On Saturday, the Jets hope to put last week’s defeat behind them as they face the Super Bowl champion Giants. These next two weeks will be the time for the starters to shake off the rust and see some extended playing time. This will also be a key period for some position battles that remain unsettled. Lets take a look ahead to week 2 of the pre-season:
1. The Starting Offensive Line:
There are still many unanswered questions about this unit after it allowed 2 sacks of Mark Sanchez against the Bengals in the preseason opener. Saturday they’ll face an even tougher test in their stadium-mates.
In week 16 of last season, the Giants pass rushing tandem of Jason Pierre-Paul and Justin Tuck combined for 3 of the team’s 5 sacks of Sanchez that day. Their quarterback pressure was one of the key factors in a victory that would propel them to an improbable Super Bowl run.
While all of that is bad news for a passing game that has been stagnant throughout camp, a strong showing in this game could go a long way towards restoring the confidence of the offensive line. Much maligned Wayne Hunter (back), who now faces a bit of competition for the starting right tackle position in Austin Howard, is expected to make his pre-season debut.
2. The O in Cro:
With Santonio Holmes (ribs) and Jeremy Kerley (hamstring) expected to sit again and Stephen Hill (finger) and Jordan White (knee) banged up, the receiving corps desperately needs an infusion of health and talent. Enter Antonio Cromartie.
The starting cornerback has been moonlighting on offense since the beginning of camp in what Rex Ryan has called his “Cro package.” Cromartie has actively pursued this rare opportunity to play “ironman football” and he will finally get his wish on Saturday.
While most agree that extended time at receiver would be detrimental to Cromartie’s play on the on defense, he does have the size, speed, and ball skills to potentially make an impact on the banged up unit. It will be interesting to see how (and how often) Cromartie is utilized against the Giants.
3. Hello, Wildcat?
The biggest mystery on offense isn’t the Cro package though. That distinction belongs to the Tim Tebow-led wildcat. Ryan and Tony Sparano began installing it this week, but little is known about it due to a strictly enforced gag order on the team and media by the coaching staff. While it is unknown if the much talked about package will make its in-game debut on Saturday, you’d have to imagine it will be given a test drive in an actual game before the start of the regular season.
4. Battle of the Backups:
There are two intriguing position battles brewing between young players who could have an impact.
The first is the more publicized competition for the backup and 3rd down running back slots between Joe McKnight and Bilal Powell. Powell got off to a hot start in training camp, but McKnight answered back with one of the more noteworthy performances of the Bengals game, averaging 4.6 yards per carry and leading the team with 34 receiving yards. With the competition razor thin, there is a great deal of incentive for both backs to have big games against the Giants.
The other battle, which has flown under the radar, is for the fifth cornerback spot between Isiah Trufant and Julian Posey. Trufant has the experience edge and has proven to be an asset on special teams, but struggled in coverage against the Bengals, giving up several big plays. It has opened the door for Posey, who has shown improvement after a year on the practice squad. He had a strong game in Cincinnati and has put himself right in the thick of things. While this is a role that will place the winner at the bottom of the depth chart, they play four games against the Patriots and Bills, teams with spread offenses where the fifth corner would see extensive time on defense.
5. Clearing Up the Special Teams Picture:
The Jets have gone through many identity changes over the last decade, but one phase of the game that has been a trademark throughout is great special teams play. From unearthing a string of pro bowl return men in Justin Miller, Leon Washington, Brad Smith, and Joe McKnight, to bottling up returns by the opposition. It all goes back to Mike Westoff, one of football’s great special teams minds and the Jets’ long time special teams coach. Last Saturday was not one of his unit’s finest moments, allowing a T.J. Conley punt to be blocked in their own end zone, which was recovered for a touchdown. With the offense struggling thus far, the defense and special teams will have to play at high levels to keep this team competitive.
The kicking competition will also be something to keep an eye on. Nick Folk and Josh Brown both drilled their only field goal attempts last week. Ryan has called it a dead heat going into week two and proclaimed that he expects both to land on NFL rosters regardless of which kicker he keeps. One slip up could be the difference in this one.