The Jets start off their season at home in an interconference battle with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The Jets will be starting rookie second-round pick Geno Smith under center. Offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg will most likely be drawing up a friendly game plan for the neophyte, and the expected return of Santonio Holmes should help matters as well. Clyde Gates and Stephen Hill will also be expected to carry over their training camp performance, especially with former Jet Darrelle Revis on the other sideline.
The Bucs led the NFL in rush defense last season, and were last in pass defense. But along with Revis, the Bucs added former 49ers safety Dashon Goldson, and drafted corner Johnthan Banks out of Mississippi State in the second round. Offensively they have two stars in receiver Vincent Jackson, and second-year running back Doug Martin. In his fifth year out of Kansas State quarterback Josh Freeman is entering a pivotal year. After leading the Bucs to a surprising 10-6 record in 2010, the team has disappointed each of the last two seasons. Tampa drafted NC State quarterback Mike Glennon in the third round this year, a clear indication they’re willing to move on from Freeman if the team has another subpar year.
So for all the questions surrounding the Jets quarterback situation this season, the Bucs have some as well. And while the team expectations for the Jets are pretty low, they’re not much higher for Tampa. Most project the team to finish fourth in a division with the Saints, Falcons, and Panthers. The Jets can certainly surprise people this year, and taking a winnable game at home would be a good first step to accomplishing that.
When: Sunday, September 8 2013, 1 pm EST (TV-FOX, Radio ESPN)
Where: MetLife Stadium, East Rutherford, NJ
Jets – Out: QB Mark Sanchez (shoulder), DE Quinton Coples (ankle). Questionable: DL Kenrick Ellis (back), WR Santonio Holmes (foot). Probable: TE Kellen Winslow (knee), DL Leger Douzable (illness).
Bucs – Out: TE Tom Crabtree (ankle). Doubtful: OG Carl Nicks (staph infection). Questionable: RB Mike James (eye). Probable: Darrelle Revis (knee).
The Running Game – As mentioned earlier the Bucs were tops in the league in run defense. In an attempt to be more balanced the Bucs might scheme more towards the passing game, but that has never been head coach Greg Schiano’s philosophy and it’s unlikely to change going up against a rookie quarterback. Short passes like the Redskins used to get RG3 comfortable in their opener last season will help, but if the remade offensive line can open up holes for Chris Ivory and Bilal Powell the Jets should have the edge in this one. This team used a lot of resources to improve the running game over the offseason. This game is a good first test, and the Jets could make a huge statement with an 100-yard performance.
Turnovers – An obvious point, but one that has to be made. The Jets have a strong defense, and limiting offensive turnovers is one of their biggest priorities. It will be Smith’s first regular season NFL start, and if he looks anything like he did against the Giants, the Jets will be in for a long day. If Marty can get Smith comfortable early, and Smith can avoid making costly turnovers, the Jets defense should be able to keep the game low-scoring.
Limiting the Big Play – The Bucs have two home run hitters in Doug Martin and Vincent Jackson. Even if the D is able to bottle those two up for most of the game, one play could hurt them. The Jets have to remain focused on those two all game, and make sure neither one is able to break for a big play and a touchdown.
Dee Milliner – Rex has never started a rookie corner in the opening game before. On top of that Milliner has missed a lot of time in training camp for various reasons. He was picked on by Blaine Gabbert and the Jaguars in week 2 of the preseason, and if that happens again Rex might have to consider moving Kyle Wilson back to the starting spot. The Jets are unlikely to win a high scoring game.
The Pick: The Jets are better than people give them credit for. The defense should once again be in the top half of the league. While the Bucs have weapons, they’re not an offense that scares you. But it’s unlikely the Jets get a big contribution from their running game, and even with a friendly game plan I don’t see Geno leading this team to victory in his first start. It’ll be low scoring and close, but the Bucs are going to get the win.