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OPPONENT: New York Jets
WHERE: Giants Stadium
WHERE THE JETS STAND: The Jets are 1-3 and stand tied for last place in the AFC East Division.
JETS HEAD COACH: Herm Edwards
JETS OFFENSIVE COORDINATOR: Mike Heimerdinger
JETS DEFENSIVE COORDINATOR: Donnie Henderson
JETS SPECIAL TEAMS COACH: Mike Westhoff
TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS OFFENSE: OVERALL: 18th (327.3 ypg) RUSHING: 4th (141.8 ypg) PASSING: 24th (185.5 ypg)
TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS DEFENSE: OVERALL: 1st (220.3 ypg) RUSHING: 1st (61.5 ypg) PASSING: 3rd (158.8 ypg)
NEW YORK JETS OFFENSE: OVERALL: 28th (244.0 ypg) RUSHING: 30th (65.5 ypg) PASSING: 26th (178.5 ypg)
NEW YORK JETS DEFENSE: OVERALL: 12th (276.0 ypg) RUSHING: 28th (116.5 ypg) PASSING: 4th (159.5 ypg)
DID YOU KNOW… …the Buccaneers have never defeated the Jets in New York (0-5)?
SCOUTING THE JETS
Quarterbacks The Buccaneers hope to spoil QB Vinny Testaverde’s return to the NFL and New York Jets on Sunday.
With starting QB Chad Pennington and backup signal caller Jay Fielder both sidelined with shoulder injuries, the Jets signed Testaverde two weeks ago, but Sunday will mark his first with the Jets since the 2003 season.
A former 1987 first-round draft pick of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Testaverde brings a strong arm and great leadership to the football field, but at 42, some wonder how much he’s got left to offer the New York Jets offense, which has struggled mightily to protect the quarterback this season, surrendering 14 sacks through four games.
Although some of his teammates are the same, Testaverde, who has completed 56.6 percent of his career passes and has tossed 268 touchdowns and 255 interceptions, is not too familiar with Jets offensive coordinator Mike Heimerdinger’s offense, which was installed during the offseason.
The Bucs leaned on quarterbacks coach Paul Hackett this week since he used to work with Testaverde as the Jets offensive coordinator. The offense is not the same, but Hackett knows some of Testaverde’s tendencies, and Tampa Bay’s defense, which ranks No. 1 overall in the NFL, could reap the benefits of any tips Hackett can throw their way – much like head coach Jon Gruden did when the Bucs faced the Oakland Raiders in Super Bowl XXXVII.
Running Backs Last year’s NFL rushing leader – Curtis Martin – has struggled to get on track this season, mostly due to a knee injury. Tampa Bay, which has the No. 1 ranked rushing defense in the league, hopes to keep Martin contained on Sunday.
Martin, a future Hall of Famer, has rushed 82 times for just 226 yards (2.8 avg.) and has been held out of the end zone this season. That’s one of the reasons why the Jets have scored an average of 12 points per game and are converting just 35.1 percent of their third down tries thus far.
The 32-year-old Martin is also a receiving threat, evidenced by his 10 catches for 45 yards this season. Fullback Jerald Sowell gets most of his touches in the passing game. He has seven grabs for 61 yards and a touchdown.
With Testaverde seeing action in his first game since last year, the Jets will likely feed Martin and backup RB Derrick Blaylock the ball early and often. However, if the Bucs can contain Martin, who will likely attack the perimeter more often than not, they’ll stand a great chance of escaping New York with their first-ever road win vs. the Jets.
Wide Receivers Jets wide receivers Justin McCareins and Laveranues Coles have struggled this season without a consistent quarterback throwing the ball to them.
Coles, who has blazing speed and soft hands, leads the Jets in receptions with 16 for 167 yards and one touchdown. He’ll be matched up against Bucs cornerback Ronde Barber, who has notched 30 tackles (ranks third on the team) and went to the Pro Bowl in 2004. Coles is considered a deep threat and valuable red zone target, so it will be critical for Barber to not allow Coles to get a free release off the line of scrimmage.
When the Jets bring No. 3 receiver Wayne Chrebet, who has caught seven passes for 68 yards, onto the field, Barber will move to the slot, which could leave Bucs CB Juran Bolden on Coles. This could be a favorable matchup for the Jets since Coles can stretch the field. Bolden has great size and has been solid around the line of scrimmage, but he’s struggled to cover receivers on deep routes.
