Vincent Jackson vs. Antonio Cromartie
Antonio Cromartie used to be a physically gifted cornerback with technique and effort issues. These days, he's close to being a shutdown cornerback. He's not at Darrelle Revis' level, but spending the past years with the best cornerback in the NFL and under Rex Ryan has helped him tremendously. He stepped into Revis' shoes admirably last season, mirroring the top wide receivers and doing a very good job -- although he did have more safety help than Revis ever did.
And now, Cromartie gets to go up against one of the best receivers in the NFL. Vincent Jackson is arguably the Bucs' best offensive player, but he struggled in preseason this year. Of course, he only got a handful of snaps to make an impact and the Bucs ran a rather vanilla offense.
Jackson's a big, physical receiver with speed. Cromartie's a big, physical cornerback with speed. Jackson's a better technician and generally a more consistent player, but this matchup could be fascinating. Look for the Bucs to move Jackson to the slow quite a bit as they try to found ways to get him open.
Mike Williams vs. Dee Milliner
Here's the other side of the coin. Milliner's a rookie. He may be the highest drafted cornerback, but he's still a rookie, and rookie cornerbacks always struggle. Meanwhile, Mike Williams has a fat new contract, and is the second part of the biggest receiving tandem in the NFL.
Williams will have to earn his paycheck tomorrow. He should be able to win this matchup handily, both physically and on technique. If he doesn't, the Bucs could have serious problems in the passing game. Look for the Jets to give Milliner some help in coverage, too, if Cromartie can reliably shut down Vincent Jackson.
Gabe Carimi vs. Sheldon Richardson and Muhammad Wilkerson
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are preparing to start Gabe Carimi at left guard with Carl Nicks out for the game with MRSA. Carimi played well at right guard for the Bears last year, but was uneven at best at left guard this preseason. He's easily the weakest link on an offensive line that's filled with talent otherwise, and the Jets are likely to target him.
And unfortunately for the Bucs, the Jets have two first-round picks to terrorize Carimi with. Richardson was their second first-round pick this season, and he looks like a prototypical three-technique defensive tackle. The real issue may be Wilkerson, though. The 2011 first-round pick quietly had a very good season last year, notching 5.5 sack in a system that wasn't made for him to get sacks.
If the Jets want to pressure the quarterback, matching up Wilkerson with Carimi could be their ticket.
Josh Freeman vs. Rex Ryan
This will be by far the biggest problem. Ryan is one of the best defensive coaches in the NFL, and his very blitz-heavy schemes routinely wreak havoc on opposing offensive lines. Blitz recognition and adjustment will be paramount for Josh Freeman, which may be an issue. He was one of the worst quarterbacks against the blitz last season.
The offensive line will have to have its communication in order, too. Ryan loves to send overload blitzes on third and long, and he tries to create free rushers constantly. He's pretty good at it, too.
Another issue, there: possible rushers falling back into coverage. That requires good pre-snap recognition, but it means Freeman must be even better at his post-snap diagnosis. Things change very quickly in the first two seconds of a Rex Ryan defensive snap, and getting fooled by the coverage will lead to turnovers. And that's something the Bucs can't afford.