NFL Nation: Tony Sparano
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- The Jets played their best all-around game of the season, overwhelming the young and rebuilding Colts 35-9 at MetLife Stadium. The Jets (3-3) snapped a two-game losing streak in what amounted to a must-win.
What it means: After four weeks of ugly and occasionally mediocre football, the Jets needed a confidence-boosting win. For one afternoon anyway, they regained their Ground & Pound identity -- Shonn Greene ran for a career-high 161 yards and three TDs -- and they played suffocating defense. They'll need the positive vibes because the Patriots are up next.
QB controversy on hold: Mark Sanchez tightened his grip on the starting job with an efficient performance against the defensively challenged Colts. Sanchez (11-for-18, 82 yards, no interceptions) threw a couple of 5-yard TD passes, fitting the ball into tight windows. Obviously, he benefited from a strong running game and sound pass protection, but give him credit: He didn't let the speculation about his job security bother him. Biggest positive: The Jets didn't commit a turnover for the first time in 17 games.
In the Nick of Tim: For a change, the Jets seemed to have a plan for Tim Tebow. He played only six snaps on offense, but he made a key play -- a third-and-1 run out of shotgun, setting up a TD. It was a clever play by coordinator Tony Sparano. He emptied the backfield and let Tebow run it up the gut from the Colts' 8. Moments earlier, Tebow the personal protector made the biggest play of the game. Yep, another fake punt. He took a direct snap and threw a little jump pass to LB Nick Bellore, who ran like an over-caffeinated madman for 23 yards. Great call, great execution.
Greene day: Nice of you to join the season, Mr. Greene. Running with the determination of a man concerned about his starting job, Greene produced his first 100-yard rushing day in 10 games. He scored three touchdowns (10, 4 and 2 yards), including -- are you ready for this? -- a nifty spin move on one TD. He escaped S Antoine Bethea behind the line, showing vision and quick feet. This was a different Greene. He demonstrated cutback ability and elusiveness, capitalizing on a dominant performance by the offensive line.
Ground & Pound: The Jets rushed for a season-high 252 yards, hammering an overmatched Colts front seven. The highlight was a 61-yard run by Joe McKnight, their longest run in three years. It was a vintage performance by the offensive linemen. They took a smashmouth approach, using a lot of two-TE packages. At times, the Jets used two tight ends in the backfield. There were some nice wrinkles in the running attack, but the story of the game was brute force. The Jets were too strong at the point of attack. Don't throw a parade, though: The Colts' run defense is awful. Their base defense had been allowing 5.1 yards per carry, worst in the league for a 3-4 team.
On the downside: Greene might have to carry the running game in the coming weeks because Bilal Powell (shoulder) and McKnight (ankle) left the game with injuries. The only other healthy back is rookie Jonathan Grimes.
Tough Luck, kid: Colts QB Andrew Luck (22-for-44, 280 yards, two interceptions) will be a great player someday -- but this wasn't his day. He was pressured by a previously nonexistent Jets pass rush, threw two interceptions, missed open receivers and couldn't get the ball to his go-to receiver, Reggie Wayne. CB Antonio Cromartie (three penalties) did a nice job on Wayne, intercepting one pass and holding him to three catches for 32 yards. The Jets' young linemen, Quinton Coples and Muhammad Wilkerson, played their best game. Pass-rusher Aaron Maybin also joined the party.
What's ahead: The Jets hit the road for the first time in a month, facing the first-place Patriots (3-2). The Jets have dropped three of the past four in the series.
FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- How predictable was this? Tim Tebow has rushed for 84 yards in three preseason games, and now pundits, including ESPN's Merrill Hoge, are calling to him to be a running back.
"Well, I will take that as a compliment from him," Tebow said. "I'm a quarterback, first and foremost. However else I can help the team, I will help the team. I think some things are just playing football and I think some things are position-specific."
