As the meaningful part of the preseason comes to a close before the Caleb Schlauderaff and Ellis Lanksters of the football world battle it out against the Eagles in the last tune-up game before Week 1, the New York Jets unfortunately still have plenty of questions that need to be answered. The less-than-thrilling victory over the Giants in last night’s game did little to resolve these questions, and the Jets face a lot of uncertainty as the game that actually counts against Tampa Bay looms just two weeks away.
So, uhh, who is going to start at QB Week 1? Well, that’s a tough one at this point. Heading into last night it seemed as though the job was rookie Geno Smith’s to lose. Well, not only did he do exactly that through 3 quarters of play, he lost it in spectacular fashion as he managed to throw not one, not two, but three interceptions against a porous Giants defense, AND decided to put the cherry on top in the form of “pulling a Dan Orlovsky” as he ran out of the back of the end zone for a safety. Sigh.
Heading into the game, the narrative was that all Geno has to do was not turn it over and he would have a leg up on the incumbent Mark Sanchez. Unfortunately, he was unable to do that and sometime around when he pulled the “Orlovsky”, it seemed as though Mark Sanchez was again firmly entrenched as the starter, for better or worse. But wait! Even that wasn’t meant to be as Rex Ryan decided to put Sanchez in behind a Swiss cheese offensive line of 3rd stringers, and lo and behold, he suffered a shoulder injury that could end up keeping him out several weeks. Yikes. So that’s where the team is at the QB spot right now. There’s a rookie who is clearly not ready to start in the NFL, an uninspiring veteran who may not be able to lift his arm, a banged up Greg McElroy, and one of Phil Simms’ sons. At this point, I may prefer Phil Simms himself over all of them. I wonder what Brett Ratliff is up to?
Well at least the Jets can run the ball and hide the QB right? That would be a pretty good plan, absolutely. Unfortunately, the Jets running back situation has looked, well…it’s not been good. If you told me back in April that despite signing Mike Goodson and trading for Chris Ivory that Bilal Powell would be the likely starter heading into week 1, I would have laughed in your face. Unfortunately, that’s the way it’s looking as Powell has been getting the majority of the reps in preseason as Goodson appears to have taken a trip to Belize with Mike (that’s a Breaking Bad reference for those unaware), and Chris Ivory has been brought along slowly after missing most of camp with an injury. Against the Giants, Powell and Ivory combined to run 19 times for a mere 31 yards. So let’s just say the run game is not quite where we’d like to see it yet.
So the Ivory hype was overblown then? NO! It is wayyyyy too premature to even think about giving up on Ivory or writing him off. The past two preseason games were all about him getting his legs under him and getting healthy and strong for week 1 against Tampa and that’s just what he’s done. The results have not been there yet obviously, but when the games count and Ivory really gets going, he has the potential to be the forceful runner that this team needs. Be patient, and Ivory will reward us. I think.
Who will our QB have to throw the ball to? This is one area of the team that I don’t think is too bad, actually. Santonio Holmes has been playing the media for fools for months now and will be ready to start week 1. Stephen Hill, despite a drop here and there, has actually had a solid preseason and looks like he’s ready to be an actual contributor. Jeremy Kerley has the potential to be a dynamite slot man in Mornhinweg’s offense, and Kellen Winslow and Jeff Cumberland are a decent 1-2 tight end punch. It’s not the best group in the league, certainly, but it’s also not the worst. They can make some plays.
Is Vlad Ducasse really going to be the starting Left Guard? You better believe it! Vlad got banged up in last night’s game, but if he’s healthy, he will be slotted in between Brick and Mangold week 1, and it won’t just be by default. Vlad has actually earned that spot throughout the preseason and has thoroughly outplayed Stephen Peterman while Brian Winters was out with an injury. Eventually Winters will step in and take over, but for now the job belongs to Vlad, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. He actually played pretty well last year filling in for Slauson, and he’s a positive run blocker. I believed in Vlad all along! (No I didn’t).
How about that Defensive Line though?! Yep, the hype surrounding the Jets defensive line has been completely and totally justified, and they’re only going to be getting better. Mo Wilkerson is already amongst the best defensive linemen in the NFL, and it won’t be long until 1st-round pick Sheldon Richardson joins him. After a slow start in the preseason, Richardson really came on against the Giants and was flat out dominant at times. At nose tackle, Damon Harrison also had a huge performance filling in for Kenrick Ellis and showed that he should actually be getting consideration to start as Ellis has been slow to come back from his back injury. Just wait for when Quinton Coples comes back, and this group is really going to be special.
What about the rest of the defense? Despite the vomit-inducing, snarky tweets from the Jets dog crap group of beat writers about how the Jets aren’t a top-5 defense after David WIlson broke off an 84-yard touchdown run on the first play, the Jets defense actually had a great game. Eli Manning only completed 40% of his 20 passes for 83 yards, and after Wilson’s big run, he and #2 back Andre Brown combined to run 11 more times for a whopping 25 yards against the starters. The Giants obviously have a terrific offense, and the Jets pretty much shut them down for three quarters. Rich Cimini should probably lay off Twitter with his lame jokes before ESPN sends him to the corner for a timeout. Again.
That being said, the defense does still have some soft spots. Garrett McIntyre tries hard but is not an ideal replacement for Quinton Coples. Demario Davis, while full of potential, has some things to clean up in his game, and Kyle Wilson is just dreadful. The bottom line, however, is that as long as Rex Ryan is calling the shots, the defense will be fine.
So, now what? Well, at this point with the way things look, who knows. The first order of business will be to see how injured Sanchez actually is and if he could possibly be ready for week 1. If he isn’t — and he probably won’t be — then the Jets are going to head into the season with Geno and a very vanilla offense. They’ll try to bring him along slowly with easy reads and lots of running the ball, and hope for the best. The defense will be terrific, but it’s unlikely they’ll be as good as the 2009 defense that was able to carry a slacking offense almost to the Super Bowl. The bottom line is that while the Jets are still not as bad as a lot of people like to pretend they are, they still aren’t great, and there’s just no telling where this season is headed. It won’t be an easy season, but for Jets fans, it never is.