and Wildcat against the Buffalo Bills. But that would mean only running the formation in practice.
Morning take: This decision likely won't be made until the final preseason game. But Jones has some starting experience and the deep speed Buffalo needs.
Morning take: The Dolphins haven't been very forthcoming with injuries. Burnett's is another instance in which we are not sure how or when a player was injured. It's been a rough few days overall for Miami.
Everyone has an opinion on New York Jets backup quarterback Tim Tebow. But few have gone as far as former Jets and Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Boomer Esiason would.

According to Esiason, the Jets should cut Tebow -- now. Esiason says Tebow shouldn’t be on the team and is bringing more harm than good. Tebow was 0-for-3 in New York’s team-wide scrimmage.

"It's not in any way, shape or form I think benefitting this team,” Esiason said. “Right now in relation to who Mark Sanchez is, your starting quarterback, it’s a major mistake."

Esiason joins Joe Namath as former Jets quarterbacks who think the Tebow experiment is a bad idea. Esiason may prove to be right in that regard. But he’s simply wrong to say cut Tebow. That simply won’t happen.

Tebow is in the best shape of his career. He’s bulked up and will be a threat running the football. Tebow averages over five yards per carry in his career and will be a nice change of pace to New York’s gound-and-pound offense. Tebow also is helping the Jets on special teams as the team’s punt protector and is getting work on the kickoff team to see if he can help there.

Huge distraction or not, Tebow is one of the best 53 players on the Jets' roster. That will be enough to get him a roster spot. Tebow may not be a legit franchise quarterback. But he’s a solid football player who can help the Jets in several different ways.
CORTLAND, N.Y. -- The regular-season opener between the New York Jets and Buffalo Bills isn't for another five weeks. But the division rivals have the opener in mind as they progress through training camp and the preseason.

According to Jets head coach Rex Ryan, the Bills need to be wary of Tim Tebow and New York's Wildcat package. The Jets ran it in practice for the first time this week and are beginning the installing process.

The Bills vs. Jets in Week 1 is a huge opener in the AFC East and Tebow will be a factor, according to Ryan.

"The great thing is ... the Buffalo Bills, we're going to use [Tebow] 20 snaps, we’re going to use him two snaps, 50 snaps, they don’t know," Ryan said. "All I know is they have to prepare for him, and I know what that does to your preparation time. When you start running the Wildcat and what that does, you can’t just [blow] it off. There’s a lot of coordinators will be like, ‘Oh, it’s not big deal.’ Yes it is. You really can’t tell that lie, because I’ve been there in your shoes.”

The Bills did well against Tebow last season in their only meeting in 2011. Buffalo beat Tebow and the Denver Broncos, 40-14. Tebow threw for 185 yards, one touchdown, three interceptions and one fumble. Tebow also was sacked four times in what was one of his worst games of the season. But the Jets have different personnel and play in a new system.

Ryan also said Friday that he's not worried about the Bills’ interest in free-agent safety Jim Leonhard. The Bills hosted Leonhard for a visit this week. They could use depth at safety behind starters George Wilson and Jairus Bryd. But also Buffalo could use Leonhard’s inside knowledge of New York’s defense. Leonhard spent three seasons with the Jets and also played an additional year under Ryan with the Baltimore Ravens.

“It’s not a concern, because they have a ton of film. They have 1,200 plays from last year they can go watch,” Ryan said. “Jim does have a great grasp of what we do defensively. No question about that. But I’m sure Jim’s there because he’s a good football player.”

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