Without a thorough knowledge of a team’s tendencies or quality of personnel, planning for a Week 1 game is as tricky as any week in the NFL.
While both franchises appear to be headed in opposite directions, they share a commonality in having a lot of unknowns on their roster. The Jets will wheel out a brand-new quarterback in Geno Smith and will field as many as seven new defensive starters.
Meanwhile, the football world is waiting to see if “Revis Island” will return to its inhabitable ways.
Let’s take a look at how the Jets should approach this year’s season opener on both sides of the ball.
Avoid Revis Island—Initially
The Jets have seen firsthand what can happen when a team falls into the trap of thinking that it can be the one to finally breach Revis’ defenses. After all, it can be rather inviting to attack single coverage with your best receiver no matter how good the opposing cornerback may be.
No one, not even the Buccaneers, knows exactly what caliber of Revis they are going to get as he takes the field for the first time since his ACL injury. The Jets must assume that Revis is back to his old, dominant self—at least in the first few series.
Not only do the Jets have to feel out what kind of player Revis is at this point, they also have to get an idea as to how the Buccaneers are using him.
Putting Revis on an island like Rex Ryan used to play after play is daring. Doing so in his first few snaps back from a devastating injury is lunacy. Greg Schiano will likely ease Revis into his old role by playing some more basic coverages from the get-go.
For example, the Bucs may follow the model of how the Jets handled Revis’ hamstring injury at the start of the 2010 season. For the season opener against the Baltimore Ravens, Rex Ryan kept Revis on one side of the field, limiting his movement to avoid aggravating his injury.
In response, the Ravens would put their secondary receiver (who was Derrick Mason at the time) on Revis, minimizing the impact he would have on their passing game.
On this play, Revis is stuck covering Mason This gives Anquan Boldin, their top receiver at the time, a favorable matchup against rookie Kyle Wilson. Predictably, the result of the play was a long completion to Boldin right over Wilson.
Assuming the Buccaneers do limit Revis’ movement and keep him in one spot, the Jets should follow the Ravens' plan and occupy Revis with lesser receivers, such as Clyde Gates or Ryan Spadola.
The Jets could even match up a tight end or running back with Revis on the perimeter, allowing their receivers to work against slower linebackers and safeties.
As aware as the Jets are of Revis’ capabilities, they also have an intricate knowledge of the few weaknesses in a defense that is reliant on the unmatched skills of Revis.
Use the Pistol
Atop the list of the Jets’ priorities for Sunday’s game is to get Geno Smith in his comfort zone as soon as possible.
Using predictable screens and short passes is the conventional way to get a young quarterback into the rhythm of a game, but offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg has a unique tool at his disposal to settle down his quarterback without being too predictable—the pistol.
The pistol, which is essentially a shotgun formation with a running back lined up directly behind the quarterback, took the NFL by storm in 2012. Robert Griffin III and Colin Kaepernick owe a chunk of their success to the advantages the pistol brought to their offenses.
The advantages of the pistol are that the defense cannot see the running back and the quarterback does not have to turn his back to the defense to execute a play action. For a rookie still learning how to read NFL defenses, giving a quarterback a few precious extra seconds to digest coverages is invaluable.
Smith is almost too familiar with the pistol or other shotgun formations. According to ESPN Stats and Information, Smith was in the pistol or shotgun a staggering 96 percent of the time.
While his inexperience under center may have hurt his draft stock, the marriage between Geno and Mornhinweg’s offense is a near-perfect fit (at least from this perspective), as Mornhinweg’s quarterbacks threw out of the shotgun 69 percent of the time.
First down out of the pistol https://t.co/Y1jx88ehkb— NFLVines (@NFLVines1) September 4, 2013
Keeping Smith in the shotgun will free his mind from thinking about using proper technique under center, allowing him to play at a pace he is comfortable with. The less an athlete has to think about what they are doing, the less effective they will be at executing at full speed.
In time, Geno will eventually get comfortable taking snaps under center—the concept is not exactly rocket science. He just needs time to build up muscle memory with constant repetition. In the meantime, keeping Geno in his comfort zone is key to maintaining his confidence.
One of the reasons the Jets were willing to part ways with Revis was the breakout season Antonio Cromartie had in 2012 to make Revis expendable.
After Revis went down in Week 3, the Jets were able to play a near-identical style of defense by allowing Cromartie to assume Revis’ role of shadowing the opposition’s top receiver with minimal safety help—which is exactly what they should do against Vincent Jackson.
One advantage Cromartie will always have over Revis (and just about every other cornerback) is his large frame and long arms that allow him to match up with taller No. 1 receivers most cornerbacks would struggle with. He also has the top-end speed necessary to run with the fastest pass-catchers in the game.
Why should the Jets play such a risky game with Tampa’s most dangerous receiver? Taking away a safety will allow them to shut down Doug Martin with ease and force Josh Freeman to beat the Jets with secondary targets. If the Jets can prevent big plays to Jackson with eight men in the box, it will give them a huge advantage in stopping Tampa’s offense that few other teams would have.
Of course, this is all dependent on the idea that Cromartie can pick up where he left off in 2013 without any drop-off. Either way, the Jets have a much better chance of rolling the dice on Cromartie’s ability to cover than their 25th-ranked run defense to stop one of the best young runners in the game.
If Tampa Bay’s secondary is anywhere near as good on the field as it is on paper, moving the ball through the air is going to be a tall order for a rookie quarterback making his regular-season debut.
Therefore, the Jets must base their game plan around the running game, especially considering the thin talent level in Tampa Bay’s front seven.
The Buccaneers do have a few stars up front in Gerald McCoy and Lavonte David, but there are a handful of glaring weak spots the jets can take advantage of, particularly on the strong side.
Interestingly, highly touted prospect D’Quan Bowers has been regulated to second string in favor of Daniel Te’o-Nesheim, and not because Te’o-Nesheim has been overly impressive. According to ProFootballFocus.com, the former third-round pick in 2010 was the 50th-best 4-3 defensive end (out of 50) in 2012. In 748 snaps, he registered just four sacks and 21 stops.
Perhaps Greg Schiano is looking to motivate Bowers because of his quiet preseason, but his depth chart-juggling tactics come at a price. There was a clear drop-off in production from Bowers to Te’o-Nasheim last year.
As a result, Mornhinweg must exploit this massive hole in the Buccaneers defense in hopes that it will start to open things up for Smith and the passing game. With a good blocking right tackle in Austin Howard, there is no reason why the Jets cannot have a successful day on the ground if they stick to running predominately on the right side.
For the Jets, the points on the scoreboard don’t matter as much as they would to a contending team. More so than anything else, the Jets need to show that unlike last year, they can at least flash competency on offense and get Geno Smith on the path to success.
Of course, if Geno Smith falls on his face in his debut and throws interceptions like they are going out of style, the Jets are doomed no matter how well they cover Vincent Jackson or have a sustainable running game. If Geno is at least serviceable, however, the Jets can wind up being a very tough team to play against even if they won't actually come out on top in many of their games.
After all, if they can show a vast improvement from last year on the offensive side of the ball, they stand a much better chance to come away with a victory than most would think.
Advanced stats provided by ProFootballFocus.com (subscription required).