It’s game week for the first matchup of the 2013 NFL season for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and it seems like the opponent couldn’t be any easier.
As Bucs fans, we’ve seen two consecutive offseasons with drastic improvements through free agency and the draft, as impact players have been added to the roster and helped turn around a team that fell quite far from it’s perennial contender status in the 2000′s. It would seem the Jets haven’t quite turned that corner.
But the Jets are still an NFL team, and there are definitely key players and storylines to watch. I was granted the time to ask some questions of a pair of Jets’ writers about the team and about Sunday’s game, and here’s what they had to say:
Leo: With Darrelle Revis out of town, the Jets don’t seem to have a superstar player on the roster. That said, there’s certainly some level of talent left which kept the team competitive last season despite the drama and circus that surrounded the franchise. Tell us about a couple of impact players on either side of the ball Bucs’ fans should keep an eye on this Sunday.
Ryan: Jeremy Kerley – The Jets’ top receiver last year, he can be dangerous as a punt returner and in the slot.
Antonio Cromartie – His size matches up well with Vincent Jackson.
Muhammad Wilkerson – The Jets’ best player, he will be tough to handle without Carl Nicks.
Alan: Here are two guys to look out for on the defensive side of the football: Muhammad Wilkerson and Antonio Cromartie. When Darrelle went down last season, Cromartie stepped up to fill his role and did so admirably. He has become every bit the shutdown corner that the Jets defense needs to excel in the Rex Ryan system. Up front, keep an eye out for Wilkerson. He came on in the second half of 2012 and made himself a case that nearly earned him Pro Bowl honors. He can rush the passer from the interior line, and is a good run stuffer as well. He will meet Doug Martin more than once in the hole, we will see who comes out of that matchup, which should be a good one.
On offense, one guy to keep an eye on is Jeff Cumberland, starting tight end. He will split time with Kellen Winslow, Jr, another talented tight end, but don’t under estimate Cumberland’s abilities. He has had an excellent training camp, becoming the weapon up the seam that Dustin Keller used to be for the Jets. Another is Jeremy Kerley. He was a shining star on a very lackluster season in 2012, nearly receiving 1,000 yards when no one else played well. He should take the step this year and be a guy to watch.
Leo: The Jets’ offense doesn’t strike fear into the hearts of many NFL fans, as they scan over a depth chart starring Bilal Powell and Stephen Hill as primary playmakers. What can we honestly expect to see from the Jets against a Tampa Bay defense which we can expect to be fairly good at defending the run or pass?
Ryan: It really all depends on what kind of Revis is coming back. If Revis is the old Revis, moving the ball on the Bucs is going to be hard in any way.
Problem is, I don’t think the Bucs are ready to put Revis on an island just yet – they may ease him in to that role. The Jets have moved the ball pretty well this season actually, but it is hard to predict what we will get from Geno. I wouldn’t expect a shootout and the game will be on the uglier side, but it won’t be a high school game.
Alan: You will be surprised when you watch this offense play. Marty Mornhinweg’s system has so far done wonders for the Jets’ offense. No matter which string has been in, this system is making guys open. The West Coast offensive system is based on a concept of overflowing the defense with routes, and the defense not being able to cover them all. If you look at tape from the Jets’ this preseason, that is exactly what is happening. The Jets were actually in the top 10 of scoring, which is a though we would never have had, even in a preseason.
Leo: The New York defense was a centerpiece of the team’s dominance just a few years ago. There are not many players left from the glory days, but will the Jets still have an above average defense? Is Rex Ryan’s system good enough to maintain a decent defensive output?
Ryan: Yes, for 3 main reasons: 1) Cromartie has elevated his play to be the “new” Revis (and helped deem Revis expendable) 2) Muhammad Wilkerson is dominant and 3) Rex is going to get back to his old blitzing ways without Mike Pettine. They may not be the best in the business, but Rex has never fielded a defense lower than eighth.
Alan: Leo, you can say a great deal about Rex Ryan, but one thing that can only be spoken highly of is his ability to coach a defense. People don’t realize that last year, despite the fact that Revis went down, the defense was #1 against the pass. The Jets’ defense is extremely deep in the front seven, and they will be better than above average as a defense.
Leo: Explain the Jets’ QB situation. Who is going to play, why does it matter, and will either guy pose any threat to the Buccaneers’ defense?
Ryan: It sounds like Geno is going to play by default, but it really won’t have much of an impact on this game. We’ve only seen a few series form Smith, and the results have been underwhelming. A lot can change in a few weeks, but stopping Geno shouldn’t be a huge problem for Tampa given their defensive talent.
Alan: This is the worst kept secret in New York. Geno Smith is going to be the starting quarterback, the only that hasn’t happened is an official announcement (Editor’s note: The announcement happened after the interview, Geno is starting). Ever since getting hurt in the game against the Giants, Mark Sanchez has not even thrown a football, much less practiced. Unless there is a major change in his health situation, there is no way he plays Sunday. Unless Matt Simms played himself into the equation more than any one of us realize, it is going to be Geno Smith.
Geno is going to struggle a bit. He is a rookie, and Jets’ fans have to be ready to accept the growing pains. Whenever you turn the keys over to a rookie quarterback, you have to take the good with the bad. As far as a “threat”, he is more of a threat than Mark Sanchez with his ability to run. Both quarterbacks, at least to me, have similar arms. The key will be if the quarterback can avoid bad decisions. Geno had a rough go of things in his one start, so we shall see.
Leo: You knew this question was coming… what will be the final score of the Bucs/Jets game this Sunday?
Ryan: Tampa Bay wins, 24-17.
Alan: New York wins, 20-17.