ESM’s New York Jets experts know Gang Green won’t solve every issue on Saturday, but there are honorable landmarks within their grasp.
You made it, Gang Green Nation.
It’s been 223 days since the New York Jets have put on their pads for an officially sanctioned NFL contest against another opponent…and 601 days since they’ve played in front of a crowd at MetLife Stadium.
Both dubious streaks will end on Saturday night, as the Jets resume their annual preseason battle against the New York Giants (7:30 p.m. ET, WNBC). It will be the Jets’ first preseason contests since the summer of 2019 and the first MetLife Stadium football game to be held in front of fans since February 2020.
“Every day is an unbelievable blessing. But it’s always about the players. It’s a great opportunity for them to showcase who they are,” Jets head coach Robert Saleh said of Saturday’s proceedings, per notes from the team. “You can take (the preseason) for granted from a team standpoint because it doesn’t matter in the win/loss record but your style of play and what you want to represent and what you want the entire league to know about you starts Saturday. That’s why I think there’s tremendous value to these preseason games.”
With kickoff looming, ESM’s Jets experts each have an attainable goal for the Jets to reach…
Geoff Magliocchetti: Corner the Cornerbacks
No one was going to quarrel with why it was wiped out, but the cancelation of last year’s preseason put the Jets in a tough spot. Exhibition games return in 2021, albeit with only three on the slate rather than the customary four. Preseason football, scorned as the concept may be in modern times, was made for teams like the modern Jets. With nearly half of their starting lineup from last year’s opener in Buffalo exchanged, the developing Jets need to take advantage of every consequence-free game situation.
Centering Saturday’s MetLife Stadium civil war around Zach Wilson’s emergence is tantalizing, yet naive. Sure, there would be no better way to silence the critics who are using a poor intrasquad scrimmage to label Wilson a bust already…amateur and professional alike…than having Wilson tear apart the Jets’ quasi-rivals in front of a MetLife Stadium crowd that waited a year-plus to get in. But hinging all preseason success on the quarterback is a nominally fickle way to approach the summer slate.
The current state of the Jets’ cornerback situation showcases why preseason football still has a place in modern society: the Jets are going into a new era, a new base set under new leadership with a hodgepodge of inexperienced day three draft picks and undrafted journeymen. The safety spots are relatively secure with Marcus Maye and Lamarcus Joyner (even if Ashtyn Davis will miss all three games), but the Jets need to have someone separate themselves in the cornerback room.
With the Giants set to hold out several regulars including quarterback Daniel Jones, a perfect opportunity lies ahead for penciled starters like Bless Austin, Bryce Hall, and Javelin Guidry to build some momentum as they assume larger duties. Austin and Hall are slated to be the Jets’ top two cornerback options, each of them looking for something to prove.
Born in Queens and emerging from Rutgers, there’d be no more appropriate hero in the return of the Snoopy Bowl than Austin, who has developed a professional reputation as a strong hitter who must show major improvement in his coverage. Austin issued a dire warning to those disregarding the Jets’ secondary solely because of the inexperience between him and the sophomore Hall.
“A lot of people forget me and Bryce were highly rated dudes coming out of college. We just fell short to injury,” Austin said this week, per Ryan Dunleavy of the New York Post. There’s a reason why they didn’t bring a veteran cornerback in here. Not to knock any out there, but they see something in us.”
Saturday should also be a tremendous showcase for the Jets’ defensive potpourri brought in during the most recent draft weekend Saturday. Expect extensive time for Michael Carter II, Jason Pinnock, and Brandin Echols (a big opportunity lingers for the undrafted Isaiah Dunn as well), as well as safeties-turned-linebackers Hamsah Nasirildeen and Jamien Sherwood.
“There’s a lot of competition going on, there’s competition at the nickel, corner spots, so those are gonna be fun to watch,” Saleh told Steve Serby of the New York Post in a July Q&A. “It’s a very young group. Someone’s going to come to fruition. Bryce Hall had a really nice OTA, Bless was having a nice OTA, then he had a minor setback with an injury that kept him out. He’s good to go. Some of the rookies had a chance to showcase their skills. We’ve got a really good young nucleus of guys that are gonna compete, and we’ll see how it goes.”
Brendan Carpenter: Attack With Zach
It’s a big day. Jets football is back. With all of the excitement, however, some uncertainty lingers. The future of Jets football is currently resting somewhat uncomfortably on the shoulders of Zach Wilson. That uncertainty will either be expanded or diminished when he finally steps on the field on Saturday.
Some of the goals and expectations for Wilson have been anywhere from realistic to wildly unrealistic, from fans and analysts alike. When it comes to his preseason debut, there is one goal that could both ease and excite those watching him closely: have Wilson and the primary offense put together multiple drives that get into enemy territory.
This isn’t exactly a headline-setting goal, but it’s perhaps the most crucial one. Back when the Green & White Scrimmage was the talk of the town, everyone seemed to be focusing solely on Wilson’s struggles, as expected. Through the scrimmage, he went just 11-for-24 for 112 yards and two interceptions. Additionally, his seven drives just totaled only three points. If Wilson can show that he can lead the offense into opponent territory multiple times, it’ll be a decent win regardless of the final score.
It will be a learning process for the rookie out of BYU and some sustained drives could help ease both his nerves and the unrivaled scrutiny directed his way even before he’s taken a snap.
Dylan Price: Bring the Boom to Big Blue
The battle of MetLife won’t give us the battle between Daniel Jones and Zach Wilson that we all hoped for, but the battle still promises to be a good one.
The Gang Green faithful needs to take everything with a grain of salt, as the new era is still establishing comfort and familiarity. However, I expect the Jets pass rush to steal the show.
I foresee John Franklin-Myers, Bryce Huff, and Carl Lawson putting on a clinic and headlining a real impressive outing. Franklin-Myers will likely open things up for everyone else and make a few plays. Lawson will likely command the most attention given his notoriety and standing as the Jets’ lead pass rusher. Still, look for Lawson to catch eyes in the first quarter of the game with a few big hits or even maybe a sack.
I’d expect Huff to likely put on the flashiest performance, as he’s had a spectacular camp. Overall though, look for the entire pass rush rotation to excel. All and all, I truly expect to come out of Saturday thoroughly impressed with the direction of the defense, specifically the pass rush.
Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags