Holding the fort is the key for Clemens.

FLORHAM PARK, NJ – As we preview the Jets’ week 14 matchup with  the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, we start things off by outlining what quarterback Kellen Clemens must do to give his club a chance to win Sunday, after being thrust into the starting role due to an injury to Mark Sanchez.

It can be summed up in three simple words:  Hold. the. fort.

No one’s asking the backup qb to be a fantasy stud this week, or to carry his Jets team to their seventh win of the season.   He doesn’t need to be flashy, and he doesn’t need to light up the stats sheet.  All he needs to do is manage this game, in order for his offense to be successful.

Shonn Greene and the Jets running backs should have a big day against a subpar Buccaneers run defense. (JetsInsider.com Photo)
Shonn Greene and the Jets running backs should have a big day against a subpar Buccaneers run defense. (JetsInsider.com Photo)

By managing the game, we mean attempting high-percentage throws and moving the chains.  We mean not taking chances unless you’re forced to.  And we mean limiting mistakes: when the Jets win the turnover battle, they’re 5-0 this season.  If Clemens can have anything close to a mistake-free game, the other areas of the game favor the Jets so lopsidedly that this one shouldn’t even be close.

Take, for example, their running game.  The Jets are currently gaining 168 yards a game on the ground, tops in the NFL.  The Buccs, by contrast, are currently 31’st in the league defending the run.  Can anybody say, mismatch?

While Alan Faneca is suffering from an illness and missed Thursday’s practice, there’s no reason to believe he won’t play Sunday, meaning the entire offensive line that’s done an outstanding job all season long will be on the field.  The Buccs have no significant threat on the defensive line outside Chris Hovan, so the matchups in the trenches present a huge advantage for Gang Green.  They must establish that advantage early – the Buccs will most likely sellout to defend the run, so if the running game can get going, the Buccs will  be in for a world of trouble.

They’ll be playing single coverage on the outside, and while their two corners – Aqib Talib and Ronde Barber – are one of the better tandoms in the game, no help over the top could leave them open for big plays.  Establishing an effective running game can open up the play-action passing game, which will create high-percentage throws for Clemens to options like tight end Dustin Keller in the middle of the field, maybe even a big play or two from wideouts Jerricho Cotchery and Braylon Edwards.

This is all predicated, however, on the running game having the type of day we expect.  It effects every single aspect of the game – chewing up the clock, wearing down a below-average defense, and even putting a Jets defense that’s rediscovered its mojo in the best position to be successful.

I speak of a defense that will be going against a rookie quarterback in Buccs signal-caller Josh Freeman.  While he’s had some solid games in his brief NFL career, he’s never seen a defense that can bring the type of pressure a Rex Ryan defense can.  The unit has rebounded with back-to-back solid performances, and have to be salivating at the thought of facing a rookie qb.  The Jets’ running game working will allow their defense to stay off the field, paying big dividends when the game reaches its latter stages.  Look for the Jets to bring pressure all game long, as they always do, attempting to rattle the rookie into mistakes.

Prediction: If the Jets play their game, even with Clemens at quarterback, Tampa Bay simply does not have the talent to stay with Gang Green.  Freeman will be suffocated by a Jets defense that finally looks like its hitting its stride again, and Clemens will make only the necessary plays to put his team in a position to win.  He’ll have his poor throws, but none of significance, as the Jets roll to improve to 7-6 and increase their position in the AFC playoff race.

Final Score: Jets 24, Buccs 6

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