When Running the FootballIn the last three seasons, Tampa has been slowly adding pieces through the draft to turn one of the league's worst run defense groups into one of the league's best. In 2010, Tampa Bay drafted DT Gerald McCoy, LB Mason Foster and DL Adrian Clayborn, then in 2011 took Da’Quan Bowers, and in 2012 took OLB Lavonte David as well as first-rounder SS Mark Barron, who was one of the 2012 class's best run-stopping safeties. The result? A unit who stood with some of the all-time great run defense units in history and logged an eye-popping no gain on almost a third of all run plays by opponents. While 2012's improvement against the run seemed like an overnight success, it was a move that was a long time in coming. While they lost veteran Michael Bennett to Seattle, some regression is likely, but they still will play at a high enough level.
That of course is bad news for a Jets offense looking to mitigate the risk of starting a rookie quarterback who many think is the team's best option, but still raw. So what are the Jets to do? One of the staple running plays of the Mornhinweg offense is the Mid-Zone or Stretch play, in which the running back gets moving sideways and the QB sprints to hand the ball off to the back in stride. The offensive line moves in unison in one direction and seeks to cut or block the defenders to incapacitate them from making a tackle. In the modern speedy NFL, it is then the running back's job to have the vision to know when the crease is developing and the back cuts (or "bends") the ball back towards the line and eventually in the opposite direction the line is moving. As Tony Richardson told us yesterday on the podcast, this is a play that needs repetition over the course of the game to make the large rips later on in the game. Against a stout run defense, this could be bad news because it might put the Jets in longer down and distance situations, depending on how much they run it early on, thus stalling drives or putting more reliance on the quarterback to throw them out of danger while the Jets establish this play early in the game.
When Throwing the FootballCredit the Bucs for recognizing their pass defense woes and addressing them by breaking the bank with the additions of Dashon Goldson and Darrelle Revis. Beyond these two, the Bucs also spend a second-round pick on rookie CB Johnathan Banks. Even if they didn't make major acquisitions, one would expect that they would be better since they couldn't be worse, but the level of players that they added will help mark a vast improvement. That, coupled with a solid pass-rushing group who blitzed infrequently but brought the house when they did, could make for a better overall coverage group.
For the Jets, look for a lot of motion, zone-floods and some quick hitting passes or a variety of screen plays to get their pass-catchers in the isolated matchups they like. The question is whether or not Geno will get rattled by a stout pass rush and an improved secondary. The Jets will try and make it as simple for Geno as possible and that means staying away from Revis, eliminating half the field and all the usual ploys to make life simpler for a rookie quarterback ... but also simpler for a competent defense.
When Defending the RunDoug Martin took the world by storm as a rookie, and he is the single biggest offensive threat to this Jets team. Historically, the Jets have struggled against dynamic running backs and could again on Sunday against Martin. Martin combined for almost 2000 yards last year from scrimmage and will be a key to the Bucs and Jets in winning or losing. The best thing the Jets can do is get Martin and the Bucs running game reacting to them, and that means building on the penetration we saw from Wilkerson, Richardson and Harrison in the preseason. Working against a shaky Bucs interior line, the Jets could get Martin moving laterally, which then puts the onus on the edge setters. Coples will be missed, no doubt, but was uneven at setting the edge, meaning the Jets will have to rely on the likes of a declining Calvin Pace, an athletically limited Garrett McIntyre and an unknown in Ricky Sapp in that capacity. Hopefully, the athletic upside of a guy like Antonio Allen can pay off, but that means he needs to be diagnosing the play correctly more than he is not come Sunday. Should Allen be unable to do that, expect the Jets to turn to Jaiquawn Jarrett in hopes of more experience being more valuable than athleticism.
When Defending the PassIf the Jets pay extra attention to Doug Martin, this of course means that the secondary might have one less body to use in coverage. Vincent Jackson is a massive target for Josh Freeman, but he's the type of player that Cromartie can match up well against. Jackson size makes him an easy target, and his size and physicality will put Cromartie to the test, but over the last year we've seen Cromartie become the physical player that has made him a much more dominant corner. Jackson is big, but is not really a yards after the catch player, so if Cromartie can keep his technique tight, force a smaller throwing window for Freeman, and use sound tackling technique to bring Jackson down when he does make some catches, the Jets should be able to contain Jackson. Mike Williams will likely draw some combination of Dee Milliner and Kyle Wilson and both will need some help over the top. Williams might wear down the Jets in the passing game as he is adept at possession receiving and his physical play can burn teams who over-commit to him at the line.
The best way for the Jets to break down the passing game is to start by getting after Josh Freeman. If the Jets can rattle Freeman and get him off his spot, he is much less likely to have a good day and will force the ball and make mistakes big and small in the passing game. While Coples would be a massive help in this regard, two out of three aint bad, and the Jets use of Wilkerson and Richardson coupled with their Barnes/Sapp duo on passing downs could be enough to do the trick.