The Jets have made it widely known that they’ll be using the Wildcat this year. But what if they actually won’t be using it at all?
They’ve hired former Dolphins coach Tony Sparano, who four years ago bedeviled the Patriots with the surprise unveiling of the NFL’s version of the alternative attack, which works best when the players in the base offense remain on the field. In September 2008, the Dolphins slapped it together in the week preceding a game in New England — and they scored four touchdowns on six plays with Ronnie Brown taking the snap in shotgun formation, Ricky Williams lining up as a flanker who would come in motion and either get the ball on a handoff or (in that specific game) not get the ball on a handoff, and quarterback Chad Pennington split wide as a receiver.
Since then, it’s been used by several other teams, even though there has been a sense in more recent seasons that the Wildcat has run its course. In other incarnations, the Wildcat entailed actually removing the starting quarterback from the field and using a different signal-caller. The Eagles did it with Mike Vick (to the chagrin of Donovan McNabb). The Jets did it with Brad Smith. Even the Dolphins did it with Pat White, a second-round draft bust taken only months after Miami’s starting-quarterback-stays-on-the-field Wildcat wowed the league.
Tebow has worked with a similar, but different, approach during his two seasons in Denver, lining up in shotgun with a tailback to his side. The base play is a simple read-option, with the ball going to the running back if the defensive end on the side of the tailback comes wide or staying in Tebow’s hands, with the quarterback running to where the defensive end was if he bites on the handoff and crashes toward what would have been the point of attack.
From that basic look, Tebow can also pass after faking the handoff, as he did on the only play from scrimmage in overtime against the Steelers in January.
If that’s what the Jets will be using, it’s not the Wildcat. So what will the Jets be using?
There’s a reason, in our view, for the Jets to be so secretive about their practices entailing what they’re calling the “Wildcat.” There’s a reason, in our view, for the Jets to have not even broken out the Wildcat (or, as the case may be, the “TeBone”) in preseason games. And there’s a reason, in our view, for the Jets to be spending so much time talking about how preparing for the Wildcat will suck time away from preparing for the base offense.
We (and, really, for something potentially as harebrained as this I should say, “I”) think that, when the Jets host the Bills on September 9, what they use as the “Wildcat” package will neither be the Wildcat nor the Tebow read-option base offense.
Consider this. The Bills new quarterbacks coach is David Lee. He’s the same David Lee who was the quarterbacks coach in Miami in (yep) 2008. Though Sparano gets the credit for the Miami version of the Wildcat, his offensive coordinator (Dan Henning) called the attack that accounted for 28 points in the 38-13 thrashing of the Pats “the David Lee Special.” (That’s straight from Tim Layden’s Blood, Sweat and Chalk, easily the best modern compendium of football analysis.) It was Lee who had pitched the “Wild Hog” offense he’d used at Arkansas with Darren McFadden to Henning on the flight home from a 31-10 loss at Arizona only a week earlier.
And it’s Lee who now is working for the team the Jets will face in Week One and Week 17.
Chances are that David Lee knows how to stop the David Lee Special. Chances are that the Jets won’t be using it.
Last year, Pats coach Bill Belichick showed not once but twice that he knows how to shut down the Broncos TeBone offense. And, as always, the Jets play the Pats twice. Chances are that the Jets won’t be using the attack Tebow ran in Denver.
Then there are the Dolphins, who have plenty of guys on defense who were on the team when Sparano ran the show and Lee coached the quarterbacks and the Dolphins used both the true Wildcat and the short-lived and ill-fated Pat White version of the read-option. Since the Jets also will face Miami twice per year, chances are that the Jets won’t be giving the Dolphins any looks that they may have seen in practice over the past few seasons.
So if it’s not the Wildcat or the TeBone per se, what will the Jets be using? Maybe it’ll be the true single wing, a shell-game of an offense with a direct snap to Tebow and guys like Shonn Greene as the tailback and John Conner assuming the role of what was/is the “quarterback” in the offense, lined up not far behind the gap in the two tackles of the unbalanced line — and ready to blow up whomever stands between Tebow or Greene and the secondary.
Throw in Santonio Holmes as the single wingback in the “single wing,” and Holmes can play the role of Demaryius Thomas getting single coverage, if/when Tebow fakes a handoff and musters a reasonably accurate throw.
The point is that the Jets are smart enough to know that the teams they’ll face in six out of 16 games are smart enough to know how to defend the Wildcat and/or the TeBone. With Mark Sanchez leaving the field and Tebow entering from the sideline (unless the big secret is that the Jets plan to use Tebow as a fullback or tight end in the base offense), the Jets need a genuine element of surprise.
The surprise could be that, once Tebow enters the game, the offense that opposing defenses see will be nothing like what they expected to see.