Here’s one you may have heard before. A 1-11 team walks into a bar and says, "Hey, 6-6 team still in the playoff hunt. Yeah, you. Nobody thinks we have a shot at beating you, but we’re not gonna lie down. We’re still gonna give it our best shot."
The 6-6 team laughs, shrugs and says, "Yeah, we’ll believe that when we see it . . . hey, wait, what just happened?" And just like that, 60 game-clock minutes later, the 1-11 team picks up their second win despite being on the wrong end of everyone’s stone-cold, lead-pipe lock prediction for the week, and the 6-6 team’s chances to make the playoffs are practically destroyed. Joke’s on you.
Sound familiar? That’s what happened Thursday night when the Browns took down the defending Super Bowl champion Steelers. Likewise, that’s what the Buccaneers have a chance to do when they host the 6-6 Jets on Sunday afternoon, and there are two keys to pulling off such an upset, one on each side of the ball.
Offensively: Stop the Jets’ blitz. The Jets have the top pass defense in the NFL and have recorded 24 sacks, largely due to the blitz-happy Rex Ryan defensive scheme.
The Jets’ 3-4 defense allows them to blitz speedy linebackers from all directions, keeping the offensive line off balance and forcing running backs to stay in as extra blockers instead of releasing into pass patterns. Quarterback Josh Freeman will have to get rid of the ball early and avoid throwing the ball in the direction of cornerback sensation Darrelle Revis.
"He’s a very aggressive corner," wide receiver Maurice Stovall said of Revis. "He does well covering big, marquee receivers. Guys like Randy Moss, Terrell Owens. He’s very physical and can also tackle."
Revis, who many say is among the top cornerbacks in the league, has five interceptions and 23 pass defenses through 12 games.
The Bucs have faced four 3-4 defensive fronts this year in the Cowboys, Patriots, Packers and Dolphins. Overall they have had success against the 3-4, scoring more than 21 points in three of those four games. The Patriots held them to just seven points. However, if the Bucs score more than 21 points, it will not mean much if the defense cannot key in on it’s primary responsibility: Stop the run and force Kellen Clemens, starting for the injured Mark Sanchez, to beat them.
The Jets boast the best running game in all the land, averaging just over 168 yards per game. While they’re the only team to surpass 2,000 rushing yards so far this season, they also run the ball more often than anyone else in the league. Their 432 rushing attempts is 26 more than the next team on the list. And with Clemens getting the start, former Buccaneer Thomas Jones and rookie Shonn Greene will see the ball often out of the backfield.
The Bucs’ run defense has improved since Morris took over as coordinator, averaging just 116 rushing yards per game, far below the season average of 160.
"You’ve just got to give the guys a lot of credit," Morris said. "They’ve gone out there and they’ve really bowed up. I know Carolina came out and Jonathan Stewart still rushed for 120 yards, but he really had 80 in those first two drives. [Buccaneer defenders] kind of got settled in and they bowed up and they started to play well. That’s just a credit to the guys. They’re playing better, they’re doing better, they’re fighting and they want to win."
The defense also allowed just 36 points in the last two games, the lowest back-to-back game total this season.
"I think it’s a combination of mixing up our fronts a little bit more and just being a little more sound in our gaps," linebacker Barrett Ruud said. "The fact that we’re mixing up the fronts a little bit more makes it tougher on the offense. They can’t just game-plan one front; they have to be prepared for multiple ones, which makes it a little tougher on their part. They have to be a little more simplistic."
With Clemens under center, the Jets’ gameplan will likely be simplistic, as they’ll run early, often and aggressively. If the Bucs can contain the Jets’ running game and slow Rex Ryan’s blitz schemes, they have a good chance to be the second team in Week 14 to spoil a 6-6 team’s playoff chances.
So, the Buccaneers walk into a bar and say, "Hey, New York, we may be 1-11, but we’re not lying down. You’re still gonna get a game from us."
Stay tuned for the punchline.