3TFO: Buccaneers @ Jets, Week 1
Gonzalo Estrade identifies three key matchups that will help decide the outcome as the Buccaneers head to New York to play the Jets in Week 1.
3TFO: Buccaneers @ Jets, Week 1
The Jets and Buccaneers open the season in the stadium that will host the last and most watched game of the football year — will either of them make it to the Super Bowl in February? Well, let’s take a look at this game for now…
After months of negotiations, the Jets traded their best player to the Bucs in what was one of the stories of the offseason. The NFL schedule occasionally these kinds of matchups and the 2013 opener brings Darrelle Revis back to New York to face his former team. That will get all the attention from the cameras but it’s not the only story. The Jets will start the season with a quarterback not named Mark Sanchez after four seasons of the ‘Sanchize’, and the Bucs may have to make the same decision sooner rather than later if Josh Freeman doesn’t play to the expected level.
These are the three key areas to focus on.
Mo Wilkerson vs. Buccaneers Interior Offensive Line
Better known in 2012 as the guy ranked behind J.J. Watt, Muhammad Wilkerson enters the 2013 season as the leader of a young, talented unit — probably the best on the entire team. Last season he led the Jets’ defense in stops (54) and total QB pressures (37) — good for a 10.9 Run Stop Percentage and 6.5 Pass Rush Productivity. He is one of the best run defenders in the league, holding the point of attack and shedding blockers to make the stop. If Wilkerson manages to improve at rushing the passer, he will be part of the Watt-and-Atkins club featuring the most complete and dominant interior defensive linemen in the league.
According to the last Buccaneers depth chart, Wilkerson will be facing Gabe Carimi, Jeremy Zuttah, and Davin Joseph. The trio will be making their debut together on Sunday. Joseph missed last season due to a knee injury and he played only 10 snaps in the preseason. Carimi moves to the inside after playing at right tackle most of the time in Chicago — he played four games at guard allowing only two hurries but wasn’t consistent in run blocking. Zuttah was the only one of them to play for the Bucs in 2012, both at center and left guard. He accumulated a 97.4 Pass Blocking Efficiency for the whole season, allowing 20 total QB pressures. Not the easiest way to open the season for the Bucs’ offensive line, but they have to do their best to stop Wilkerson from dancing in the backfield all game long.
Buccaneers Wide Receivers vs. Jets Cornerbacks
The marquee matchup is Vincent Jackson vs. Antonio Cromartie. Two elite players going against each other snap after snap — and shutdown cornerback vs. go-to receiver is always something to keep an eye on. Jackson was one of the best wideouts in Deep Passing in 2012, as he ranked second in yards (633) and third in Target Percentage at 32.1. Jackson caught 17 passes with only two drops. In front of him, Cromartie will take the No. 1 cornerback role like he did last year when Revis went down. In 2012, quarterbacks had a 69.7 QB rating when throwing in his direction and he allowed 0.97 Yards Per Cover Snap.
On the other side of the field, Mike Williams will be facing rookie Dee Milliner. In the third preseason game, Blaine Gabbert targeted Milliner every 3.5 cover snaps. Tampa could copy that strategy this Sunday since the rookie cornerback really struggled allowing 4.48 Yards Per Cover Snap in that game. Williams would benefit from that like he did last season when Jackson was the main focus for opposing defenses. Williams elevated his Yards Per Route Run from 1.24 in 2011 to 1.75 in 2012.
Geno Smith vs. Buccaneers Secondary
Finally, the Jets named their starting quarterback and, whether by default, competition, or injury, it will be Geno Smith. The rookie gets the nod over Mark Sanchez after a disappointing preseason to say the least. In his first NFL start, he will have to show much more patience in the pocket and make better reads in his progressions. Keeping things simple could be the key for Smith to overcome his rough performance against the Giants.
The Bucs will try to do the exact opposite, mixing coverages and baiting the rookie into throwing to their playmakers. Dashon Goldson allowed 0.33 Yards Per Cover Snap in 2012, good for seventh among safeties and, although this will be Darrelle Revis’ first game after his knee injury, it’s safe to say that a rookie should be very careful when throwing toward him. In a very similar situation to the Jets, the Bucs will play a rookie as their No. 2 cornerback and Johnthan Banks has struggled in preseason allowing seven catches in 10 targets and a QB rating of 107.9. The second-year safety Mark Barron completes the secondary. In his rookie season, Barron ranked in the Bottom 10 in coverage (-6.8) among safeties.
Follow Gonzalo on Twitter: @PFF_Gonzalo