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Jets vs. Buccaneers: Jets Must Stay Strong Up the Middle on Defense


The Jets have recently had a good defensive team. It has been difficult to put together sustained drives against Gang Green because their defenses have been too effective to execute play after play. The Jets do at times find trouble, however, allowing big chunks of yardage on single plays.

Looking ahead to Sunday's game, there is reason for optimism about the Jets' ability to limit Tampa Bay's ability to move the ball through the air. One of the big strengths the Jets have is at the cornerback position. It is not difficult to imagine this team's corners being able to handle the Buccaneers' receiving corps. It is also easy to imagine Rex Ryan's unique fronts turning Josh Freeman into the shaky quarterback he is. There are no guarantees of course. Freeman might have one of his good days, and the Bucs do have weapons to do damage, but Jets fans can enter reasonably confident.

The bigger concern might be the run defense, and this could be a theme of the season. The front seven of this team is lacking in proven run stoppers. In fact, Muhammad Wilkerson and David Harris are the only two who profile as strong against the run at this point of their respective careers, and that is generously assuming Harris can bounce back from two disappointing seasons.

The play in the middle of the trenches is definitely worth watching. Last year according to Football Outsiders, almost 60% of Tampa Bay's runs were up the middle. The Jets are dealing with unknowns at the nose tackle position in Kenrick Ellis and Damon Harrison. They are also featuring the aforementioned Harris, who looked like a shell of his former self for much of 2012 and Demario Davis making his first career start. Davis' instincts looked lacking in the preseason. He frequently ended up in the wrong place.

The Jets do not want to give Buccaneers back Doug Martin open field to run. The Bucs rated fifth as a team from Football Outsiders in a stat they call open field yards per run, mainly because of how effective Martin is when he has room to run.

This makes what happens in the middle critical. The Jets have to hold their own up front. Tampa Bay will be returning an excellent guard, Davin Joseph to its line after he missed 2012 with an injury. The Jets might catch a bit of a break, though, as his counterpart, two-time All Pro Carl Nicks looks unlikely to play. Davis also must avoid overpursuing and getting out of his lane. Martin only needs a little daylight to make big things happen, and the Jets are going to be starting somebody without much experience on the last line of defense at safety.

For the Jets to win, they have to put the game into Freeman's hands and force him to put together drives. He might be able to do it. He is a Jeckyl and Hyde quarterback who has some very good outings. Against the Jets' pass defense, he might be in for a very rough day, though, if his run game cannot make his life easy. If Doug Martin is Tampa Bay's best player, the Bucs are almost assured to win. Stopping him means the middle of the defense must hold.