How goes it, good folks of Jetsville? Welcome to our humble abode in the Boone Docks for this week’s episode of Gameday Live. Stevie back with you to provide updates, stats and – you know it – useless babble™.
Go ahead, Jets fans. You can loosen your jaws and stretch the muscles in your cheeks and corners of your mouths. You’re fighting it. History has compiled a hefty dossier of evidence that suggests you should continue to fight it. Your objectivity and better judgment (represented by a traumatized adult crouched knees-to-chest behind a column in your cerebellum) are telling you to keep the mean mug; don’t be lulled into a false hope of hope, for hope is but a Trojan horse. But you can admit it. There’s a little optimist in every fan (it’s the waif with the airy, high-pitched voice who pesters Objectivity and sings happy songs like “Chim Chim Cher-ee!”). Lil’ optimism is whispering sweet somethings and you want to let up for a second while thinking about your team and smile. Smile because two wins in a row – granted, very winnable games – earned the Jets the right to have other teams’ misfortune matter.
The Ravens were toyed with by the Packers last Monday night and the Steelers epic fail’d against the lowly Browns and Rob Ryans’ lowly defense. Pittsburgh, with that seventh loss, has probably sunken from playoff contention and 2010-itis might soon set in, if it hasn’t already. So we have three teams gunning for that precious final wild card spot, each a game behind the 7-5 Jaguars. The Ravens, Dolphins and Jets are all 6-6. Who knew that many 6s would be a good sign?
Without getting too deeply into permutations, the Jets need other teams to stub their toes and go down awkwardly. Obviously. The Jaguars have a game advantage plus the head-to-head tiebreaker; the Ravens have a better conference record (6-4 to 5-5); and the Dolphins “gimmicked” their way to two wins over the Jets.
But today the schedule reads possibility. The Ravens should beat the Lions (hey, should), but that isn’t so bad because the Dolphins could do the Jets a favor and take down to the Jaguars. If the Jets hold up their end and beat the Buccaneers (1-11), as they should, it would create a 7-6 cluster. Then next week the Dolphins play the Titans, who will probably be favored… the Ravens get the Bears, which should be another win for them (hey, should) but it wouldn’t improve their conference record… the Jaguars get a Thursday night game against the Colts, which should be a loss (hey, should). If those games shake out as you’d expect – because that always happens! – and the Jets can knock off the struggling Falcons, it would set up a humdinger of a finish to this season. A hootenanny! It would come down to the Jets and Ravens, separated only by a game in the conference standings, duking it out for the last playoff berth. Yeah, you’d be smiling if that happened.
But objectivity must also gets its say. The chances of the Jets making the playoffs (running the table with wins over the Colts and Bengals and getting enough breaks) are microscopic. Still. It’s still very unlikely. Still. They’re walking a tightrope in Timberland boots still; still rappelling with dental floss.
So, yeah. It’s another must-win game today. Kind of a big deal.
With Mark Sanchez (knee) out, Kellen Clemens is making his first start since 2007 and what the Jets hope will be his only start of this season. There is pressure on him to perform since he’ll be a free agent and hasn’t put together much of an NFL résumé. Considering he’s never won a training camp battle nor has he lit it up in preseason since ‘07, his performance today might be a big factor in what becomes of his NFL career. Now, I think because of where he was drafted, his physical skills and age (26), he’d have a spot on some team’s roster, if not the Jets’. But it could be as a third-stringer. So, as mentioned a few sentences up: pressure. The Jets can’t be worried about making Clemens look good and the game plan will probably be conservative. However, the Bucs have given up the third-most touchdown passes (24) and have allowed quarterbacks to compile a 92.1 rating. And, likely, the only reason those numbers aren’t worse is because they’re the least thrown-on defense (28.3 attempts per game). Teams are running 33.6 times per game against them. This means the Jets will have some chances to attack their secondary and they should take it.
Tampa does have some talented youngsters in the secondary (CB Aquib Talib and FS Tanard Jackson), but weaknesses are at right cornerback and strong safety. Ronde Babrer, 34, is a wily veteran, but he’s lost a step and man-to-man coverage isn’t a strength of his. Sabby Piscitelli is a good tackler, but he doesn’t make plays on the ball and lacks range. The Jets could/should test them deep with Jerricho Cotchery and Dustin Keller.
The Buccaneers are second to last against the run, giving up 160.1 yards per game and 4.8 yards per carry. And the Jets are the runningest team in the league, leading in attempts (36/game) and yards (168.6). Tampa is actually good at defending the run on the edges, allowing just 3.42 YPC around the left corner and 3.44 to the right. It’s up the middle – the power runs off guard – where they get hurt. And that is where Thomas Jones does most of his damage. If you’ve got him on your fantasy team, he’s a must-start (as he is most weeks).
Defensively, the strategy is pretty much: Let it do what it do, baby. The Bucs are 22nd in running (102.8 yards per game) and have scored just four rushing touchdowns. And they’ve only been able to run 293 times, since they’re usually playing from behind. Throwing the ball, they’ve been picked off the second most (21) and average just 5.9 yards/attempt. Rookie quarterback Josh Freeman has a big arm and is mobile (coming out of Kansas State and following the draft Combine, he was often compared to Joe Flacco), but he’s making just his fifth start and is coming off a 5-INT game against the Panthers. He did throw for a career-high 321 yards in that one, though. Altogether, they’re averaging 15.6 points per game, which, somehow, is only the fourth worst in the league.