NFL Ramblings – Tebow, Vick and the Jets, Jets, Jets!
The epic battle between the New York Jets and Denver Broncos on Thursday night ended in the best way possible, with a Tim Tebow comeback in the final minutes. Taking possession with less than 4 minutes left on the clock Tebow drove his team down the field like the previous 56 minutes of ineptitude did not matter. When he had carved up the Jets in every way possible to get down to the 20 yard line the Jets said enough was enough. They sent an all-out blitz. Tebow saw it coming, evaded the rush and went straight to the end zone for the game winning TD. Comeback complete. Now let the discussion begin.
Our need to categorize everyone and everything is taken to an extreme when it comes to Tim Tebow. Some are unwilling to even accept the thought a QB with such weak pocket skills could make it in the elite NFL, others are simply standing behind one statement: “He is a winner.” He resonates so much because he is not fully understood (how could he be?) and even his biggest supporters or detractors have some doubt in their own minds and this only feeds their need for evidence to back up their evaluation. It has become a constant search to convince themselves, and everyone else, that they are right.
I don’t have any definitive answers and I am not trying too hard to evaluate him. I realize his abilities are unique and like any player he must be given the chance to prove himself. I am skeptical he can look so ugly on some throws and still win in the end, and yet when he makes a play like the TD run with the game in the balance and he is mobbed by his teammates you can’t help but feel it was not an accident.
That moment is what stands out to me right now. Tebow dashing through the end zone, dropping the ball and letting loose a primal scream to the raving fans, and moments later his ecstatic teammates mobbing him without a second thought. The moment was so genuine that no ref even bothered to throw a flag for excessive celebration in spite of the fact this is one of their favorite things to do after big plays. There wasn’t a single offensive player I could see who didn’t join in. Was it Tebow who inspired them to play so hard on the final drive? I don’t know.
But there is a lot I don’t know about Tebow. I don’t know if he will lead his team to the playoffs. I don’t know if he will win another game this year. I don’t know where he will be playing next season. I only know one thing. If Tebow wants to reach the heights that some people clearly have in mind for him then he will have to improve.
In the Broncos wins under Tebow this season they have put up point totals of 18, 38, 17 and 17 points. Not terrible. But not cutting it for an entire season either, especially when the wins have come over the Dolphins, Raiders, Chiefs and Jets (more on this in a minute). He will have to improve because the defense cannot hold the other team to 13 points or less every game like they are now. What’s especially impressive is that they are doing this without being set up in great field position or with an offense that is running a lot of plays. The success for the Broncos under Tebow has come because they have been willing to adapt their game to him. They have incorporated the option into their play calling and have used other misdirection and power run plays. I am not going to flat-out discredit a team running the option. (“Because it just can’t work in the NFL” as some would say) In general I don’t think NFL teams try enough different formations and schemes especially when it is clear they are not a good team. But we know Tebow must improve, whatever offense is being run, because while unique, this situation is not totally unprecedented.
We have seen wacky formations succeed in the NFL before, like the Dolphins Wild Cat in 2008. We have seen running quarterbacks have success too. The best examples being early Michael Vick and Vince Young in Tennessee. Both struggled to pass early in their careers but both did not have any trouble picking up wins either. (Look up Vince’s win-loss record, please.) Ultimately the Wild Cat was figured out and Vick and Vince did not improve tremendously as passers. All of these things faded away. Vick has attempted to re-invent himself now as more of a passer on the Eagles with mixed results and Vince is his back-up.
Both Vick and Vince had similar games early in their careers to what Tebow had a few nights ago. Poor performances wiped clean by using their athleticism late in the game to pick up wins for their teams. Vick was more spectacular though and incredibly tough to tackle. He was a big deal because of his high-light reel plays but we could rationalize why he was succeeding so overall he was not as polarizing. What makes what Tebow is doing so uncanny is just how poorly he is playing before he turns it around late. If he was playing like a decent QB and then turning into a great QB in the 4th quarter there would not be as much made of the comebacks.
But that is not what he is doing. What he is doing now is relying on the defense to keep his team in the game. Whether or not you want to believe Tebow playing quarterback is making the defense play better is up to you. But playing great D and having Tebow make a few great plays in the 4th quarter is the recipe for success right now. But it will not always be that way. Eventually Tebow will have to start putting together complete games or he won’t have long-term success. For now, let’s just enjoy every start. Make sure not to miss one because you never know what is going to happen.
The team that got Tebow’d on Thursday Night was the Jets. Everyone deserves blame for this loss. Special Teams for missing Field Goals, the defense for giving up the late drive with seemingly no answers, and of course the offense for letting Tebow hang around and especially for gifting the Broncos 7 points on an interception. The group I want to talk about though is the offense, not because I want to blame them for the loss but because I want to take a closer look at what kind of offense they are right now.
I went into the game thinking that Sanchez was the Jets main problem on offense and he was really holding them back, I even wrote about how no one is labelling Sanchez for the mediocre quarterback he is before the game. But what happened last night was not his fault. He didn’t play very good but he really had no help, and it would have taken a real all-star at QB to make the Jets offense successful last night. The Jets have gone backwards as a team and I don’t know if everyone has fully realized it yet.
The last two seasons the Jets made their living on offense running the ball behind a truly dominant O-line. This season the line just isn’t the same (the retirement of right tackle Damien Woody appears to have had a huge impact). The right side is a liability and they have lost the ability to drive the opponent off the ball in the run game. This is only the start of their problems. They have gone from a receiver tandem of Santonio Holmes- Braylon Edwards- Dustin Keller- Jerricho Cotchery down to Holmes-Keller-Plaxico Burress (they also had Derrick Mason, who they got to replace Cotchery but he has been let go already). This is a massive downgrade. The Jets seemed to think Burress would be able to help their offense more than Edwards but they couldn’t have been more wrong. It may seem like Burress is playing well because his catch numbers appear alright in the box score. But the reason he is getting so many catches is that he is the player the defense wants the Jets to throw to. Defenses are focusing on stopping Holmes who is still very dangerous. But beyond him the Jets don’t have anyone who can make big plays. Burress can still catch but he is slow and can only get open on certain routes, he is just a red zone threat being forced into a bigger role than he should have. Edwards gave the Jets the ability to stretch the field and he made big plays while wearing the green and white. Without him the Jets have become easy to defend and predictable.
Against Denver the Jets lost running back Shonn Greene early. With Tomlinson already hurt this forced Joe McKnight into the role as the main back. Mcknight has used his speed to make some nice plays on special teams but that is about where his contributions should end. He doesn’t have enough strength to be a running back, picture a poor man’s Reggie Bush. This made it easy for Denver to stop the run, which in turn did not give the Jets a lot of easy 3rd down conversions. The Broncos also did a good job of taking away Santonio Holmes and making Burress and the other Jets receivers beat them.
The Jets have turned their main strength (running) into a weakness, they have lost some of their most important contributors at wide receiver and their running backs aren’t performing like they use to either. Somehow none of this gets mentioned and the only person receiving the blame is Sanchez for not developing fast enough, or not playing at a level equal to last season.
Sanchez is just not a player who is going to carry a team, so unless surrounded with quality pieces he will always struggle. I don’t know what the Jets are going to do to fix the offense but right now they aren’t a threat to beat any of the top teams because of it.