Based on his preseason performance, Tebow should concentrate on throwing the ball. He has a 26.5 passer rating, having completed only 38 percent of his passes. But offensive coordinator Tony Sparano defended Tebow, claiming he's making strides as a passer. In essence, Sparano said fans and media types were way off base by criticizing Tebow for his 4-for-14, one-interception game against the Panthers.
Sparano named three specific situations in which he felt Tebow showed progress:
1. He said Tebow went from his first to second to third reads on a sideline completion. Previously, Tebow tended to lock on to his first read.
2. He completed a ball in the middle of the field to TE Dedrick Epps -- "a throw I'm sure a lot of people didn't think Tim can make."
3. He executed a hard play-action fake in a pro-style set, from under center, and fired a 12-yard completion to Jordan White. Tebow, who has played in the shotgun for most of his college and pro career, has little experience under center.
"When I watch the film, I see something a little different than I think most people (who) watch it see," Sparano said. "That's progress to me."
Five things to watch:
1. Oh-for-the-preseason? The Jets figured to experience growing pains in Tony Sparano's system, but they didn't think they'd still be looking for their first touchdown in the third game. The ugly numbers: no TDs in 24 possessions, 0-for-2 in the red zone, 5-for-26 on third down and 12 sacks.
The Mark Sanchez-led starting group absolutely needs to generate something -- anything -- or else doubts will start to creep into the locker room, if they haven't already. The starters won't play in the preseason finale, so this is the final chance to build confidence in Sparano, in his system and each other. Sanchez & Co. will play into the third quarter. The Panthers should be an easy mark; they finished 28th in total defense last season.
2. The power of Austin. Austin Howard might be the most scrutinized right tackle in recent preseason history. He starts for the benched Wayne Hunter, a move that has Jets fans rejoicing. Now the question is, can the dude actually play? It's Howard's job to lose. If he bombs, the front office will be wiping egg off its face. Howard has the potential to be a mauling run blocker, a good fit in Sparano's gap scheme, but his lateral quickness is suspect -- and that could show up in pass protection. He won't face any pass rushers the caliber of Justin Tuck or Jason Pierre-Paul, but Panthers LDE Greg Hardy (four sacks last season) is a young, ascending player with a burst. Sparano did game plan for the Panthers, so you can bet Howard will get plenty of tight-end help.
3. Tone time. After missing the first two games with a rib-cartilage injury, WR Santonio Holmes will make his preseason debut. The last time we saw him in a game was New Year's Day in Miami, where he was chased from the huddle by Hunter and benched by Brian Schottenheimer. Now Holmes will be welcomed back with open arms by a desperate offense. The Jets want to get him a few reps with Sanchez, with the hope of adding balance to their one-dimensional offense. (You could argue that it's no-dimensional, but we're being kind.) Slot WR Jeremy Kerley (hamstring) will also make his debut, which would give Sanchez his full complement of receivers for the first time.
4. Tebow yes, Wildcat no. The world will have to wait until Week 1 to see Tim Tebow and the read-option/Wildcat offense. Tebow will play the final quarter or so at quarterback, but we won't see him with the starters in the Wildcat, according to Rex Ryan. The Jets face the Bills in the opener, and the Bills' new QBs coach is David Lee, a former Sparano assistant who hatched the Wildcat in 2008. The Jets have some wrinkles up their sleeve and they don't want to reveal any clues to Lee -- classic NFL paranoia. One hidden aspect of the Sparano offense that could be dusted off is the vertical passing game. Sanchez has yet to attempt a pass longer than 12 yards; look for that to change on Sunday.
5. Where's the pressure? For the most part, the Jets' starting defense has played well, but they've yet to sack a starting quarterback -- a combined total of 23 drop-backs by Eli Manning and Andy Dalton. It's hardly cause for panic -- they haven't used their usual assortment of exotic blitzes -- but they'd like to see more production out of their four-man rush. Pass-rushing specialist Aaron Maybin has been quiet, especially against the first team. Rookie DE Quinton Coples is off to a nice start, but he has produced mostly against second- and third-teamers. Panthers QB Cam Newton is tough to chase down, but he'll provide a good challenge for the Jets' edge players.
