Second verse of the preseason… Same as the first. In a downright ugly performance against the world champion Giants, a 26-3 defeat, many of Jets fans’ worst fears were realized. Wayne Hunter was a disaster; Mark Sanchez threw a backbreaking interception, and special teams were putrid in multiple facets. Feeling good yet? Lets take a closer look at this most recent pre-season debacle, and where the Jets go from here.
Hunter The Hunted:
It didn’t take long for Wayne Hunter to pick up right where he left off in 2011. After missing the first pre-season game with a back injury, Hunter allowed a whopping two and a half sacks of Mark Sanchez in the first half (he allowed another but it was negated by a penalty.) He was routinely beaten around the corner by Giants defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul and once again looked like the weak link on the offensive line. With a starting caliber right tackle unlikely to fall into their laps on the waiver wire, the Jets may have to give Austin Howard a long look to replace Hunter, who remains a huge liability for the offense.
Sanchez: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly:
Last week, we discussed the up and down debut of Tim Tebow. This week, it was the incumbent’s turn to show inconsistency. Mark Sanchez was very efficient, a knock on him during his first three seasons, completing nine of his eleven passes. However, those completions were only good for 59 yards as Sanchez was regularly forced to go to his check down options; only two of his completions were to receivers. His biggest bugaboo returned in the second quarter as well; the costly turnover. After starting near midfield, Sanchez threw behind Patrick Turner, resulting in an interception by rookie cornerback Jayron Hosley, who returned it 77 yards for a touchdown. It’s not time to panic yet; the receiving corps was once again dangerously thin without Santonio Holmes, Jeremy Kerley, and Chaz Schilens, and was sacked four more times, bringing his pre-season total to six in just three quarters. At the same time, next Sunday’s game, with the starters getting extended playing time and hopefully a healthier group of receivers, will need to be a major improvement from what we have seen thus far.
Tebow: Just Ugly:
Quite simply, Tim Tebow took a big step back this week and showed why so many doubt his ability to become a starting quarterback in the NFL. Tebow threw for 52 yards on his first drive but under threw a wide-open Stephen Hill for what would have been a sure touchdown. Instead they had to settle for a Josh Brown field goal, their only points of the game. It only got worse from there; he only threw for 17 more yards over the course of the rest of the game (five more drives), was bottled up as a runner, rushing for only five yards, and missed several elementary throws into the flat. He didn’t look comfortable as a traditional passer. It’s hard to get too discouraged by Tebow’s performance considering that he operated out of a traditional offense, which is far from his expected role as the wildcat quarterback. Still, it’s a glimpse of what could be if Sanchez were to go down with an injury or is benched at some point in the season.
Special Teams Woes Continue:
Last week, they allowed a punt to be blocked in their own end zone. This week it was a failed block attempt of their own that made Mike Westhoff cringe. After forcing a 3 and out on the Giants’ first drive of the game, Joe McKnight broke through and had a shot to block Steve Weatherford’s punt, unfortunately, he was a hair too late and was flagged for roughing the kicker. Eli Manning and the Giants offense would take advantage, driving down the field, resulting in a field goal. That wasn’t the end of the nightmare, on their subsequent kickoff, McKnight was stuffed on the return at the 10 yard line, a problem that was exacerbated by a holding penalty, forcing the Jets offense to start the drive at their own 5. They went 3 and out. The offense had plenty of issues against the Giants, but they were done in nearly as much by poor special teams. Punter T.J. Conley did the team no favors either, shanking his final three punts, and putting the Giants offense in terrific starting field position.
The lone (but highly encouraging) bright spot was the first team defense, which allowed only six first half points despite being dominated in time of possession. Two aging linebackers turned in very active and inspired performances, Bryan Thomas and Bart Scott showing that the majority of pundits that they may have thrown dirt on the pair too soon. Defensive end Mike DeVito, who has drawn praise for entering camp in the best shape of his career, was also stout against the run.
Perhaps the most encouraging performance though was by oft-injured safety Laron Landry, who flashed a glimpse of the impact he can make when he stays on the field. Landry picked off Eli Manning on an overthrown ball and returned it into Giants territory. He also delivered one of his trademark highlight reel hits to receiver Victor Cruz. Although Cruz held on to the ball, there will be plenty of pass catchers that think twice before stretching out for a ball over the middle if Landry keeps delivering shots like that.
With the offense continuing to show few signs of life, this defense will need to be elite for this team to remain competitive, and while it’s still very early, the starting unit is showing plenty of signs that it is up to the task.