The focus will be on Darrelle Revis when he makes his return in the Bucsâ€™ opener against the Jets.
By ANDREW ASTLEFORDFS Florida
Week 1 is here, and if you're ill-prepared for the Darrelle Revis extravaganza coming Sunday, brace yourself.
Attention will focus on No. 24 when he makes his return in the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' opener against the New York Jets, and for good reason. At last, Revis in a Bucs uniform will be more than a talking point, an idea. A different era for him will begin, and so will a study in how he fares with his new franchise.
There are other reasons to watch, of course. How will Josh Freeman look after a preseason to forget? Can the Bucs' defense make life hard on rookie quarterback Geno Smith? With difficult games against the New Orleans Saints and New England Patriots ahead, can the Bucs take care of business?
Some Week 1 thoughts and predictions before the game at MetLife Stadium ...
How will Revis handle his return?
As expected. After all the talk, the hype and the build-up, we'll receive our first look at Revis in a Bucs uniform during moments that matter. Coach Greg Schiano and general manager Mark Dominik have insisted he's healthy, and Revis has said the same in recent months. The Bucs were smart to be cautious in his recovery. If Revis looks like the Revis of old, there is plenty to anticipate with him this fall.
There's some doubt, though. I've seen no reason for alarm in the short glimpses of Revis I received in training camp. But we never saw him play in preseason games. There is no way to know how he will perform in game situations until it happens. I think he’ll be fine Sunday. His presence alone will make an impact. Earlier this week, I asked cornerback Leonard Johnson about how soon he knew Revis would raise the play of those around him.
"It’s right away," Johnson said. "When you've got a great player on your side, he affects everyone, not just him -- not just those that he's going against. When Revis is out there, even the offensive players going against him, they have to bring their game up to another level, because he’s one of the best to do it."
We’ll see signs of the Revis Effect on Sunday.
Will the Bucs’ offense be better than what it showed in the preseason?
Yes. It can’t get any worse. As bad as Freeman looked at times in the preseason, I agree with him, Schiano, offensive coordinator Mike Sullivan and others that what was seen in the preseason wasn’t a true preview of how this offense will look. But if Freeman struggles early, I’m curious to learn how often the Bucs will turn to Doug Martin to spark production, especially if the problems in the passing game are a slow fix.
Remember, the Jets look listless on offense, but Rex Ryan is a skilled defensive mind. Freeman has a history of inconsistency, and the Jets will try to use that fact to their advantage. It’s one of few chances New York has to pull the upset. The Bucs should handle Smith. But if the Jets create scoring chances from their defense, things will get interesting.
Can the Bucs' defense make life hard for Smith?
Yes. How will Smith handle pressure? We’ll find out quickly, because expect the Bucs to use a variety of schemes to rattle the young quarterback. The situation sets up well for Tampa Bay: Smith is coming off a preseason when he did little (22 for 37, 246 yards, one touchdown and three interceptions). He’s being asked to manage a situation he’s not ready for.
This will be a good chance to see what kind of pass rush the Bucs can produce. If the pressure is strong, expect a few easy interceptions to come near Revis, Dashon Goldson, Mark Barron and others. Between Revis and Goldson, there is enough elite, veteran experience deep to bait Smith into poor decisions. For the rookie, this will be a rough baptism-by-fire.
Bucs 21, Jets 13.
This will be close early. It's a stretch to think the Bucs' offense will come out firing right away. Expect some hiccups. Expect Freeman to start slow, and it will be little surprise to see the Bucs feed Martin to kick-start the offense. As the afternoon moves on, however, look for Smith’s mistakes to catch up with him.
It’s interesting to hear Tampa Bay defensive coordinator Bill Sheridan talk about how his unit must show a balance between pressuring the young quarterback and mixing complex coverage schemes to move Smith around in the pocket. If the Bucs force Smith to turn the ball over early in the first half, their momentum will build. However, the opposite effect could occur if Smith strings together a few impressive drives. That won’t happen, though. The Bucs will make life difficult for the rookie. As a result, they will enjoy a few short scoring drives.
Player of the game
Did you expect anything different? I won't go as far to predict that Revis will return an interception for a touchdown, but look for him to have a big day. I'll mark him down for one pick, possibly two. There are too many factors working against Smith in this game: His inexperience, his immaturity, the lack of depth at skill positions around him. Advantage, Bucs. Advantage, Revis.
I’m not sold on Smith's ability to become a long-term face of a franchise, and I don't expect his debut to reveal anything different. Bucs players have talked about how Revis has approached his return like a pro. Still, there must be a part of him that wants to jab his former team a little. Remember, Revis has said he felt that the Jets gave up on him after he tore his left ACL last September. What better way to close that chapter than by leaving his former home with a victory?