TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS (0-0) AT NEW YORK JETS (0-0)
Where/when: MetLife Stadium, East Rutherford, N.J./1 p.m. today
TV: Fox, Ch. 13. Radio: 620 AM, 103.5 FM, 95.3 FM
Jets fans have just about had it with Rex Ryan. They're over Mark Sanchez, too, and if Geno Smith plays like he did in the preseason they'll let him have it as well. The Jets are a young, low-budget team on the verge of imploding. The Bucs can trigger the detonator by starting fast and inspiring the notoriously critical Jets fans to turn on the home team. The best opportunity will be on defense, by forcing Jets rookie QB Geno Smith into mistakes. The Jets have a sound defense and one of the more athletic front sevens in the NFL. And it's not like the Bucs got out of the blocks well during the preseason. Slow starters when the games didn't matter, it would it would behoove Tampa Bay to find its offensive rhythm quickly.
Hit the ground running
Despite all the preseason talk about QB Josh Freeman, don't forget that the Bucs are primarily a running team. Tampa Bay wants to run on first down, second down and in the red zone. So, the Jets defense likely will focus on trying to stop RB Doug Martin. As his 2012 total of nearly 2,000 all-purpose yards suggests, Martin is a special talent. The Bucs want to get the ball in his hands more this year, particularly on third down. But that requires gaining good yardage on early downs. Martin got off to a slow start last year, averaging 3.4 yards per carry through the first four games. The Bucs will need him in mid-season form.
Protect the passer
The Bucs allowed a sack every nine pass plays during the preseason, including one for every three times QB Josh Freeman dropped back to pass. That's an abysmal average and quickly became a big reasons fans began losing faith in this team. Davin Joseph will play at right guard, but is still getting his legs under him after a 2012 knee injury. The situation at left guard is still in flux. So, the potential is there for the disturbing lack of protection to continue. Their ability to correct it and stay out of bad situations is critical.
Bucs CB Darrelle Revis vs. Jets receivers
After missing most of last season with a torn left ACL, then being traded from the Jets to the Bucs in the offseason, Revis is the player who bears watching the most in this contest. Fans of the Bucs, Jets and football in general want to know if this four-time Pro Bowler can still play at an elite level. Revis is such an attraction, the NFL might want to ask Fox to focus a camera on Revis every play so it could devote an entire channel to him in its Sunday Ticket package. Revis was easily the best corner in the game before his injury in Week 2. The Bucs are pinning much of their playoff hopes on him making a big comeback.
Many teams would be greatly humbled by the performance Tampa Bay gave during a 1-3 preseason. But not this team. The Bucs head into today's season opener not cocky, but extremely confident in their ability to win consistently this season and reach the playoffs. It's almost as if they've been hiding something, that they know something everyone else doesn't. Come to think of it, maybe they do. No one else has really seen CB Darrelle Revis play, or the complete offense and defense the Bucs plan to attack with this year. It could be that all three are sound enough to make everyone quickly forget that horrid preseason. Maybe that's the secret they are keeping.
5 Questions with ... RB Brian Leonard
Q: What were the winters like when you grew up in Gouverneur, N.Y., near the Adirondack Mountains?
A: Harsh, real harsh. We probably had snow on the ground four solid months of the year. It's not like New Jersey or Cincinnati, where the snow melts a couple of days later. When it snows upstate, it sticks for the rest of the season. I definitely shoveled a lot of snow. It's beautiful in the summer and rough in the winter.
Q: How did you score 107 career touchdowns in high school?
A: I was basically everything. If they were going to throw the ball, they'd put me out as a receiver. If they were going to hand the ball off, they'd put me in the backfield. To be honest, people didn't take football too seriously up there. In high school, I played against (Bucs DE) Trevor Scott, who went to Potsdam.
Q: You played four years at Rutgers for coach Greg Schiano. Do you notice any changes with him in Tampa.?
A: Everyone changes a little bit. Obviously, these are professionals here at this level, where at Rutgers you had 17-year-old kids coming in. But overall, he still has the same standards and expectations he had at college.
Q: You've scored only one touchdown in 71 NFL games. Were you frustrated by your lack of opportunity in St. Louis and Cincinnati?
A: In the preseason, I've gotten the ball in my hands a lot. I've probably scored 12 or 13 touchdowns in my career in August. But I've been behind some great backs in Steven Jackson (Rams) and Cedric Benson (Bengals). I embraced my role in Cincinnati, being that third-down back. I knew what the coaches expected of me and I was good at it.
Q: St. Louis and Cincinnati are known as great baseball cities. Would you characterize Tampa as a football town?
A: Absolutely, except when the Yankees arrive for spring training. People love their football here. We've got hard-core fans and hopefully we can sell out the stadium this year.
A pair of Darrelle Revis takeaways set up two Bucs scores and leave Jets rookie QB Geno Smith wishing he'd spent more time studying.
Gerald McCoy applies the pressure and Darrelle Revis provides the coverage as Geno Smith learns a few painful lessons about life in the NFL.