Are you ready for some Tebow?
After months of anticipation, the Jets open the fourth season of the Rex Ryan era Sunday against the Bills. The last time we saw them in a real game was New Year's Day, and they were fighting among themselves in Miami. The team hasn't changed much since then, but the attitude is better (so they tell us) and they have Tim Tebow as their backup quarterback/Wildcat quarterback/personal punt protector/publicity stunt. (Joe Namath made me add the last one.)
Here's a breakdown of Jets-Bills:
1. Where's Tim? It wouldn't be a surprise if Tebow gets on the field for 18 to 20 snaps, counting offense and special teams. The most drama, of course, involves the Wildcat. They're capable of using Tebow in any number of ways, but they're counting on his running/improvisational ability to spark an offense that managed only one touchdown in the preseason. Look for Tebow in the red zone and in short-yardage situations, another bugaboo from the preseason. At times, QB Mark Sanchez will come off the field. They won't hesitate to let Tebow throw. If he gets a zero-coverage look -- no safety in the deep middle -- Tebow will let 'er rip.
2. Super Mario. RT Austin Howard makes his second career start. In his first start, a meaningless game for the Eagles in 2010, he had to block the Cowboys' DeMarcus Ware -- and he allowed two sacks. This time, Howard gets DE Mario Williams -- another killer. What's next, an old-timer's matchup against Deacon Jones? There's a lot riding on Howard vs. Williams -- the game and GM Mike Tannenbaum's reputation as a talent evaluator. Howard might surprise. He's a powerful man and could neutralize Williams' bull rush. But Williams is remarkably quick off the ball for a 292-pound man and he will cause problems with his outside rush. Tony Sparano can't leave Howard on an island or it could wreck the game.
3. Marksman. The Jets, no doubt, will look to establish their ground game, but Sanchez can't ignore the Bills' young corners, Aaron Williams and rookie Stephon Gilmore. They like to play aggressive, press coverage, so it'll be critical for Santonio Holmes and rookie Stephen Hill to beat bump-and-run at the line. Sanchez will go after Gilmore, especially if it's a Gilmore-Holmes matchup. Gotta keep Holmes happy; they don't want a repeat of last season. If Sanchez gets time, he should be able to do some damage. In his last four games against the Bills, he has eight TD passes, only two INTs.
4. A return trip to the island. You think Darrelle Revis will be motivated for this game, or what? He'll see a lot of Stevie Johnson, who enhanced his reputation last season with two good, but hardly great games against Revis -- a total of 11 passes for 159 yards and one TD. The Jets say Revis won't be matched exclusively against Johnson, but we'll see. By far, he's their No. 1 threat in the passing game. It makes sense to put Revis on him and let everyone else key on RB Fred Jackson, the cog in the Bills' AFC-leading rushing attack.
5. The oh-no-huddle. The Jets expect to see the no-huddle from the Bills. Makes sense. In their first preseason game, the Bills went no-huddle and didn't run the ball for the entire first quarter. This poses two potential problems for the Jets, who struggled last season against no-huddle attacks: Obviously, conditioning could be an issue, especially in the September heat. Secondly, it could allow the Bills to exploit certain matchups, especially if they use Jackson and RB C.J. Spiller at the same time. Spiller, who has receiver-quality skills, can split out -- and that would be a real headache for the Jets, whose linebackers and safeties have trouble in space.