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Breaking Down the Jets vs the Buccaneers

The Jets look to get a breather this week, at least on paper, when they take on one of the worst teams in the NFL. Howeer this Jets team can take nothing for granted and has to make a statement that the "Same Old Jets" December dives are a thing of the past.

Jets Offense vs. Buccaneers Defense

The once proud Tampa Bay defense has fallen on hard times ever since the final few weeks of the 2008 season where they went from being one of the top units in the NFL to the bottom of the barrel in the blink of an eye. They have not recovered in 2009 and have sunk to the bottom of the NFL. In an attempt to fix things the team has reverted back to their old Tampa 2 scheme to take advantage of what is the perceived strength of the team which is in the secondary. The Bucs secondary has a good group of athletes that are capable of closing on receivers and picking off the football. The teams top corner Aqib Talib, a strong physical player , has a game with 3 interceptions and is one of the up and coming corners in the NFL, He has a hamstring injury but is expected to play this week. They need him to match up with Braylon Edwards. CB Ronde Barber is at the end of an illustrious career but is best suited to playing the slot now. He no longer has the quickness and speed to covers guys down the sidelines. S Tanard Jackson has excellent range and is a “pick six” player. For the most part this group does a good job keeping plays from going long and allowing their defensive line enough time to force the coverage sack or throwaway from the QB. Where the Bucs falter is in their front 7. The defensive line is very soft against the run. They have shown poor form and lack of the ability to shed blockers. They have stated that they hope the change in defense improves their run recognition, but the physical problems are hard to overcome and the team is one of the worst run defense in the NFL. The players do have the ability to rush the QB and never give up on plays. While nobody is an elite rusher they are all high energy players who will make a lineman pay for letting up just for a second or will hit the QB if he starts dancing around in the pocket. MLB Barrett Rudd is arguably the best player on the team. Rudd is a big hitter that has the ability to cause a fumble if he gets a clean shot at the runner. He also is solid in coverage and is the QB of the defense. For as good as Rudd is though, the team is hurt by basically trying to develop special teams players into starters alongside him. Players like Geno Hayes and Quincy Black are learning how to play and do not do well when they are faced with contact. They allow teams to have pretty good success using the safety valve receiver out of the backfield.

The big question that came out of the Bills game was the health of QB Mark Sanchez. Sanchez strained his PCL after making another reckless running mistake just days after the team publicly said he had to stop playing this way. While you do have to love the gamer in Sanchez, this has been a concern since day 1 when Bart Scott ripped into him during training camp for diving across the goalline in practice and the staff did not nip this in the bud early on to where it has become another distraction for the team and young QB. Prior to the injury, Sanchez was perhaps having his best game as a pro in terms of being more patient in the pocket and playing it safe for the second week in a row. Now the Jets will turn the reigns over to backup Kellen Clemens. Last week, the Jets staff showed no confidence at all in Clemens who was treated as a rookie off the street rather than a 4 year pro who was drafted in the 2nd round. Clemens prior stints have shown him to be inaccurate and very poor in the pocket, but he has no pressure on him at this point and seems to really relish this chance to show he can play in the NFL. With Ryan now taking an active role in the offensive game planning the most important person in the offense has become RB Thomas Jones. Prior to these past two games the Jets gameplan has seen a ratio of 1.3 runs to every pass, but in these last two game the ratio has gone off the charts favoring the run with a 2.3 to 1 run/pass ratio. Jones gets the majority of the carries and with Shonn Greene’s possible fumbling problems it means Jones is really going to be the horse in the 1st and 4th quarters when turnovers are often the most devastating. The offensive line seems to have accepted the challenge and is playing very well in the run game. RT Damien Woody in particular has been excellent in this regard as he seems to be clearing everything out of his way. WR Braylon Edwards has also been a big help to the running game. If you watch any play that goes to his side you will almost always see Edwards doing a great job blocking down the field. As a receiver Edwards showed last week why he is such a frustrating talent. Edwards dropped a gimmee 84 yard bomb that was in his hands with nobody within 10 yards of him and seemed to cut a route short later on, but also made a number of tough catches that likely nobody else on the team would have made. It may not come together for him this year, but if the Jets positional coaches can work with him in the offseason to become more consistent he has the ability to be one of the top 5 in the NFL. Jerricho Cotchery continues to be remarkably consistent and seems to catch almost everything that comes his way. Dustin Keller had a quiet game and will look to be more involved in the passing game this week.

