New York Jets 2021 opponent report: Tampa Bay Buccaneers

New York Giants, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, New York Giants

Tom Brady isn’t done with the New York Jets just yet, as he and the defending champions ring in the new year with a visit to East Rutherford.

The Opponent: Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The Date:
Week 16, January 2, 1 p.m. ET, Fox (@ NY)
The Series: 
Jets lead 10-2 (last meeting: 2017, 15-10 TB)

Just when the New York Jets thought the Tom Brady nightmare was over, the defending Super Bowl champions have forced them back to sleep.

Fortunately, the Jets only have to face the arguable GOAT only once this time around, as opposed to what was an annual double dose of pain bestowed by Brady and his New England compatriots. Their quadrennial get-together with Brady’s new group from Tampa Bay will serve as the Jets’ home finale. Time will tell if the Jets are ringing in the new calendar year with a positive outlook, while the Buccaneers will possibly be prepping for a Super Bowl title defense. This will mark Tampa’s second-ever visit to MetLife Stadium to play the Jets and their first since 2013.

Brady will be searching for his 30th win against the Jets, his second-best tally against any opponent, behind only the 32 victories he has tallied against the Buffalo Bills. As defending champions, the Buccaneers will open in Week 1’s traditional Thursday night spot, taking on the Dallas Cowboys at home (8:20 p.m. ET, NBC).

New York Giants, Chris Godwin
Mandatory Credit: Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

The Skinny On the Buccaneers 

Claiming that a defending Super Bowl champion is built for a long-haul dynasty is a tried storyline, especially since so many “they’ll be back in no time” contenders (i.e. Jacksonville, Philadelphia, San Francisco) have quickly faded into obscurity. But Tampa Bay locked up several of its major pieces from the championship trek: they franchise tagged Chris Godwin and re-upped with Leonard Fournette, Lavonte David, Antonio Brown, Rob Gronkowski, Shaquil Barrett, Ndamukong Suh, and Steve McLendon (obtained through the Jets’ in-season fire sale).

Mere months after they became the first team to both host and win a Super Bowl, Tampa Bay also became the first team in the salary cap era to retain all 22 of their offensive/defensive starters. Leave it to a Brady-led squad to accomplish historical firsts in the name of adding more rings, it appears.

“The bond that we had, the bond that we shared this year, it’s like no other, with the coaching staff included,” the tenured Tampa linebacker David said of the bond build during the title run, per Buccaneers team reporter Carmen Vitali. “Everybody is a real tight-knit group and that’s something I haven’t been around in a while and it’s something I definitely want to be a part of.”

Re-upping with their champions was made possible in part due to a contract restructuring on Brady’s end. Not only does his adjusted contract keep him in Tampa through the 2022 season but also saved the team $19 million in cap space.

“(Brady) has proven himself to be the ultimate competitor and delivered in every way we had imagined, helping us capture the Lombardi Trophy,” Buccaneers general manager Jason Licht in team statement announcing the deal. “Year after year, Tom proves that he remains one of the elite quarterbacks in this game and we couldn’t be happier to keep him in Tampa Bay as we continue to pursue our goals together.”

Of course, Brady didn’t earn his seventh title on his own. He was anchored by a strong support system headlined by Tampa’s offensive line, one that allowed only 22 sacks (fourth-best tally in the NFL) and allowed a run game headlined by Fournette and Ronald Jones to work wonders. Tristan Wirfs proved to be well worth the draft day trade-up (allowing only one sack) while blindside anchor Donovan Smith earned a contract extension.

Defensively, the Buccaneers (under ex-Jets head coach turned Tampa coordinator Todd Bowles) proved their worth long before providing a blueprint on how to neutralize Patrick Mahomes. They had the top-ranked run defense in the league (80.6 yards per game) and ranked second in the NFC in takeaways (25).

What’s New In Tampa Bay?

The Buccaneers understandably kept the adjustments to a minimum after the full retainment. They bolstered their run game through the addition of former Bengal Giovani Bernard and obtained several projects through the draft. 

Tampya used its first pick, the traditional 32nd slot assigned to the defending champion, on linebacker Joe Tryon-Shoyinka. It might’ve been easy for the Washington alum to fade into the background, especially with Barrett and Jason Pierre-Paul back for another go at it, but he instead became one of Tampa’s most dangerous pass-rushing threats during the preseason.

“Joe is going to be amazing. He’s doing stuff that I’m looking at and thinking, ‘Man, I wish I would of knew that when I was a rookie,’” Pierre-Paul said of Tryon-Shoyinka, per Jenna Laine of ESPN. “He’s doing amazing stuff out there…He’s been moving since day one when he got here. From there to now, he’s been moving tremendously. He just has to stay on his feet. I had that problem myself.”

