(Sports Network) - It would have been hard to design a more nightmarish
scenario for the New York Jets, for whom the bloom is miles off the rose from
two straight AFC Championship Game appearances in 2009 and 2010.
They enter 2013 with an unproven running back in Bilal Powell, an unknown
quarterback in Geno Smith and without their best player in Darrelle Revis,
who, inconveniently enough, was traded during the offseason to the team --
Tampa Bay -- that just happens to be visiting MetLife Stadium in Week 1.
Perhaps the only thing that could make it worse would have been to start the
year with a trip to New England. But don't worry, folks, that comes next week.
In the mean time, the opener against the Buccaneers will also be the
organization's curtain-raiser for general manager John Idzik, who was hired to
replace Mike Tannenbaum; and offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg, who comes
in to clean up after the Tony Sparano debacle.
The most familiar name who'll be occupying the same space Sunday is head coach
Rex Ryan, though the consensus is that 2013 will be his final season atop the
Gang Green herd unless the Jets do something completely unexpected -- like win
as many games this season as they lose.
The latest straw to weaken Ryan's job security back came in the third week of
the preseason, when he hastily inserted presumed starting quarterback Mark
Sanchez into the fourth quarter of a game against the New York Giants.
Naturally, Sanchez was hurt while scrambling to complete a pass, sustaining a
right shoulder injury whose severity has still not been precisely articulated.
The latest estimates are that Sanchez will miss three weeks, leaving the ball
at least temporarily in the hands of Smith, the ex-West Virginia star who was
plucked in the second round of April's draft and looked during the preseason
like, well -- a guy who'd been drafted in the second round a few months
"They'll try to rattle my cage," Smith said. "I expect those guys to come out
fired up and they want to make a statement. They've got a rookie quarterback
and they'll want to hit me and get me off my game, but I expect those things.
And I look forward to it."
Smith was 22-of-37 for 246 yards and a touchdown in his summertime
appearances, but the three interceptions and dreadful 54.6 passer rating are
much more a concern these days.
"We realize that a rookie quarterback and all that, that's certainly a
challenge," Ryan said. "Our guys are ready to rally behind Geno, and the big
thing we've told Geno is, 'You just have to be part of the solution.'"
It's unclear what role in the "solution" is to be played by Revis, the
perennial All-Pro who missed most of what turned out to be his final season in
New York with an ACL injury. His perpetual issues with contracts and holdouts
was assumed to be the main reason Idzik dealt him to Tampa Bay, rather than
vainly attempting to sign him to another long-term deal.
The Jets got a pair of draft picks in exchange, while the Buccaneers
immediately inked Revis to a six-year, $96 million deal -- the richest for a
defensive player in league history.
As for "Revis Island," its czar has pronounced it ready to entertain visitors.
"When I go out to practice, I just try to make plays like I have in the past,"
he said. "That's how I've got to approach it. I can't sit here and get down on
myself if I don't, if I'm a step late on a play. I've just got to keep on
improving and keep on building on me getting in shape and getting back to
where I used to be playing at an elite level."
He's also not been shy about sharing secrets gleaned from his days in green.
"I played against them every day in practice," Revis said. "So I've got a
bunch of tips on those guys. And the good thing about it, I've been sharing
them in our secondary. We will come into this game real comfortable. We really
will, just from the experience I had there."
Revis isn't the only high-profile newcomer to the Buccaneers' defensive
backfield. He's joined by ex-San Francisco safety Dashon Goldson, who was
acquired as a free agent.
Tampa Bay's run defense in 2012 was stout -- allowing 82.5 yards per game --
but its pass defense was leaky, surrendering a league-worst 297.4 yards.
On offense, the Bucs have several weapons at the disposal of quarterback Josh
Freeman, who was coveted by many Jets fans when he came out of college the
same year as Sanchez. The lanky passer has been similarly inconsistent,
however, and completed just 54.8 percent of his passes with 17
interceptions last season, though he also established career-highs with 27 TDs
and 4,065 yards.
His best backfield accessory is second-year runner Doug Martin, who fell 46
yards shy of 1,500 and scored 11 times on the run, while adding one more TD
along with 49 receptions for 472 more yards
through the air. That out-of-the-backfield threat provides a nice alternative
for Freeman, who can also target Vincent Jackson and Mike Williams when he
looks down the field.
Those two melded for 17 touchdowns in 2012 and are faced with a challenge
during Week 1 that'll have one locked up with Revis' former running mate,
Antonio Cromartie, and the other vying for space with Revis' would-be
replacement, first-round draft pick Dee Milliner.
Also gone from last year is Jets defensive coordinator Mike Pettine, who left
for Buffalo. Veteran NFL alum Dennis Thurman is the new DC in New York, though
it's presumed he'll again operate -- as Pettine did -- under the thumb of
defensive guru Ryan.
The Jets chose both Milliner and former Missouri d-lineman Sheldon Richardson
within four picks of each other in the first round. New York was porous at
best in defending the run in 2012 and managed just 30 sacks with a generally
anemic pass rush.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR:
Smith will get a baptism by on-field fire against the Buccaneers, who are
likely to match presumed No. 1 receiver Stephen Hill with their new defensive
toy, Revis. It wouldn't be surprising to see Smith try to prove his street
cred by targeting Revis, and it'd be less surprising to see Revis want to
reestablish himself with a pick-6 or two in his old home stadium.
The matchup is similar going the other way, where Freeman will see No. 1
target Jackson locked up with Revis' former cohort in the New York backfield,
Cromartie. A more interesting microscope, however, could be trained on the
meeting of No. 2 receiver Williams and Revis' heir apparent, first-round
If a group of young, impressionable players are ever going to buy in to Ryan's
fifth-year motivational speeches, it'd be in their home opener in Week 1. The
problem is, the team on the other side -- in this case, Tampa Bay -- is better
than the Jets at nearly every pertinent position.
Unless Smith looks less like a rookie QB than he has throughout the preseason,
it looks like a subpar start in the swamps of Jersey.
Sports Network predicted outcome: Buccaneers 24, Jets 20
The Sports Network