The Buccaneers would look to be a near perfect matchup for what the Jets are currently trying to do on offense. Tampa has all kinds of problems stopping the run and rank right near the bottom of the NFL in giving up runs of 20 yards or more a category that the Jets offense does very well in. Expect the Jets to come out early and try to pound the rock and wear down the Tampa defense. The Bucs usually do a decent job on defense early but get worn down as the game goes on and proceed to give up big yards and big points later on. The way to best wear them out is to dictate the pace of the game and allow your big offensive linemen to maul the defensive line and linebackers. The two back system has been a nighmare for the Bucs defense who can not seem to figure out the patterns of different styled runners. The only team that they recently stopped in the running game was Atlanta in a game where starter Michael Turner went out with injury leaving Atlanta with just one primary carrier. The Jets should have good success using Greene along with Jones and they may also have another matchup where the inside handoff to FB Tony Richardson can prove to be a big gainer. Utilizing two backs in the backfield for a few plays may also work. Clemens is going to be asked to “manage” the game, meaning controlled passes and alot of handing off. If Clemens was able to get some chemistry going between he and his receivers a controlled passing game should match up very well against a Bucs secondary that is susceptible to the intermediate passing game. This would look to be a good matchup for Cotchery, who is the only player on the team that Clemens has extensively worked with in the past. Tampa has a tendency to give up big pass plays if they overplay the run to speedy guys which could mean a chance for David Clowney to be involved with the offense, and it would not be stunning to see the flea flicker dusted off again. With Clemens in the game the defense is going to overplay the run to the point where that type of play can work. One area that the Jets will likely be working on this week is red zone execution. The team is leaving a lot of points on the field turning games that should be blowout wins into tight games which they have a chance to lose. The Jets in their last 3 games are only converting red zone opportunities into TDs 33% of the time. The only game Tampa can typically win is the game where the opponent fails to score points. The Bucs have give up at least 28 points in 7 games this year and in those games the average margin for Tampa is 14 points. In the remainder of their games the margin is about 3 points a game if you take the one blowout loss out of the equation. The Jets can not afford to be in a close game, especially on the road.

Jets Defense vs. Buccaneers Offense

After struggling all season with the offense, the decision was finally made to go with rookie Josh Freeman after the Bucs bye week. Freeman started out strong as he helped lead his team to a victory against the Green Bay Packers in his first start, but has not done nearly as well since then. Freeman has the ability to hit big plays down the sideline and he isn’t afraid to throw the ball, but is showing the typical rookie bad decision making which has cost the team games these past few weeks. Freeman has 8 interceptions in his last 3 games. He is not helped by the lack of running game the team has. The Buccaneers have yet to produce a player that rushes for a hundred yards in a game and their backfield by committee has been disappointing. Cadillac Williams is the primary ball carrier, but has almost no burst at all and has been a relative non-factor since the QB change was made averaging just 3.9 YPC with only 1 TD. Derrick Ward has been a massive bust since being signed as a free agent. Expected to nail down the starting job, Ward basically carries the ball a handful of times a game and is just a 3rd down back. He can catch some passes out of the backfield. The team has some athletes who can catch the football. WR Antonio Bryant, who has battled injuries all season long, looks to be healthy and is coming off two huge games for the team. He is a deep threat that can make the circus highlight reel catch. Nobody has ever doubted the ability of TE Kellen Winslow, but there were always questions about where the NFL ranked as a priority for him. He seems to have rebounded since being traded to the Buccaneers and is a prime target in the passing game. WR Michael Clayton will likely miss the game with injury which will put Maurice Stovall as the prime secondary option. Stovall is a decent player, but the team is better off with both he and Clayton splitting reps. Overall the offense is capable of a few big plays through the air, but they have no ability to really sustain drives. They do not convert on 3rd down. They have problems in the red zone, if they ever even get there. And most importantly they do not put points on the board.