Tampa Bay CB Brian Kelly will spend most of the game covering McCareins, who has hauled in 12 passes for 201 yards and no touchdowns. The 6-foot-2, 215-pound McCareins brings good size and blocking ability to the table. He’s also got the speed to beat Kelly deep. However, Testaverde might have some reservations about throwing toward Kelly, who has hauled in a team-high three interceptions and recorded five passed defensed through four games.
But Testaverde could be tempted to throw deep since the Bucs will likely be playing without starting strong safety Jermaine Phillips, who missed practice this week due to a thumb injury. Second-year S Will Allen will probably start in Phillips’ place, but he’s played well against the run and in pass coverage, where he notched two picks vs. the Green Bay Packers.
The Jets do like to go to their tight end a lot, which means Bucs strongside linebacker Ryan Nece and Allen will have to help account for Chris Baker, who has hauled in 14 passes for 201 yards and a touchdown. Tampa Bay’s defense has done a tremendous job shutting down the opposing team’s tight ends this year.
Offensive Line New York’s offensive line, which had been one of the league’s best of the past several years, has struggled to protect the quarterback and open up holes for the running game in 2005. That might help explain why the Jets offense is averaging just 245 yards per game and currently ranks 28th overall in the NFL.
Right tackle Jason Fabini, right guard Brandon Moore and center Kevin Mawae have played fairly well. In fact, Mawae is easily the best player on this unit and is still playing at a Pro Bowl-level. Both he and left guard Pete Kendall will likely spend a good portion of plays double teaming Bucs nose tackle Chris Hovan.
Hovan has been a solid addition and has recorded 13 tackles while helping the Bucs halt the running game. Hovan is extremely quick off the ball and has been commanding more and more double teams.
The Bucs need a better effort from under tackle Anthony McFarland, who will attempt to fight off Moore on Sunday. “Booger” has notched just four tackles through four games, which has led to Tampa Bay defensive coordinator’s decision to pick him out of the starting lineup at times in favor of backup DT Ellis Wyms, who received nearly 30 snaps last Sunday vs. Detroit.
Tampa Bay’s defense will aim to stop the run first. Assuming it’s able to do that, which it has all season long, the Bucs must generate a pass rush on Testaverde. If given a comfortable pocket to throw out of, the 42-yeard-old quarterback has the ability and weapons to move the ball with consistency.
Bucs right end Simeon Rice has an extremely favorable matchup vs. Jets left tackle Adrian Jones, who has struggled to replace Kareerm McKenzie (now with the New York Giants) in the starting lineup. The Jets have allowed 14 sacks through four games, and Jones has allowed the majority of quarterback takedowns thus far. Rice, who has notched 13 tackles and three sacks, should win this battle more often than not on Sunday.
Defensive Line New York’s defense, which is similar to the Cover 2 scheme Tampa Bay runs, is definitely the strength of the team, and its front four has a lot to do with its success.
Jets RDE John Abraham, who went to the Pro Bowl in 2004, leads the team in sacks with three. He’s also forced two fumbles this season. Abraham will go up against Bucs first-year starting LT Anthony Davis, who struggled vs. Lions DE Kalimba Edwards, who notched two sacks against him last Sunday.
Davis is a solid run blocker, but if he struggles in pass protection again, which could happen since he’s dealing with a shoulder injury, don’t be surprised if the Bucs pull him in favor of backup T Todd Steussie, whose veteran experience could benefit the team’s offensive line in what will likely be a hostile environment. The Bucs could also opt to feature plenty of two-tight end sets in an effort to help Davis hold off Abraham, who has notched 46 career sacks in six seasons with the Jets.
New York defensive tackles Dewayne Robertson (6-1, 317) and James Reed (6-0, 286) have struggled against the run, where the Jets are surrendering 130 yards per game. The Jets are missing nose tackle Jason Ferguson, who departed for Dallas via free agency. Reed leads a rotation at the nose tackle spot, but nobody has been able to fill the void left by Ferguson. Bucs rookie RG Dan Buenning should be able to open up some holes in the running game against the undersized Reed.
The good news for the Jets is Bucs rookie RB Cadillac Williams, who has rushed for 447 yards (4.5 avg.) and two touchdowns, is ailing headed into this contest and might not even play due to a foot and hamstring injury. Even if Williams doesn’t play, expect Bucs head coach Jon Gruden to feature RB Michael Pittman (17 carries for 79 yards) early and often as his offense’s best chance of moving the chains on Sunday is via the ground game.
