New York Jets: Is It a Big Deal? Preseason Week 3 Edition

David Aitken breaks down what is and is not a big deal after the New York Jets third preseason game…

With the regular season rehearsal in the books, the roster quality for the regular season is coming into focus. There’s a good idea now of who is ready to step up and who the Jets may be left disappointed by. With just one more game left, the attention now is on the back half of the roster and who will make the 53. Let’s reflect on what happened Saturday night and breakdown how important it may actually be heading into September.

The Jets special teams unit has an impressive performance.

Some good signs, but still question marks. It was a nice day on special teams last Saturday with a blocked punt, a 55-yard field goal made and some nice returns. The “it can’t be worse than last year” idea certainly holds true for this upcoming season, but there is still some uncertainty as we inch closer to September 11th. For one, Nick Folk has rarely been tested. Most of the big game opportunities have gone to Ross Martin (who has since been cut), including the aforementioned 55-yard attempt. This is important because Nick Folk was not having a great year in 2015 prior to his injury and the Jets are still banking on him to be reliable. The kickoff and punt return coverage still may be an issue, as the Giants had two different players return a punt of over 20 yards. Rookie punter Lachlan Edwards has been ok, but his performance level has not warranted a camp of basically no challenge. Overall there has clearly been an effort to improve here (even if it periously put Quincy Enunwa in danger) and the benefits of that should be reaped at some level. But this still might be a work-in-progress unit overall throughout 2016 rather than an outright strong unit that we all hope to eventually see.

Christian Hackenberg leads a touchdown drive in his first NFL possession.

We can breathe a little. There has been a “what have the Jets gotten into?” narrative around Christian Hackenberg this August relating to his low level of training camp snaps and until Saturday his lack of preseason action. Most level-headed fans and analysts alike can acknowledge that Hackenberg is a broken player and behind in development next to the average second round pick even if they are a fan of his. Still, the total lack of action up until this past Saturday was raising some eyebrows. With his performance against the Giants, Hackenberg showed why the Jets are being so slow in bringing him along but also showed a glimpse of why it may all be worth it. His touchdown drive showcased his arm strength and intermediate passing potential, as well as a perfectly placed touchdown pass. It is easy to get carried away by what he did here versus third string defenders, but remember that this was a player that would miss open receivers with no pressure at Penn State. It’s just a start, but there’s clearly something to work with here. If nothing else, this performance showed a reminder of that.

Robby Anderson has another fine showing.

In the driver’s seat. With how Anderson has come along the last two games, he’ll need to be outshone greatly this Thursday to lose a spot on the 53-man roster. His performance in Washington was by far the most impressive of any rookie on the roster, and he followed it up with another showing that was well and above what Charone Peake and Jalin Marshall are offering as a pure receiver. He’s essentially done what more people expected from Peake – stretch the field and show some promise as a red zone threat.  Given that his skill set is one lacking overall in the Jets receiver core (with Devin Smith on the PUP especially), the case for keeping him is strong. The competition at WR will be fierce this Thursday, and with another solid performance he’ll be a lock.

Ryan Fitzpatrick once again has an underwhelming preseason performance.

Bleh. Is it a worrying continued sign of rust? I don’t know. It was important to me to see a competent performance from Fitzpatrick last week given that there hasn’t been much to be excited about from him and his lack of football preparation while a free agent was well documented. At the same time though, Ryan Fitzpatrick is not a great quarterback. Him not looking great without the Jets’ best offensive player playing or the team’s prime breakout candidate Quincy Enunwa on the field shouldn’t be shocking. If we’re looking for silver linings, at least he hasn’t thrown an interception yet. At the end of the day, he’s going to be a quarterback carried by his supporting cast and that was always the case, no matter how he has looked throughout August.

Dee Milliner struggles yet again. 

In trouble? It’s been a rough overall preseason for Milliner, and his only respite from being torched on the field has come from continued nagging injuries. The best thing working in his favor is that Marcus Williams has not had a great preseason either and rookie Juston Burris will not be ready for significant action early in the season. It’s been a tough NFL career thus far for Milliner and you have to feel for him, but we’re getting to the point where he has shown little progress throughout the preseason from where he was even as a rookie. He’s one to watch Thursday night.

Despite more time as a receiver, Jalin Marshall can’t run away from ST competitor Jeremy Ross. 

A tough decision. This may be the toughest choice the Jets coaching staff will have to make, because they’re probably not going to keep both. There is not a whole lot of difference between the two, and there has been a concerted effort throughout the preseason to get Jalin Marshall on the field with the first-team at receiver. He has been ok here, but his biggest value to the team in the short term is going to be as a returner. On his debut he had an excellent kick return that nearly went for a touchdown, but since then he has been outshone a little by veteran Jeremy Ross. Ross for what it’s worth has also looked decent as a receiver in his opportunities, but the Jets clearly are trying to get Marshall a little more involved in that aspect. What wins out? You would imagine a tie would go to Marshall given he has more room to grow, but Ross is probably the better return man right now. Marshall is sure to play a ton on Thursday, and the Jets won’t hesitate to keep him if he performs. But with an uneven performance, it could mean the Jets run the risk of attempting to put him on the practice squad.

The Jets first team defense shuts out the Giants offense in the first half.

What we expect. This was the dominant Jets run defense we saw last year and expect to see again. Rashad Jennings literally rushed for -1 yard on 6 carries, and the theme of snuffing out the run was consistent throughout the entire game. Manning threw an interception, was under pressure often, and failed to get Odell Beckham involved. Teams with better depth at receiver are sure to pose a greater threat to the Jets defense than the Giants have at present, but to hold an opponent scoreless for an entire half is impressive any way you look at it. Just like last year, this matchup ended up alleviating a lot of concerns people had about the first team defense performances in the two games before it. If there was ever an example of “don’t read too much into preseason,” it’s this.

Photo Credit: NewYorkJets.com