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Greenberg: Learning to Love the 'Cat

Rex Ryan is so excited about keeping opposition defensive coordinators up late game-planning for the Wildcat, it's a wonder he can sleep at night.

"It's about that preparation," he says whenever asked.

It's doubtful that includes Tim Tebow being prepped to be booed in the home opener for having the temerity to interrupt, however briefly, the sharpest passing day of Mark Sanchez's career. A generation of fans raised on the necessity for one quarterback — and one quarterback only — needs to be sold on the benefits of two. Apparently not Sanchez, the guy whose feelings most count in this passion play.

"I bought in, just like everybody on the team," he said Sunday, not that a middle-of-the-pack quarterback, coming off 8-8 and going into his Year Four, really had any choice. But Wednesday he called Tebow "a great friend and an awesome teammate," which Sanchez will continue to do until those questions stop, which they will long before the benefits of having Tebow on the Jets' side run out.

That "tip of the iceberg" Sanchez says the Jets showed the NFL on Sunday — eight vanilla plays — is blowing smoke like dry ice. They want the football world to believe their Wildcat is more complex than even Troy Polamalu's hair. This Sunday in Pittsburgh, offensive coordinator Tony Sparano is under strict orders from Ryan not to fire off Tebow until he sees the bags under Steelers defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau's eyes.

Of course, after a blowout of a Bills team that will struggle to win six games, it gets a lot harder for the Jets, first against an always formidable Steelers defense that probably will be rejoined by James Harrison and Ryan Clark, both of whom missed the opening loss to the Broncos.

The Steelers, who in the mid-Fifties were the last NFL team to abandon the single wing, have the chance to be the first to render the Jets' version of it obsolete, but we don't think so.

In the long run, the Wildcat will produce some long runs that will serve Sanchez well. It doesn't put more pressure on him, but takes it off of him. You don't have to be able to distinguish an X from an O to know that that the better the Jets can run the ball — in whatever package — the shorter will be the distance to go on third downs, the better their passing game potentially becomes, and the more improved will be Sanchez's image as a leader and winner.

After his development stalled a year ago, perhaps he needed a push and perhaps he didn't, but certainly Sanchez seems not offended by Tebow's intrusion. If, deep down, Sanchez still is, then he's not the leader and quarterback with whom the Jets should go forward, and, besides, what really is the threat? Tebow does not throw the ball consistently with enough accuracy to be a top-level quarterback and a peril to Sanchez.

To teams like the Steelers, it's a different story.

"I know we had better be prepared for more than what I saw him do in the game on Sunday" said their coach, Mike Tomlin, yesterday, before adding the Wildcat wasn't as obscure as it was four or five years ago and therefore not as big an undertaking in game-planning.

Indeed, if Tomlin loses any sleep this week, it's mostly because he still hasn't had a wink since Tebow found Demaryius Thomas for 80 yards in overtime in January, not due to any great unknown. Tebow also ran for an 8-yard touchdown in that game and, despite just 10-for-21 passing accuracy, still won it, which is what he does.

The Steelers knew what they were getting and still lost, so we don't exactly know what is gimmicky about a 6'3", 236-pounder who can get to the edge, run over people, and is a threat to successfully lob the odd one on the run for a first down or more.

Beats Shonn Greene throwing halfback passes, for sure. The Jets, who averaged 4.8 yards per offensive play in 2011, tied for 26th in the NFL, have added a unique athlete and it doesn't hurt them that Tebow looks pretty good without a shirt besides.

The squarest peg in pro football isn't being pounded into any round holes here, and Sanchez also can run the plays that best play to his strength. He is not likely to be off the field long enough to go cold and it doesn't have to get lonely for him out there on the flank, either, while Tebow is taking direct snaps. Sooner or later that ball is going to be pitched into Sanchez's hands with multiple options to do something good with it, including giving it back to Tebow.

We don't know how much there is beneath the tip of this iceberg, only that after consecutive appearances in the AFC title game, this Titanic sank last year in the final three games of the season. So it was the Jets' offense that needed to be raised with this move, much more than their profile.

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