Tampa also potentially prepped for the post-Brady by drafting Florida thrower Kyle Trask in the second and opened day three with Sun Belt weapon Jaelon Darden. Scorer of 31 touchdowns during his final two seasons at North Texas, Darden is already listed as the team’s primary returner.

How to Beat Them

-Break On Through

Brady may be the greatest, but he’s still only human: the Jets’ blue, East Rutherford co-tenants proved that by raising the pressure.

Cliche as “getting to the quarterback” has become…perhaps the gridiron equivalent of “pucks on net/pucks deep“…it’s a formula that’s as true as it is tired and could take on greater importance for the aging Brady; Tampa Bay was 1-3 when Brady was sacked at least three times. The Wild Card playoff tilt against Washington was closer than it had any right to be simply because the opposing Football Team raised the pressure. Tampa’s strong blocking corps was able to handle the threat and upped its game for the rest of the postseason, allowing only three sacks en route to the hometown Super Bowl.

That’s why the Jets, in part, opted to raise their pressure game. Everyone knows, by now, about the lack of Carl Lawson. But the team has newfound faith in its front seven after the breakthroughs of Quinnen Williams, Foley Fatukasi, and John Franklin-Myers. The late addition of Shaq Lawson should help them tread water as well.

-The Best Defense…A Good (Young) Offense

By the time the Jets square off against the Buccaneers, Zach Wilson and company will (hopefully) have had 15 games to get used to each other’s talents and idiosyncrasies.

Even if the Jets are long removed from the playoff picture (again, appearing in the “In the Hunt” column on the annual playoff charts that show up near the holidays should be enough of a win at this point), beating Tampa Bay would be such a boost of confidence for the future, a realistic “throat-clearing” gesture that can put the rest of the league on notice.

To do that, the Jets should take advantage of Tampa’s defense, which could be working through the difficulties of an extended season and a Super Bowl hangover. There’s plenty of talent and experience to go around, enough to keep the Buccaneers amongst the penthouse dwellers of the NFL’s elite. But Pierre-Paul and Suh are working through their 30s while other staples like McLendon and William Gholston are no spring chickens by NFL standards either.

There’d be no better way for the Jets to light the path to a hopeful feature by using their young offense to top the defending Super Bowl champions just two days into a new calendar year. It’s up to their progress over the first 15 games to give them a chance to make such a statement.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

New York Jets 2021 opponent report: Cincinnati Bengals

joe burrow, bengals

Star-crossed franchises do battle on Halloween, as the New York Jets welcome Joe Burrow and the Bengals to East Rutherford.

The Opponent: Cincinnati Bengals
The Date: Week 7 (Sunday, October 31), 1 p.m. ET, CBS (@ NYJ)
The Series: Jets lead 17-10 (last meeting: 2019, 22-6 CIN)

The New York Jets and Cincinnati Bengals are living up to their respective reputations as two of the NFL’s scariest franchises in the modern standings. Entering the 2021 season, the teams are the owners of the longest playoff droughts in football. New York has a sizable margin at ten years, while the Bengals are at five seasons alongside the Cardinals and Broncos. Cincinnati is also nursing the longest active streaks between conference title game appearances (32 years) and playoff victories (30).

It’s thus only appropriate that these doomed squads go head-to-head on Halloween.

If anything, these franchises whose respective timelines have been dominated with tricks appear to have a pair of treats working with them under center. Cincinnati is set to welcome back Joe Burrow, the top pick of the virtual draft in 2020, while the Jets are set to counter with Zach Wilson, the second overall pick from the most recent selections.

The Skinny On the Bengals

The Bengals’ rebuild has entered the stage where they’re eradicating the remnants of the closest thing Queen City has had to professional football glory days since a rare Super Bowl appearance a majority of their fanbase has only seen on YouTube.

Andy Dalton, Andrew Whitworth, Rey Maulaga, and Domata Peko had already vanished. More Cincinnati jerseys became outdated this offseason, as the team bid farewell to Geno Atkins, A.J. Green, Gio Bernard, and Carlos Dunlap. Only tight C.J. Uzomah is left over from the Bengals’ last playoff trip, 2016’s meltdown at Paul Brown (Stadium).

The operation is being overseen by head coach Zac Taylor, who is entering the all-important third year at the helm. Cincinnati is a historically patient franchise: Taylor is only the 10th man to wear the headset for the franchise in their five-plus decades and his predecessor lasted 16 years in the spot without a single playoff victory.

Cincinnati’s fortunes were expected to be reversed by the arrival of Burrow. The standings left much to be desired…the Bengals won twice in Burrow’s ten starts…but reached heights unscaled by not only Cincinnati quarterbacks but legends of the entire league. Burrow became the first NFL freshman to throw for 300 yards in three consecutive games as well as the first to tally 400 passing yards, three passing scores, and a rushing six-pointer in a single contest.