CINCINNATI --Tim Tebow made his highly-anticipated Jets debut, providing a few Tebow moments but ultimately making a big mistake in the Jets' 17-6 loss to the Bengals Friday night in the preseason opener for both teams.
Tebow-Mania: Did he live up to the hype? Yes and no. Tebow, who replaced Mark Sanchez at the start of the second quarter, showed some fancy footwork in the pocket, scrambling for 34 yards on four attempts. There were no designed runs, no Wildcat plays; it was just Tebow doing what he does best, dodging tacklers and making something out of nothing. His running set up the Jets' first field goal, but he faded after that. In four series, he completed 4 of 8 passes for 27 yards, throwing a third-quarter interception in scoring territory. In the end, we really didn't learn anything about the Tebow/Sanchez dynamic. In Game 1, they existed in separate worlds. Oh, by the way, Tebow had three plays on the punt team, with no tackles.
Sparan-O: The Jets unveiled the Tony Sparano offense and it was ... well, let's just say it's a work in progress. It was Ground-and-Pound (the ugly kind), with a glaring lack of explosiveness. Sanchez and the starters played two series (14 plays) and they generated only two first downs, the latter on a Sanchez scramble. He completed 4 of 6 passes for 21 yards, including three to WR Patrick Turner. It was all quick stuff, nothing down the field. They got into a few second-and-long and third-and-long situations, and the pass protection broke down -- two sacks and one pressure. LT D'Brickashaw Ferguson allowed the pressure and TE Jeff Cumberland surrendered a sack. Looking for a positive? The starting offense didn't have any penalties and they didn't have any clock issues. That's called reaching for a silver lining.
Q rating: After two quiet weeks in camp, rookie DE Quinton Coples flashed a few times in his pro debut. The Jets' No. 1 pick recorded a sack, a tackle-for-loss, a pass deflection and drew a holding penalty on an inside bull rush. He didn't get a lot of action with the starting unit (only five of 18 snaps), but he demonstrated his power versus the run, doing a nice job of fighting off blocks in the second quarter. Coples did most of his damage against the Bengals' backups, so let's keep it in perspective. But let's say this about him: He did more in one game than Vernon Gholston ever did. He was one of the few bright spots on a defense that struggled on third-down.
Hill Street Blues: The Jets went into the game with a lot of questions at wide receiver -- and they still have questions. Rookie Stephen Hill finished with two catches for 17 yards, but he also had an open-field drop on a third-down pass that should've been a first down. He played a lot -- 22 of 28 plays in the first half. They took a long look at rookie Jordan White, who replaced Jeremy Kerley (hamstring) in the slot in three-receiver packages. White was targeted twice and didn't have any receptions. Chaz Schilens, who started, also was shut out. Without Santonio Holmes (ribs), the receiving is woefully thin and inexperienced. It might be time for GM Mike Tannenbaum to start wheeling and dealing.
Special teams blunder: Mike Westhoff wasn't a happy man. The Jets' punt team allowed a major jailbreak, resulting in a blocked punt by Dan Skuta and a recovery in the end zone by Cedric Peerman. It gave the Bengals a 10-3 halftime lead. Neither Tebow nor Eric Smith, the usual personal protectors, were in the game. Tebow was busy doing his quarterback thing and Smith was out with a left-knee injury. Smith didn't start at safety -- LaRon Landry and Yeremiah Bell started -- but he's a valuable reserve, in large part, because of his special-teams ability. They can't afford to lose him for an extended period.
What's Ahead: The Jets return to Cortland for their last five days in the upstate town, then return to New Jersey to face the Giants next Saturday night at MetLife Stadium.
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