Jets LDE Shaun Ellis isn’t much of a pass rusher, but he’s solid vs. the run, which means the Bucs probably won’t try pounding the ball much in his direction.
New York has recorded just five sacks this season and is allowing opposing offenses to convert nearly 40 percent of its third down attempts. Tampa Bay is converting nearly 47 percent of its third down tries.
Linebackers One of the best players on the football field will be Jets middle linebacker Jonathan Vilma, who earned Rookie of the Year honors in 2004 by notching 118 tackles, two sacks and three interceptions. Vilma leads the Jets in tackles this season with 48 (4.5 for a loss). He doesn’t blitz much, but Vilma has excellent sideline-to-sideline speed, which will make it tough for the Bucs to run and pass the football with success.
Weakside LB Eric Barton is also solid against the run, but he’s listed as questionable for Sunday’s game with an ankle injury. With that injury and New York’s vulnerability at the strongside spot, where Victor Hobson has struggled to handle tight ends. Bucs TEs Anthony Becht, a former Jet, and rookie Alex Smith, who has two touchdowns this season, could be in for big days.
Secondary Although their best chance of moving the ball is on the ground, the Bucs might be tempted to test the Jets secondary, where rookie Kerry Rhodes is starting at strong safety. Rhodes does, however, have some playmaking ability. He has an interception and two passes defensed this season.
The most interesting matchups will come at the receiver and cornerback positions. Bucs WR Michael Clayton, who is battling through a separated shoulder, will go up against Jets CB and former New England Patriot Ty Law, who appears to recovered from the knee injury that kept him sidelined for most of the offseason.
Clayton, who has caught 17 passes for 196 yards, hasn’t reached the end zone yet this season, and he’ll be hard pressed to accomplish that feat vs. Law, who like Clayton, is a very physical player. Even if he is limited in the passing game, Clayton will need to come up big by blocking Law in the running game.
Getting open won’t be much easier for Tampa Bay WR Joey Galloway, who will line up vs. New York Jets CB David Barrett. Galloway has come on strong as of late. He’s caught 17 passes for 316 yards (18.6 avg.) and three touchdowns. Although Barrett is considered a playmaker himself, the Jets may call on Rhodes to help contain the speedy Galloway in the deep part of the secondary. However, this scenario would open things up for the Bucs running game since Rhodes, who ranks second on the Jets in tackles, has spent a lot of time playing near the line of scrimmage.
Special Teams With the exception of penalties, Tampa Bay’s special teams coverage units have been solid, but the New York Jets have one of the best kickoff returners in the league in rookie CB Justin Miller. Miller is averaging a whopping 27 yards per kickoff return, and his longest was a 50-yarder.
However, Miller hasn’t been as successful as a punt returner. In fact, he’s averaging just 1.5 yards per return this season.
Nece and Allen, who have notched nine and seven special teams tackles, respectively, must help lead the way in Tampa Bay’s effort to limit Miller’s production in the return game.
Jets rookie kicker Mike Nugent has an extremely strong and accurate leg. He’s drilled 4-of-5 (80 percent) field goals this season. His kickoffs have been fairly good as well.
Tampa Bay kicker Matt Bryant has also made 4-of-5 field goal tries this season. Although Giants Stadium is a tough place to kick in, the tough winds shouldn’t come as a surprise to Bryant, who made 80 percent of his field goal tries as a New York Giant.
Tampa Bay’s kickoff return game has struggled. Cornerback Torrie Cox is averaging just 18.7 yards per attempt, and the Bucs have still never returned a kickoff for a touchdown. To make matters worse, the Bucs have been penalized too many times on return attempts, which has translated into poor starting field position.
Bucs punt returner Mark Jones has fared well, averaging 10.5 yards per return this season. Decent starting field position could go a long way for the Bucs offense, which is facing one of the league’s best defenses in New York on Sunday.
Both the Bucs and Jets are getting solid play from their punters. Jets P Ben Graham is averaging 44.7 yards per attempt and has drilled seven of his 26 attempts inside the 20-yard line.
Bucs P Josh Bidwell is averaging 46.8 yards per punt and has pinned four of his 21 attempts inside the 20-yard line.
FLYNN’S FORECAST: Buccaneers 20 Jets 10
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