While the Jets have not exactly faced offensive powerhouses these last two weeks, the defense seems to have recaptured their mojo that left them after the bye week. CB Darrelle Revis is playing so well that if the Jets were a better team he might be a lock for the defensive player of the year award. He plays the ball so well in the air that teams are either going to have to be forced to never throw to his receiver or face the strong possibility of an interception. He is clearly the most well rounded corner in the NFL. After some defensive line woes early on this season which was followed by panic when they lost NY Kris Jenkins, the Jets line, behind the strong play of Shaun Ellis, has become an unquestioned strength of the team. DE Marques Douglas is making a strong push to remain on the team beyond this season while both Sione Pouha and Mike DeVito are rewarding the Jets for signing them to extensions early on. When these three players do well the Jets look like an entirely different team in part because it opens up lanes for LB David Harris to do what he does best and that is attack the ball. Harris is a huge hitter who does a tremendous job of recognizing what is in front of him. When he has that clean hit in front of him he has a chance to force the turnover. The Jets secondary has its number of questions surrounding the personnel. S Kerry Rhodes has made some interesting comments that can be interpreted in a number of ways, many of which may not be positive for the team. He saw more time last week and could be close to replacing Eric Smith, who has played well in a starting role. The story also leaked that the Jets will not pick up a hefty option on CB Lito Sheppard, though Sheppard should have already seen the writing on the wall regarding that bonus. Sheppard had his best game as a Jet against the Bills, but Sheppard has not really been trusted to be a big part of the defense until injuries forced him back into a starting role. How he plays these last 4 weeks will likely determine where he finds job in 2010. Hopefully that motivates him down the stretch.

The Jets, in dealing with their own rookie QB blues, should know all too well what they need to do to stop Freeman and the Bucs offense. Simply stop the run early and force the team into a passing mode, something the Bucs have not been hesitant to do with the rookie QB. Freeman has yet to throw less than 28 passes in any start this season which is as much an indictment of the teams running game as it is their faith in the young QB. Once they become a pass first offense it just becomes a game of confusing the QB with different looks from the defense and then battering him around with the pass rush, a facet of the Jets game that has come alive the last few weeks. Freeman is going to commit turnovers in these situations and does not show the ability thus far to deal with pressurized situations and has 9 turnovers in his last three games. The most important thing for the Jets to do is to make sure that they take advantages of the mistakes the Bucs make on offense. When you have a team that turns the ball over as much as Tampa does you can not let them off the hook when the ball hits you in the hands or hits the ground and expect an easy victory. As far as individual matchups go it is hard to see any area where the Jets should be at a disadvantage. They will have to pay extra attention to Winslow as he is the one player on the Buccaneers that could be a tough matchup for the defense. The Jets have had some problems with covering that position and Winslow is athletic as anyone in the league at that position. Revis should have no trouble covering Bryant and the Jets run defense has been so good it is hard to see the anemic Buccaneer rushing attack change that.

Special Teams

Part of the reason Tampa Bay scores so little is because their kicking game is so bad. Former Jet Mike Nugent got the first crack at the job hitting a paltry 24.6% of his attempts as he booted himself right out of the NFL. Shane Andrus was next, missing his lone field goal attempt, and the latest find is Connor Barth. Barth hit a few bombs against the Dolphins, but is only 50% on the rest of the year. Tampa has good coverage units, but the kick distances have generally been a problem. The Jets will catch a break as KR/PR Clifton Smith looks to be done for the year with a concussion. He has been excellent in both categories and among the better ones in the NFL. Sammie Stroughter will take over both spots and was good on kickoffs early this year, including a 97 yard TD run.

