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Previewing the Jets’ opposition: Tampa Bay Buccaneers

NFL: Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Carolina Panthers Jim Dedmon-USA TODAY Sports

The Jets have a good record against the Bucs in their history, with 10 wins out of 12 and a 7-0 record at home. However, they’re a heavy underdog against the Super Bowl champions on Sunday, per our friends at DraftKings Sportsbook. With the Bucs in the thick of the NFC postseason mix and still in with a chance of being the number one seed, their fortunes may rest on who is available this weekend with Covid-19 still circulating and injuries creating further disruption.

Quarterbacks

Tom Brady was putting up good numbers in the first half of the season, but he’s been slightly less effective over the second half of the season.

Brady had a 21:3 touchdown-to-interception ratio after seven games. However, in the past eight games, he lost to teams quarterbacked by Trevor Siemian, Taylor Heinicke and Taysom Hill and posted a less impressive touchdown-to-interception ratio of 16:8. His offense was even shut out by the Saints two weeks ago.

According to the advanced metrics, Brady has been throwing shorter passes this year and relying slightly more on yardage after the catch, so the pressure will be on the Jets to tackle efficiently.

Blaine Gabbert, the number two, has only thrown nine passes this year in mop-up duties. The Bucs are also carrying second round rookie Kyle Trask on the roster but he hasn’t played yet.

Offensive Line

The Bucs offensive line has had excellent continuity this year as left guard Ali Marpet is the only one of the five starters not to start all 15 games. He just missed one start, with his replacement Aaron Stinnie now on injured reserve. All five starters are currently completely healthy.

Under these conditions, and with the added benefit of Brady’s ability to get rid of the ball, anticipate pressure and get everyone lined up correctly, it’s perhaps not surprising that three of their starting linemen - Marpet, center Ryan Jensen and second year right tackle Tristan Wirfs were named as pro bowlers.

The other two starters are right guard Alex Kappa, who leads the team with five sacks surrendered, and left tackle Donovan Smith, who leads them with seven penalties.

On the bench, Josh Wells sees regular action in jumbo packages but rookie Robert Hainsey has only played in garbage time. Nick Leverett saw extensive action in the game where Marpet got injured but has only played three offensive snaps since then.

Running Backs

The Bucs’ running backs group has been shaken up as both starter Leonard Fournette and third down back Giovani Bernard went onto injured reserve over the past few weeks. Fournette is the team’s leading rusher with over 800 yards and eight scores and he and Bernard have also caught over 90 passes between them.

Ronald Jones will need to pick up the slack, although he was held to 65 yards on 20 carries against the Panthers on Sunday. He does average 4.4 yards per carry on the year though.

Instead it was youngster Ke’Shawn Vaughn who stepped up last week with a 55-yard touchdown run, although he didn’t contribute much else.

Former Jet Le’Veon Bell was recently added to bolster the Bucs depth but he hasn’t made an impact yet.

Pass catchers

The Bucs could also be without some key players at the wide receiver position. Chris Godwin - who leads the team with 98 catches and over 1,100 yards - just went on injured reserve and Mike Evans, who has almost 900 receiving yards and a team-leading 11 touchdowns, just got off Covid-19 reserve and is questionable with a hamstring issue.

In their absence, Antonio Brown made an impact with 10 catches and over 100 yards against the Panthers. Brown was recently added back to the roster following his suspension for falsifying vaccination details but did not practice this week due to an ankle injury, so he’s also listed as questionable.

Behind Brown, Tyler Johnson has 27 catches but nobody else has produced much this year. Another ex-Jet, Breshad Perriman, did have the winning touchdown against the Bills though. Scotty Miller and Justin Watson are also on the roster but fourth round rookie Jaelon Darden was also placed on Covid-19 reserve this week and will not play. Last Sunday, the Bucs elevated Cyril Grayson from the practice squad and they’ve done so again for this week’s game.

At tight end, Rob Gronkowski leads the way with 41 receptions including six touchdown catches. His backups - Cameron Brate and OJ Howard - are both also capable pass catchers and the Bucs could go tight end heavy if they are shorthanded at wide receiver.

Defensive Line

On defense, Todd Bowles’ 3-4 defense took control of the game against the Panthers by racking up seven sacks, including 2.5 by William Gholston. This is a productive group against the pass with six sacks from Ndamukong Suh and four from nose tackle Vita Vea.

Ex-Jet Steve McLendon is a useful reserve off the bench and Rakeem Nunez-Roches often rotates in with him. The latter is available to play even though he spent some time on Covid-19 reserve during the week.

Linebackers

Shaq Barrett leads the Bucs’ pass rush off the edge. He has 10 sacks and leads the team in quarterback hits and tackles for loss. However, he’s definitely out for this game with a knee injury and probably won’t return until the postseason.

The other starter, Jason Pierre-Paul, has also been ruled out with a shoulder injury having also missed the last game.

Fourth round rookie Joe Tryon-Shoyinka and Anthony Nelson will need to step up. The rookie has four sacks and 10 quarterback hits. Cam Gill can provide depth off the bench and Elijah Ponder has been elevated from the practice squad for extra cover.

Inside, the Bucs have one of the better combinations in the league with Devin White and Lavonte David. However, David recently went onto injured reserve so another ex-Jet Kevin Minter will take his place in the starting lineup. White has 122 tackles to lead the team and is an effective blitzer with 3.5 sacks and 16 quarterback hits.

Rookies KJ Britt and Grant Stuard can provide depth off the bench but they’ve basically just been special teamers this season.

Defensive Backs

The Bucs have good depth at cornerback and have been leaning on that in practice this week as two of their best three corners - Sean Murphy-Bunting and Jamel Dean - were on Covid-19 reserve all week. They have been activated for Sunday though.

Carlton Davis is the other starter and he’s tied with Dean for the team lead with nine pass breakups. Ross Cockrell is the primary nickel back.

The Bucs also have veteran Richard Sherman on the roster but he’s listed as doubtful with an Achilles injury. However, Pierre Desir and Dee Delaney both got plenty of playing time earlier in the season so there are plenty of options available if called upon.

At safety, Jordan Whitehead and Antoine Winfield are the starters, although Winfield missed last week’s game and is questionable with a foot injury. Reserves Andrew Adams and Mike Edwards have seen plenty of playing time anyway. Edwards actually leads the team with three interceptions, including two pick-sixes against Atlanta.

Special Teams

Punter Bradley Pinion missed last week’s game with Sterling Hofrichter activated off the practice squad in his place. Pinion, who also kicks off, will miss this game too as he went onto Covid-19 reserve on Friday. He has underwhelming numbers anyway.

The Kicker is Ryan Succop and his season got off to a good start with a game-winner over the Cowboys in the opener. He hasn’t had to attempt a pressure kick since then, though, so none of his seven misses have been significant.

Darden had been the primary return man but his numbers are poor. The Bucs have elevated Kenyon Barner from the practice squad to take over from him.

Stuard is the team’s most productive tackler in kick coverage with three in the last game alone. Cockrell and Delaney have been the primary punt gunners.