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Jets attempting red-zone balancing act with Sanchez, Tebow

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By Kevin Fishbain

A recent report from ESPN New York has increased the attention on the league’s most famous backup quarterback — if that was even possible. According to the story, team insiders indicated that the Jets’ plan is to use Tim Tebow in the red zone, which gives Gang Green an extra blocker for the run game.

It’s no surprise that Tebow’s athleticism will be utilized near the goal line, but the idea of Tebow replacing Mark Sanchez when the team is in the red zone can’t be helpful for Sanchez’s confidence, something that is often scrutinized and will be heavily challenged this year due to Tebow’s presence.

The Jets, though, had few struggles punching it in when the offense got inside the opponent’s 20-yard line. In fact, the Jets led the NFL in red-zone efficiency, scoring touchdowns on 65.5 percent of their trips inside the 20. Sanchez threw 21 touchdowns and only three interceptions in the red zone last season, and had a passer rating of 89.1. He also rushed for six scores last season. Sanchez loses his top red-zone weapon from last season, however, in WR Plaxico Burress, who was a big reason for Sanchez's success and remains a free agent. Newcomers Chaz Schilens and Stephen Hill will try to fill the void to give Sanchez a big pass catcher, along with TE Dustin Keller, one of Sanchez’s favorite targets.

New offensive coordinator Tony Sparano, with his affinity for the “Wildcat,” is expected to find creative ways to use Tebow to help move the football. During his time in Miami, especially in 2010, Sparano’s Dolphins struggled mightily to get points in the red zone. We heard then that the lack of success from the “Wildcat” was one reason for the struggles.

Sparano’s former assistant, David Lee, is now the Bills' quarterback coach and considered responsible for bringing the “Wildcat” to the NFL in 2008. He told PFW in a 2011 interview that the formation is “most effective in the red, tight-red areas. As a play-caller, you’re less worried about the snap being on the ground or the mesh (motion) guy’s timing being off.” With that in mind, it makes plenty of sense for Sparano to get the most out of Tebow and the "Wildcat" when the Jets reach the red zone.

As a runner, Tebow had 13 carries for 53 yards (4.1-yard average) and five touchdowns in the red zone last season. He completed 50 percent of his red-zone passes for six scores and two interceptions (61.9 passer rating).

Tebow will certainly be a weapon for the Jets inside the opponent's 20 — that has not been a secret — as to how many snaps he will take away from Sanchez, who thrived in that area of the field last year, will be closely watched in the coming months.

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