The best decision the Jets ever made was retaining Jay Feely over Nugent. Feely has been clutch all season and the one good area of the special teams. P Steve Weatherford has had poor distance on most punts, but has gotten good enough hang time to create a good deal of fair catches, which is more important right now since the special teams coverage squads have been so up and down. Coverage has to be given extra importance this week as Tampa has shown the ability to have a big return and the Jets do not want to give those types of scores and good field position away after working so hard on the other side of the ball. Cotchery has looked good fielding punts and will have a chance to break a few this week.

Coaching

Raheem Morris is not having the same success as a rookie coach as the Jets are having with their coach. Morris is a fiery guy who has rubbed some people the wrong way with the way he acts on the sidelines Morris is very vocal about everything from his own players to the officiating. He has taken a tougher approach to many on his own team including their rookie QB, who he pretty much hung out to dry after last weeks loss, even though the staff continued to have him throw inside the 10. Morris recently took over the defensive play calling for the team which seems to have helped and the players are not quitting on the season, which are the two best qualities in Morris right now.

The last time Rex Ryan’s team had a long time off they came out and looked totally flat. Ryan will likely have changed his approach as he prepares a team that has a history of overlooking teams to come out fired up and ready to play football. Ryan is improving as a coach and has taken a significantly more active role in the offense. Ryan clearly has told his team that he expects the defense to win the games and his offense not to lose them, a big departure from weeks 1-11. Ryan made some excellent decisions in last weeks game in terms of using challenges and his time outs and has taken a much harder line than before with the young QB. It would not be stunning to find out that Sanchez not playing is as much Ryan using what looks to be a favorable matchup to teach Sanchez a lesson as it is an actual injury. Showing Sanchez more tough love should only make him better in the future.

Overall

If it was not for the Jets terrible history this game would be looked at as an absolute walk in the park, but history tells us that the Jets rarely make these games that easy. On paper this is the perfect opponent for the Jets. They turn the ball over, they have limited offensive capability, and they can not stop the run. This is the type of team the Jets usually feast upon. The Jets have faced three opponents with a similar style in Buffalo, Oakland, and Carolina and the Jets record in those game is 3-1 with an average of just under 9 points allowed to those teams.

The Jets should be patient in watching the game develop this week. Usually the Bucs best quarter of play is the 1st quarter and they often keep games close early, especially at home, where they have never fallen behind by more than 1 TD at the start of the game. Tampa eventually wears out and gives up points in droves after that point, but you can not worry about what that early scoreboard says and allow it to take you out of your gameplan or force the players to start playing undisciplined football. Trailing the Bucs by 7 at the end of 15 minutes is no big deal as long as you do not become reckless and allow them to build that lead or hang around all game long. Tampa can be dangerous if you let them hang in a game and the Jets have shown almost no ability to close out a tight game. The Jets are 0-4 in those type of games this year and Tampa lately has been in every game except the blowout against the Saints. This team is not going to roll over and die the way the Raiders did earlier this year simply because they are underdogs. This is a lesson that you would have thought the Jets players learned from the collapse of 2008, but seeing some of the efforts in 2009 makes you think that maybe they did not learn it just yet.

It goes without saying that this is a must win game for the team since 10-6 is likely their only road to the playoffs so every game is a must win for the team. The Jets have avenues open both as a wildcard team or as a division champion. They do not control their own destiny nor can they control their own destiny after this weeks game, but they will have a much better idea of where they stand once week 14 is complete. The relevant games for the week are Carolina over New England, Miami over Jacksonville, Indianapolis over Denver, and Detroit over Baltimore. The most important game of the week is that Panthers/Patriots game. If the Panthers, who will be huge underdogs, can pull off the upset the Jets will be in a position to where the AFC East crown really could become a reality.

Of course for any of this to matter the Jets have to get past this Buccaneers team and move over 0.500 for the first time since their week 7 win in Oakland, a task the Jets should be up to this week.

Jets 27 Buccaneers 7