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Week 14 Game Preview: Tampa Bay Buccaneers vs. New York Jets

Overview: In a season of disappointment, missed opportunities, and derailed hopes, the Buccaneers hope to turn the tables and derail the hopes of another today, as the 6-6 New York Jets invade Raymond James Stadium today trying to keep pace with Jacksonville, Baltimore, and Miami for one of the final AFC playoff spots.  The Jets will be without the "SANCHISE" today... Mark Sanchez, who has been ruled out of today's matchup due to an ailing knee.  Kellen Clemens will get the nod instead. 

The Jets started off the season "en fuego", blasting the much-hyped Texans 24-7.  Rex Ryan's defense looked aggressive and nasty, Mark Sanchez threw his first TD pass, and Ryan started off his career the right way - in the win column.  The next week, Ryan's bunch backed up their head coach after stating he wouldn't kiss Belichek's rings by popping the Patriots in the mouth in a physical 19-9 home victory.  After pulling off a blockbuster trade earlier this season that sent Chansi Stucky and a draft pick to Cleveland for embattled WR Braylon Edwards, the Jets fell off the turnip truck, losing 6 of 7 during a span which saw their coach cry before his team and some Jet players call out the Dolphins for using the "gimmick" Wildcat formation.  At 4-6, the Jets won back-to-back games over Carolina and Buffalo to even their record at 6-6 and make this game today probably the most important game of their season.  A win and they've got a realistic shot to get to 9-7, which might give them a shot at the AFC 6 seed.  A loss today and, with a trip to Indianapolis and a home finish with Cincy pending, 9 wins could be a very tall task.   

What sticks out to me is their 38-0 man's game beat down of the Oakland Raiders in Week 7.  In a game that saw them lose their speedster Leon Washington to a broken leg, another Jet running back stepped up and made a big first impression on the NFL community.  Rookie Shonn Green blasted the Raider defense for 144 yards and 2 scores, giving the Raiders a potent one-two punch with Thomas Jones  and Green that they hope will carry them to victory today. 

Meanwhile, the focus for the Buccaneers is to continue to find its identity on offense, while getting reacclimated on defense to the old Tampa 2.  The challenge for the Buccaneers today will be two-fold: on offense, recognize and pick up the disguised Jet blitzes; on defense, maintain gap assignment like the Buc defense did well after the first quarter of Sunday's game at Carolina. 

However, that's not the only focus for some Buccaneer fans today.  (Getting on high horse) The Buccaneer nation is split, to some degree.  To "Suh" or not "to Suh"... that is the issue that actually divides some fans into pulling for their beloved Buccaneers to prevail Sunday, and for some to actually say they hope their team doesn't win.  I... I just can't understand the latter opinion.  Sure, if the Bucs lose out and get the one seed, Ndamukong Suh is a tremendous consolation.  However, when watching the game, how can you actually pull for your team not to win?  How do you hope David Harris gets a crease through the line and takes down Freeman?  How can you clap your hands as Braylon Edwards pulls one down and streaks to the end zone for a score?  How?!  Moreover, there's no guarantee that St. Louis will win again, especially since there's no likely win remaining on their schedule, so you might as well pull for your team to win. (climbing down off high horse)

Keys to a New York Jets victory:

The Jets employ a pretty balanced offense, as evidenced by their last game against the Bills.  They often run out of a two back strong set, pounding away with the run.  They are a bloody-your-nose football team, an assignment-blocking, run-between the tackles offense.  Thomas Jones has shown to be a pretty good back since leaving Chicago, producing a solid season with almost 1100 rushing yards at a healthy 4.5 yards per clip.  Shonn Green, as mentioned, provides a good pop and is a little wrecking ball.  However, what makes the New York offense even more dangerous is the success they've had in play-action out of their running formations.  In the first quarter against the Bills, Sanchez play-faked the draw beautifully and laid a great ball into Braylon Edwards, who did what he too often does... let a sure TD bonk off his face-mask. Speaking of play-action, the diversion created through the Jets' success running the football gives Edwards, Jerricho Cotchery, and David Clowney, a rather meh group of receivers, the ability to get a step on the defense.  This team really doesn't have a WR that can change a game or burn you repeatedly.  Bottom line, if the Jets can run the ball successfully, they will have plenty of opportunity in the play-action game for Clemens to hit a big play or two. 

On defense, Rex Ryan employs an aggressive 3-4 scheme, blitzing early, often, and from all directions.  It's like the 3-4 version of the Philly defense.  They love to load up one side of the line and bring the pressure from their nickelback, OLB, and MLB, bringing one more player than can be blocked on one side.  Or, they'll bring OLB David Thomas on a delayed stunt up the middle and force the play outside if they don't pick up a sack.  If the Bucs don't recognize the blitzes and stop them, they could be working in 2nd/3rd and long distances far too often.

Keys to a Buccaneer victory:

As noted, the Bucs are going to have to recognize, pick up, and scheme for the Jets' blitzes.  That includes obviously keeping one or two backs and/or tight ends in formation on shotgun passing downs.  What would be effective against the 3-4 blitz is the screen pass to the back or to the slot receiver going in motion.  When the Jets' blitz, they employ a tight man coverage in the expectation that the quarterback will have to get the pass away quickly.  Accordingly, if you streak your WR on the side of the screen pass, you could expect a void on that side of the field for the guard and tackle to create a pocket and pick up a nice gain.  Also, Josh Freeman is going to have to look off the safeties and coverage a helluva lot better than he did last week.  Looking back at last week's game, when Josh threw his interceptions, he locked onto his receiver and didn't hit the hot route, which was clearly available on the first interception, or chuck the ball through the end zone or try to make a play with his feet.  The Jets' 3-4 scheme puts their safeties in 2-deep position, so Josh will have to look them off from time-to-time to hit the seams and deep routes.

Realistically, if the Bucs are going to win today, they're going to have to hold their gaps defensively and cause some stalemates on the offensive line, giving our linebackers the ability to make the tackle, which they must do.  Against Carolina, they managed to get a good push in the middle and created a logjam that Stewart couldn't cut outside and get around.  If they repeat that performance, they have a pretty good chance today.

Prediction: Like the Panthers did last week, the Jets will have some early success on the ground and jump out to a slim early lead, but the Bucs will adjust to their blocking schemes and formations, slowing Clemens and the Jet offense down in the middle of the game.  Freeman will get hit and sacked from the Jet blitz, but the aggressive scheme will swing-and-miss a few times, giving the Bucs several big plays.  A late Buccaneer stop will lift the Bucs to victory.  Tampa Bay 20, New York Jets 17.