Commentary | Tampa Bay Bucs opener against New York Jets is supposed to be so easy, which makes it so hard

Bucs favored in opener, but what if they lose?

adell@bradenton.comSeptember 8, 2013 

Redskins Buccaneers Football

Tampa Bay Buccaneers head coach Greg Schiano during the first half of an Aug. 29 preseason game against the Washington Redskins in Tampa. ASSOCIATED PRESS

PHELAN M. EBENHACK — AP

For Greg Schiano, never has so little meant so much.

His Tampa Bay Buccaneers open the season Sunday against the New York Jets, and it's a game they're supposed to win.

It's a matchup every coach dreads.

The Bucs' second-year head coach has heard how there is no way his team is supposed to lose to the Jets.

Hey coach, would you rather face Drew Brees or Tom Brady? Oh, forgot! Schiano gets them back to back in weeks 2 and 3.

It's what makes disposing of Geno Smith so important. Schiano is supposed to make him look like an NFL kindergartener.

He is making his first NFL start and won the job by default when Mark Sanchez was injured.

Even history is on Schiano's side. In the past decade, 13 quarterbacks have made their first NFL starts in Week 1, and eight have lost. They have thrown nearly twice as many interceptions and averaged less than a touchdown pass per game.

Even the great ones like John Elway bombed in their first start, and Smith has never been compared to the Denver great.

No coach feels comfortable going into these kinds of games.

Ask Willie Taggart about McNeese State. He warned everyone, but no one would listen. Then a lot of those same people wanted to throw him under the bus

The Bucs spent a ton of money the past two seasons acquiring top-level talent. They have eight players who at one time or another were Pro Bowlers.

They are facing a quarterback who struggled last year in college at West Virginia.

There is the temptation to throw the kitchen sink at Smith, but Bucs defensive coordinator Bill Sheridan cautions it's not that simple.

"You can try and throw a ton of stuff at him and make it confusing for him and try to overwhelm him that way," Sheridan says. "By that same token, if you think that as long as you play sound and solid and don't give up big plays, you're not going to count maybe on that guy, in his first NFL game, to come and beat you by throwing the ball for 40 yards."

So Smith brings his own set of problems and worries.

You worry about Brees and Brady torching your defense. You worry about Smith burning up your credibility.

The Bucs have a defense that has been upgraded in salary, but it's still uncertain just how much better it will perform.

There is no question the back seven is better with the addition of cornerback Darrelle Revis and safety Dashon Goldson. But the defensive front four is still a question mark.

None other than Tony Dungy said the Bucs built their defense backward, that if you don't have a strong front four to pressure the quarterback it reduces the effectiveness of the secondary.

You can only cover a good receiver for so long, we learned in grade school.

The Bucs have tried for the past five years to build a solid front four and failed. The latest example is defensive end Da'Quan Bowers, who has failed to live up to expectations.

Sheridan is hoping that rookie Akeem Spence develops fast to take some of the load off a line that might not be as good as people thought just a few months ago. "He's progressing like you'd expect. Akeem is going to be a really good player, he's got tremendous power, he can overwhelm people with his strength," Sheridan says. "He's probably got a little better pass rush then most people would think. He can rush the passer, a lot of it because he's so powerful."

But he is a novice like Smith. They make blunders and great plays. They put gray hairs on coaches.

Despite all the concerns on defense, the Bucs' season likely will come down to quarterback Josh Freeman.

In some ways, he worries Schiano as much as Geno Smith, but in a different way. They could both determine his long-range future with the Bucs.

Freeman says he doesn't worry about anything, even the horrid preseason he had.

"From what I've taken from my preseason experience, it doesn't really dictate whether or not you're going to be great, whether or not you're going to lose," he says.

But now it's for real.

Now it's Geno Smith vs. Josh Freeman and who are you taking?

Alan Dell, Herald sports writer, can be reached at 941-745-7080, ext. 2112. Follow him on Twitter at @ADellSports.

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