Breaking Down Tim Tebow's Red-Zone Package for the New York Jets

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Breaking Down Tim Tebow's Red-Zone Package for the New York Jets

The New York Jets plan to use Tim Tebow in a variety of ways this season, and recently Rich Cimini of ESPN New York reported that the Jets plan to replace Mark Sanchez with Tebow in the red zone.

The plan is notable because, interestingly enough, the Jets were not bad in the red zone last season. As the Wall Street Journal noted in December, the Sanchez-led Jets were among the league's best. Meanwhile, ESPN Stats and Info points out that Tebow led the Broncos to 20 touchdowns in 70 red-zone plays last season—best of any quarterback.

So what will this red-zone package look like? From Cimini:

They haven't divulged any specifics, but it'll probably be closer to the read-option offense he ran in Denver than a true Wildcat, which is a direct snap to a running back. Team insiders say the plan is to use Tebow in the red zone, where they can replace Sanchez with another player/blocker to bolster the running game.

Here is a look at Tim Tebow and Percy Harvin running the read option at Florida:

The basic premise of the play is not what you might think. The primary idea is not to confuse defenders—most learned how to defend multiple iterations of the option in middle school. The goal isn't even to provide a changeup to normal running/blocking schemes—teams that run option the best often do so exclusively.

The primary function of the option attack is to turn football into a numbers game.

Football is simple: 11 players on offense have to get past 11 defenders. In an ideal offensive situation, each of the 11 players will be able to overcome their defender and accomplish their assignment. However, football (like life) isn't an ideal atmosphere. In fact, if that team of übermensch ever existed, coaches would not be needed as the players walked through a 16-0 season and an easy Super Bowl.

In reality, players miss assignments, are overmatched and flat-out suck.

Thus, all coaches are tasked with covering up deficiencies, playing to strengths and putting their team in the best possible situation to succeed. How coaches do that (and the defenses that counter those schemes) is where football can begin to get confusing—especially at the pro level.

Teams that run the option (in Tebow's specific case, the zone read option) do so because they don't want to play 11-on-11. Since defenders rarely leave the field when asked nicely, the offense simply removes them (functionally) from the play.

Consider this diagram of the zone read:

Credit: Chris Brown of Smart Football

On the front side of the play (the right side), the offense has five blockers plus the ball-carrier, and the defense has six defenders. Although the safety is unaccounted for, you can be absolutely sure that both the right guard and the right tackle are taught to "peel into the secondary" to take care of that safety. However, the offense is also expecting that, one-on-one, the running back can beat the safety in space.

The most dangerous player on defense is the backside defensive end. If he sells out on the running back, it doesn't matter who's blocking who on the play side. He will blow up that play 10 times out of 10.

If the defensive end does so, the quarterback takes the ball himself. This is the "option" in option football—the quarterback has the option (based on what the end does) to either hand the ball off or run it to the opposite side of the field.

Now, consider the back side of the play.

If the defensive end has sold out on the running back, he has taken himself out of the play. This is where the magic happens. As five defenders (because we're not counting the optioned end) flow to the right, the quarterback takes off to the left. Again, it boils down to one-on-one football, as the safety is forced to play perfectly to take out the quarterback.

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The numbers game can become even more prominent when teams utilize jet sweeps (putting the wide receiver in motion) or bubble motion to create a triple option. It is not uncommon to see these types of plays when (again, functionally speaking) the offense is playing 5-on-3 football and the defense doesn't stand a chance.

So the Jets, on their part, aren't asking 11 players to be perfect in the red zone. In reality, they just need a few players to stick to their blocking assignments and one person, Tebow, to make the perfect read. Luckily for the Jets, as bad as Tebow is as a passer, he excels at making option reads.

For opponents, because the numbers game eliminates up to half of the defensive scheme, it puts added pressure on the remaining group to either blow up their blocker or sell out to one side or the other. Because, frankly, even if the safety plays perfectly, that's potentially a four- or five-yard gain on every run, which is more than fine with most coaches.

Because of this, the option has the ability to option almost any defender and even option multiple defenders. Which defender is being optioned can be switched easily without changing anything else about the play. This means an offense can run, fundamentally, the same play but give the defense two separate looks to consider. 

Although the diagram above shows the defensive end being optioned, this diagram shows the blocking scheme taking advantage of a defensive tackle.

Credit: Chris Brown of Smart Football

So, it's not only a numbers game, but also a matter of strength vs. weakness. The offense looks to take the best defender out of the game and block lesser defenders with its best personnel.

Defending the option is not easy. Crowding the line of scrimmage only compounds errors on defense, opening up downfield running lanes. Blitzing can create havoc against the option, but it doesn't change the fundamental blocking of the offense, and a good option quarterback can still make a good read (especially from the shotgun).

The only way to truly defend the option is to stick to assignments, not sell out to play fakes and win individual assignments.

Finally, we've talked about the quarterback's option to hand off and his option to run (option), and we've mentioned the ability to add another offensive option in there as well (triple option), but we haven't yet mentioned the ability Tebow will almost always have, and that is to pass.

Whether you want to call it the run-pass option or the quadruple option, the fact that Tebow will always have some sort of hot route, jump pass or simply a play-action fake off this look will keep defenders on their toes in all the worst ways.

Tebow, for all his shortcomings as a passer, can still hit easy passes to wide-open receivers—just like he did against Pittsburgh, in overtime, in the playoffs.

Note the read option look off the snap and the defenders' eyes staring into the backfield as Demaryius Thomas runs right between them. This was after an entire game of being conditioned to Tebow taking off in situations like that (10 rushes for 50 yards and a touchdown).

Tebow isn't a great passer, and he isn't even as great a passer in the red zone as Mark Sanchez, but the offense isn't about that. The reason the Jets are installing this package is because it, theoretically, is bread and butter. It shouldn't fail if run correctly. It should mean scoring touchdowns every time the Jets get to the end zone, two-point conversions whenever they want and picking up first downs whenever they need to.

It's also about, to some extent, a lack of trust in the offensive personnel in New York. Sanchez's history of mediocrity has been chronicled enough, and Shonn Greene is just starting to wear thin his welcome as the Jets' featured back. Santonio Holmes is the only receiver of note, and "trust" is not a word most coaches would use in reference to him. The offensive line, overall, is a mess.

Call this a gimmick if you want—even though the option has been around 70 years—but wait and see how this grand experiment plays out. A two-quarterback system has never truly worked in the NFL. However, betting against Tebow left many looking foolish in 2011, and the Jets are banking on that being the case this year as well.

 

Michael Schottey is an NFL Associate Editor for Bleacher Report and an award-winning member of the Pro Football Writers of America. He has professionally covered both the Minnesota Vikings and the Detroit Lions, as well as NFL events like the scouting combine and the Senior Bowl.

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