Now that the Denver Broncos have decided to hand the ball — and their offense — to Tim Tebow, the question is, who's going to stop it? The Oakland Raiders and Kansas City Chiefs had no clue, but the New York Jets will try to do it on Thursday night. There are a few different ways to go about it, and here's now Rex Ryan and his defense could do it.
The Jets should stack the box with at least eight defenders, and play single man coverage on either side.
On this week's Shutdown Corner podcast with Greg Cosell, the NFL Films and ESPN game tape maven hypothesized that the best way to deal with an offense heavily predicated on a running quarterback would be to put most of your energy and personnel into stacking the line and forcing Tebow to throw the ball. The "46" defense, invented and perfected by Rex's dad Buddy, had this concept at its core.
"I thought they did less of the option stuff, and just more throwing the football," Cosell said of the Denver approach against the Chiefs last Sunday. "They run it out of that look, and you could argue that the option possibility dictates how defenses play. You know what wouldn't surprise me this week? Rex Ryan is a man who believes strongly in many things, and it would not surprise me to see the Jets line up with Antonio Cromartie and Darrelle Revis in pure Cover-0 man (no safeties deep) on their two wide receivers, and play with nine guys inside.
"The idea would be to basically say, 'Look — we're going to make it nearly impossible for you to run the football. We're going to have nine guys on the box, one of them's going to be assigned to you [Tebow] on every single snap, we're going to play man-to-man with the best man corner in the business and another one who is pretty good; whose game runs between A+ and C-, but who's still pretty good. We're going to make you have to do something different.'"
That's great in theory, and it will work when Tebow runs his selection of quarterback draws (especially in the red zone, where the Jets would most likely throw nine in the box anyway), but there are other things the Broncos do to set up the read option for success that would counter the Cover-0 approach — or, at the very least, force the Jets out of that from a formation perspective.
As I detailed after the Denver win over the Oakland Raiders, the Broncos will often run the option with a trips receiver set away from playside, which would immediately take the Bears out of a default "46" look. The trips look brings the back seven or eight (linebackers and safeties) in a shift of awareness, which is the whole idea. Then, the concept of slide blocking against playside makes the linebackers roll away from the weakside option — this is a concept that has worked in the NFL since Michael Vick was driving NFL defenses crazy with it half a decade ago in Atlanta.
So, just loading up and responding to old-school with more old-school might end with the Jets getting … well, schooled.
They should run their 7DB package and throw a bunch of different nickel/dime looks at Tebow.
This makes more sense, but takes away the spy look that could put a bigger player on Tebow full-time. The Jets might as well dispense with the "Amoeba" defense, since Tebow probably won't be making more than 10-15 passing protection calls in the game, and running a bunch of 7DB looks would at least take away the threat of strongside trips in the passing game. However, the Jets are better off with the quarter defense when they're playing teams like the New England Patriots and they're willing to concede the run. Their run defense, especially around the perimeter, has not been strong this season.
So, what's to be done?
Quite simply, mix it up.
This is the best way. The Jets can run their base 4-2 nickel and spy David Harris [my choice for the best mark on Tebow] while still slanting 5DB coverage to any bunch concepts. They can run straight 3-4 and seal both edges, preventing Tebow from reading the edge defender, as long as the weakside edge defender doesn't get pulled in by the running back fake inside. And, they could give the 3-3-5 a shot - -the Saints run this a lot, and it could be a very interesting way to take away the short pass if the Jets get off to a big lead and force the Broncos to rally through the air.
The Jets shouldn't have to adjust to the option per se — they have enough beef up front and enough talent at the linebacker level [not to mention a great scud missile in safety Jim Leonhard] to take out the run. The main thing against this offense is to keep enough discipline to prevent ends from being put on a string and run ragged by what they think is going on with playside, as opposed to what's really going on.
Rex Ryan has defended the option before — he devoted an entire chapter of his great book about the "46" defense to it — and I'll be very surprised if he doesn't provide the NFL with the template to put the Tebow Option to sleep … or, at least to give it a three-hour nap on Thursday night.