Preview: Tampa Bay Buccaneers at New York Jets

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers open the 2013 NFL season at MetLife Stadium today against the New York Jets Sunday at 1:00 ET, which can be seen on FOX Sports. The Bucs are 1-9 all-time against the Jets and have never beaten them in the Meadowlands. They hope to change that today.

Here are the top storylines…

Tampa Bay Buccaneers CB Darrelle Revis

Revis’ return

Sunday’s game marks not only the return of Darrelle Revis to MetLife stadium, it also marks the first time he takes the field since his season-ending torn ACL last season. Revis will start the game, but he will be monitored throughout the game.

“I think we’re going to have to just watch and see how it goes,” said head coach Greg Schiano. “Let’s see what the conditions are, let’s see how he’s feeling. The other thing that always gets you is emotions; that can tire you out as well.”

“I think to try to make a predetermined plan wouldn’t be prudent, I think we just have to play it by ear. The one good thing that I feel is we have a good relationship; he communicates with me very clearly, so that’s good.”

Revis will likely be paired up against Santonio Holmes, who has limited in practice all week with a foot injury, while second-year cornerback Leonard Johnson is expected to be paired against Stephen Hill.

Josh Freeman enters critical contract year

Sunday’s game marks the beginning of a pivotal year for quarterback Josh Freeman – it’s the fifth and final year of his rookie deal. While head coach Greg Schiano has publicly said that this is Freeman’s team, the Bucs are not 100% sold on him for the future, which is why he wasn’t given a new contract this offseason.

Freeman wasn’t elected a team captain this week. It marks the first time since he’s been a starting that he won’t wear a “C” on his uniform.  “I know one thing: Josh is going to lead. Josh is a leader, so I’m not concerned about that,” said Schiano.

“I’ll tell you, to a man, I think every offensive player will say ‘we follow No. 5.’  So I think it’s a good thing. I guess it all depends how you look at it, but I’m fine with it.”

Freeman will face a big test today against a pass defense that was second in the league last year, giving up just 189.8 yards per game through the air last season. Freeman will need his two top receivers, Vincent Jackson and Mike Williams, to have a better performance than they did this preseason.

Injuries

Fullback Erik Lorig did not make the trip with the team due to a calf injury that limited him during the preseason. The Bucs don’t have a second fullback on the roster, but running back Brian Leonard is capable of blocking for Doug Martin, as is running back Peyton Hillis.

Tight end Tom Crabtree did not make the trip either, which means Luke Stocker will see the action there. The Bucs have also lined Leonard up as a blocking tight end, and backup tight end Nate Byham, who caught a touchdown against the Carolina Panthers last year, is certainly an option.

Perhaps the biggest loss for this game will be the absence of All-Pro guard Carl Nicks, who is still undergoing treatment for a MRSA staph infection. He will likely be replaced by Gabe Carimi, who took the majority of the first-team reps in his spot during practice this week.

For the Jets, linebacker Quinton Coples, who has been battling an ankle injury, will not play and neither will quarterback Mark Sanchez, who suffered a shoulder injury during the preseason.

You can view the whole Bucs-Jets injury report here.

Perspective

The Bucs’ lone win against the Jets came back in 1984, a 41-21 victory at the Old Sombrero. The last time these two teams faced off was a 26-3 pummeling by the Jets at Raymond James Stadium in 2009.

Then-rookie quarterback Josh Freeman was intercepted on the very first play from scrimmage, and was picked off two other times in that game, including a pick from his new teammate this year, Darrelle Revis.

Keys to the Game

Get Doug Martin going early

The Jets are fully-aware that this Buccaneers offense is predicated on the effectiveness of Doug Martin. They’re also aware that the Bucs will be without Pro Bowl left guard Carl Nicks.

It’s tempting to have Josh Freeman try to take advantage of a defense that loads the box against the Pro Bowl running back and take shots downfield, especially with a rookie cornerback making his first NFL start in Dee Milliner.

That’s not the identity of this football team, however, which is ground and pound.

Neutralize the pressure, protect Josh Freeman

It’s no secret that Jets head coach Rex Ryan likes to dial up some elaborate blitzes to bring heavy pressure from all angles. And game-planning or not, the Bucs struggled with making the right protection calls in the second preseason game against the Patriots.

The Bucs have an excellent resource in Darrelle Revis. If he can help the Bucs offense key in on where some of these blitzes are coming from, Freeman won’t come unglued, even if the pocket starts to break down. He can set his feet and look downfield to find his two deep threats in Vincent Jackson and Mike Williams.

Force turnovers

Geno Smith threw three interceptions and took a safety in the Jets’ third and most critical preseason game.

Add in a hungry Darrelle Revis, who seemed slightly peeved that Smith said he didn’t feel the need to watch tape on him, and it could be a long day for the Jets rookie quarterback.

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