New York Jets at Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Sunday, December 13: CBS, 1:00.
The Jets’ playoff hopes seem to improve every day, especially with Pittsburgh free falling out of the race. Still, they probably need to win out to have a chance, and even then, they need help. It won’t help that Kellen Clemens has to start at quarterback for the injured Mark Sanchez. Clemens has been a disappointment thus far in his career, but against the 1-11 Bucs, the Jets will try to win the game by running the ball and playing good defense.
New York Jets:
OUT: QB Mark Sanchez (knee), CB Dwight Lowery (ankle), OG Robert Turner (knee)
QUESTIONABLE: OG Alan Faneca (illness), OT Wayne Hunter (illness)
PROBABLE: CB Marquice Cole (knee), DE Shaun Ellis (knee), S Jim Leonhard (thumb), LB Calvin Pace (shoulder), CB Donald Strickland (concussion)
Tampa Bay Buccaneers:
DOUBTFUL: DT Michael Bennett (toe), WR Michael Clayton (knee), CB Derrick Roberson (groin)
QUESTIOBABLE: LB Geno Hayes (hamstring), WR Sammie Stroughter (lower back), RB Carnell Williams (back)
PROBABLE: TE Kellen Winslow (knee)
When the Jets have the ball…
To Clemens’s credit, he is on a one game winning streak as a starter. He has tools to be an NFL quarterback, with a good arm and pretty good mobility, but he turns the ball over a little too much. This will be his first chance behind a legitimate offensive line, and he’s going against a bad defense, so there’s a chance Clemens looks good.
Tampa Bay is a team that had run their version of a zone defense for so long that it had become known as the Tampa 2. Now, they’re trying to become a more man-to-man defense, and the adjustment has not been smooth. They should get CB Aqib Talib back from a hamstring injury, which will help them, but he’s no Darrelle Revis.
Braylon Edwards and Jerricho Cotchery are certainly talented enough to exploit this secondary. It is worth noting Edwards has never practiced with Clemens, so Edwards’s drop problem could rear its ugly head. Despite that, there should be opportunities deep if the Jets do let Clemens throw down the field and if the receivers do come down with the football. Dustin Keller also could have a nice game if the Jets keep the reigns in on Clemens as they probably will.
More likely, the Jets will run the ball constantly. Thomas Jones and Shonn Greene should receive at least 35 carries between them if the game is going the way the Jets want it to. Tampa is horrible against the run, and the Jets are the best rushing offense in the NFL thus far this year. That’s a bad combination for Tampa Bay.
Look for the Jets to stick to an even more conservative gameplan than they had last week against Buffalo. It was painfully obvious the Jets were doing as much as they could to hide Clemens last week when he came in, and he still almost fumbled the ball away. He’ll have to do more this time around, but they can still hide him a good deal this week. Atlanta might be a different story next week.
If you want a preview of what this game might look like offensively, look at the Bucs’ game last week against Carolina. The Panthers, like the Jets, are run-dominant teams playing with their backup quarterback, Matt Moore. Moore went 14-20 for 161 yards, 0 TDs, and 1 INT. The Jets will take that if they can run the ball the way they think they can. Carolina rushed for 158 yards on 32 carries in their 16-6 win. The Jets might be able to do a little better than that and control time of possession.
When the Buccaneers have the ball…
A week ago, this looked like it would be a matchup of two rookie quarterbacks. But Sanchez’s injury means that Jets fans will get to take a look at what might have happened if the team hadn’t traded up. Freeman had been playing well for a rookie until last week’s five interception effort against Carolina.
His top two weapons are TE Kellen Winslow and WR Antonio Bryant. Revis will probably face Bryant most of the night. Bryant had 1,248 yards last year, and while he will fall well short of that this season, he does have 207 yards in his last two games. Winslow fits the tight end security blanket for a rookie quarterback role very well, with 633 yards receiving and a team-high five touchdowns. Only three teams allow less yards to opposing tight ends than New York, so on paper.
Also, Lito Sheppard, the Jets #2 cornerback, is said to be back at full strength as well, so hopefully teams won’t be able to pick on him as often. On paper, the feeble Buccaneer passing offense is a great matchup for the Jets, who will probably blitz like crazy at the rookie quarterback and see how he deals with it.
The Bucs are also facing a couple of late week back injuries to offensive weapons WR Sammie Stroughter and RB Cadillac Williams, both listed as questionable. Stroughter is the team’s 3rd leading receiver and main return man, while Williams is the Bucs’ leading rusher. If he can’t go, former Giant (and Jet) Derrick Ward will get a bigger workload.
The Jets’ defense has been more susceptible to opposing running games, but the Bucs have struggled on the ground all year. Ward averages just 3.6 yards-per-carry, and Williams isn’t much better at 4.0.
On paper, this looks like an utter mismatch, with Rex Ryan’s blitzing defense going against a rookie who doesn’t have enough weapons to take advantage. Freeman has played well for a rookie, but he’s coming off his worst game. The running game simply lacks the play in the trenches and the talent at runningback to put up more than 20 against this defense, unless they completely lay an egg.
It’s gut-check time for this defense. With Kellen Clemens in the game instead of Mark Sanchez, it’s up to the defense to kill any hope Tampa bay has of an upset. Even if Clemens self-destructs, the running game and defense need to pick him up. This is a must-win game against a one-win team. There is no excuse for a loss. A close game is fine: the Jets are only 3-3.5 point favorites depending on where you look, and the offense won’t put up a lot of points. But the defense just can’t allow the Bucs to score more points, and I think they will.
Jets 23, Bucs 13