This being the Bengals, however, the good times weren’t made to last. Burrow suffered a devastating injury during a November loss in Washington and was forced into an extensive rehab. Time will tell if Burrow returns to his dominant form that earned him the Heisman and a national title at LSU. But he found ways to turn his rehab process into a building block for his potentially game-changing career. The procedure, he believes, afforded him a chance to fix some of the flaws that perhaps hid beneath the glitz and glamour of his football career to date.

“With my knee, it felt the same. But I tweak my throwing motion every offseason and tweak my base. It was actually kind of beneficial for me, because I really started from the beginning and was able to refine some things that needed refining,” Burrow told Sports Illustrated’s Albert Breer about his offseason. “I’d like to be more explosive. And I think I was really good in quick-game situations. On fourth down, we were really good. Empty, we were really good. But we need to be more explosive with play-action passes. All of our downfield passing needs to improve.”

In addition to losing Burrow, the Bengals also lost top rusher Joe Mixon to a foot injury. The next generation of Cincinnati weaponry has presented itself through Tyler Boyd and Tee Higgins, who united for 1,749 yards and 10 scores last season.

What’s New In Cincinnati? 

In addition to the high-profile arrival of receiver Ja’Marr Chase (chosen fifth in April), the Bengals had to spend their offseason accounting for the loss of several defensive starters, including pressure artist and Jet-to-be Carl Lawson…who, alas, will not partake in the reunion with Cincinnati due to injury.

Cincinnati signed Trey Hendrickson after a breakthrough season in New Orleans in the hopes of replacing Lawson’s pressure production. A revamped secondary welcomes depth options Ricardo Allen, Eli Apple, Chidobe Awuzie, and Mike Hilton, while Trae Waynes is a de facto newcomer after a pectoral injury cost him the entire 2020 season.

The Bengals’ revamped top defense looked good in the “take-it-with-a-grain-of-salt” summer sessions, allowing no points in two contests. Hendrickson was enthused by what he learned from defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo, who prides versatility in his front seven.

“It’s looking very unique of anything I’ve ever played before,” Hendrickson said of the defense to Ben Baby of ESPN after his first practices with the team in June. “I think it’s playing to both the defense and what I can bring to the table.”

How to Beat Them

-Make Them Pray for Penei

One of the most shocking twists of the draft was the Bengals’ curious decision to leave accomplished Oregon blocker Penei Sewell on the board in favor of Chase, one of Burrow’s favorite targets during the Tigers’ national championship run.

There’s no doubt that Chase has the potential to be an elite, big-play talent and that his victorious chemistry with Burrow could come up big as the team tries to drag back to mere football relevancy. But the Bengals learned the hard way that they need to find further protection for Burrow. Wouldn’t it have made more sense to pounce (pun intended) on the draft’s most powerful blocker, especially with one with experience on the blindside? Even when taking his season-ending injury into account, Burrow was still tied for ninth in sacks allowed.

The Bengals partly made up for passing on Sewell with the signing of Riley Reiff (who replaces the ineffective former Giant Bobby Hart) but the left side is guarded by tackle Jonah Williams and guard Quinton Spain. Williams is a first-round pick from 2019 that has had trouble staying healthy while Spain takes on larger duties after losing a competition against Cody Ford and Brian Winters in Buffalo.

The Jets won’t have the services of Lawson but it’s going to be crucial to attack Burrow’s blindside and make the Bengals regret their fateful decision. It’ll be a particularly big chance for those lining up on the outside, ready to attack the already vulnerable Bengal backfield.

carl lawson, new york jets

-Do It For Carl

One of the Lawson-centric metrics Jets fans are probably sick of…or can’t get enough of…seeing is the fact that Lawson was one of only 11 defenders to reach double-figures (10.5) in the “Sacks Created” advanced category. That number becomes downright jaw-dropping when a look at the defensive rankings reveals that the Bengals earned a mere 17 sacks last season…the worst output in the league.

There would be, perhaps, no better tribute to Lawson than to make the Bengals realize just how much they miss Lawson. That’ll come down to the offensive line working against Cincinnati’s adjusted pass rush. The Bengals also drafted Texas’ Joseph Ossai in the third round (29 tackles over the last two seasons), but he’s starting the season on injured reserve and could be out the whole year. Much like the Bengals will look to take advantage of the Jets’ fledgling, developing secondary, the Jets must take advantage of a Queen City pass rush searching for clarity and momentum.

If anyone knows just how deadly a Cincinnati pass rush attack can be. In their last get-together in November 2019…when the Jets fell to an 0-11 Bengals squad…Sam Darnold was sacked four times and knocked down nine more: six times alone by Dunlap and one further time by Lawson himself. The Bengals’ visit with a new quarterback to protect is a big chance to show how far they’ve come.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags