Commentary

Ready for Tebow & the real Wildcat?

If Jets don't reveal the Full Cat on Sunday vs. Steelers, they might as well scrap it

Updated: September 14, 2012, 4:58 PM ET
By Rich Cimini | ESPNNewYork.com

FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- A snarky sports writer covering this past Sunday's game at MetLife Stadium might have mulled the following lead: "Tim Tebow rushed for 11 yards to lead the New York Jets to a 48-28 victory ..."

The ballyhooed Wildcat package, as everybody knows, was a nonfactor in the season opener, prompting hysterical overreaction from certain segments of the media: Ditch the Wildcat ... Tebow wants to be traded.

[+] EnlargeTim Tebow
MSA/Icon SMIExpect to see more of Tim Tebow, who torched the Steelers' defense in last season's playoffs, on the field Sunday.

Reality check, people: The Jets have no plans to abandon the Tebow package, and there's a good chance they will let the real Wildcat out of the bag this Sunday against the Pittsburgh Steelers. And they should.

If they don't reveal the Full Cat this week, they might as well toss it aside. This is the perfect time. They always struggle to run the ball against the Steelers (who doesn't?), and the Wildcat would be a good way to soften up a physical defense loaded with an ornery bunch of old guys who know how to play the game -- seven starters in their 30s.

The Jets downplayed Tebow's stunning success against the Steelers this past January in the AFC playoffs, but don't believe that for a second. He passed for 316 yards against them, exploiting nine-man fronts that showed absolutely zero respect for his ability to throw a football. It has to be part of the Jets' plan at Heinz Field, where the Steelers have won nine straight home openers.

"Knowing what Tim did against Pittsburgh a year ago, I'm sure Pittsburgh will take a peek at that," offensive coordinator Tony Sparano said. "But from my end, [it means] very little."

Right.

That the Steelers have that bitter memory works to New York's advantage. If they play Tebow the same way -- "zero" coverage, with no safety in the deep middle -- it opens up possibilities in the passing game. (Could rookie wide receiver Stephen Hill play the role of playoff hero Demaryius Thomas, a fellow Georgia Tech alum?) If the Steelers defend Tebow with conventional coverage, it creates opportunities in the running game.

Call it a game of Wildcat-and-mouse. The Jets would be foolish not to tap into that resource, complementing what they established last week with Mark Sanchez & Co. With cornerback Darrelle Revis sidelined with a concussion, the Jets need to keep their Revis-less defense off the field and that means ball control. Tebow would help that cause.

"When we have to go to the Wildcat, we know we can, no problem," running back Joe McKnight said. "Last week was just a small little sample."

Tebow lined up in shotgun eight times last week against the Buffalo Bills, keeping it five times, handing off three times and attempting no passes. End result: a grand total of 22 yards, hardly living up to the hype. When the score got lopsided, Sparano decided to pull back, putting the running game in the hands of his halfbacks.

There were many positives from the game, especially from Sanchez. With terrific pass protection, he had time to attack the entire field. In fact, he set a career high with three touchdown passes outside the numbers, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

Sanchez also spread the ball around. Instead of relying on the old standbys, Dustin Keller and Santonio Holmes, he got the young players involved. He completed nine of 10 passes, including three touchdowns, to Hill and Jeremy Kerley. Interestingly, all three red zone attempts went to Hill and Kerley.

It quieted the critics that general manager Mike Tannenbaum didn't surround Sanchez with enough weapons -- for a week, anyway.

But those were the Bills; these are the Steelers. Big difference.

The Bills came after Sanchez with a four-man pass rush that had more vanilla than the local Dairy Queen. The Steelers will come with exotic blitzes from the creative mind of coordinator Dick LeBeau.

The Bills' cornerbacks rarely played press coverage, giving free releases to the Jets' receivers. The Steelers' corners will try to mug them at the line -- "and we have to take that fight back to them," Hill said.

Overall, the Bills played as if it were their fifth preseason game. The Steelers, who haven't been 0-2 since 2002 (when Sanchez was a 16-year-old kid in SoCal), will hit back. Heck, they'll hit first. They're a near-desperate team, and they'll have the support of a full-throated, Terrible Towel-waving throng.

The Jets know the place, as Heinz Field is the graveyard for two almost-glorious seasons. They lost there in the 2004 playoffs (Doug Brien, anyone?), and they lost the 2010 AFC Championship Game, arriving 30 minutes late for the party. It still haunts some in the organization.

"As soon as you turn [the film] on and you just see the uniforms and the field and the setting of the game, you go right back there," defensive coordinator Mike Pettine said.

In some ways, the Jets haven't been the same since that crushing loss, but maybe they made the turn last week. They showed us so much, yet so little with regard to Tebow, whom Steelers coach Mike Tomlin called "a capable passer."

They go back to the Jets cemetery along the shores of the Monongahela with a Steelers-killer on their side. Use him.

Prediction: The tenor of the Tebow stories will be a lot different this week.

Rich Cimini

ESPN New York Jets reporter

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