Todd Bowles plans to name his starting quarterback sometime early next week, which means his answer should become pretty clear by late Saturday night.
Unfortunately at the moment there's nothing clear about it at all.
A competition that once appeared to be Josh McCown's to lose, even as Bowles insisted it was "open", became even more convoluted this week. On Wednesday, in the Jets' last practice before their Saturday night game against the Giants, Christian Hackenberg and Bryce Petty basically split the reps in team drills. Josh McCown got just one rep. One.
And that's pretty much how it went all week long.
What does it mean? Bowles wouldn't commit to anything. He wouldn't even say if the practice reps were an indication of who would play (and how much) against the Giants. But it sure looks like Hackenberg will start, Petty will back up, and perhaps McCown won't even get in the game.
And if that's the case, it could mean that Bowles knows what the 38-year-old McCown can do and just has no need to see him in the preseason, so why not give Hackenberg and Petty more time. It could mean that Petty's play last week (15 of 24, 160 yards, one interception) suddenly thrust him back into the mix, though that seems like a longshot.
Or maybe the Jets really are considering Hackenberg as their Opening Day starter and Bowles wants to give him one last, big chance to prove he deserves it.
Whatever it is, once again the quarterbacks top the list of things to watch when the Jets play their third game of the preseason against the Giants on Saturday night:
1.The quarterback rotation and their performance
The rotation matters because it's at least some insight into Bowles' thinking. But the performance matters more. They do know what McCown can do, for better or worse, but if they are really thinking about starting Hackenberg -- or even Petty -- they need to prove their competency in this game. It won't be easy.
The Giants are a legitimate Top 10 defense with a Top 5 secondary and a pass-rushing duo of Olivier Vernon and Jason Pierre-Paul that will test the Jets' work-in-progress offensive line. But if neither one of these two can get the Jets offense moving, they will have no choice but to start the season with McCown.
2.The defensive line and whether it's ready for a bounce-back year
Perhaps you've heard, but the Giants are having some … um … issues with their offensive line. They've had their hands full in both preseason games, suffering breakdowns in pass protection and being unable to clear any holes for the rushing attack. The Jets believe they have a dominant defensive line -- with Mo Wilkerson, Sheldon Richardson, and Leonard Williams -- that largely underachieved last season. If they can't stop the run and generate a consistent pass rush against this Giants' offensive line, it'll be fair to question whether they really have a chance to be a dominant front at all.
3.Robby Anderson, the Jets' defacto No. 1 receiver, vs. Giants cornerback Janoris Jenkins
Anderson seemed to make a big statement about his readiness for the top job when he caught that big, 53-yard pass in the preseason opener. But then he was held catchless in the second preseason game. No, that's not all his fault and given the Jets quarterback situation it might not mean anything. What will mean something is how he fares against Jenkins on Saturday night. The concern about Anderson has nothing to do with his speed, it's about how he'll handle tight coverage, whether he can get open and whether he can make tough catches with a cornerback draped all over him. Jenkins was one of the best corners in the NFL last season. If Anderson can succeed against him, maybe he really will be ready for a job he was never supposed to have this soon.
4.The offensive line and who is playing where
This has become a big experiment/open competition at three of the five spots. It seems clear that Brian Winters and James Carpenter are locked in as the right and left guards, but the tackle spots and center are a bit surprisingly up for grabs. Wesley Johnson figured to be their heir apparent to Nick Mangold at center, but he's getting a big push from Jonotthan Harrison. Kelvin Beachum is probably going to be the left tackle, but Brandon Shell got the start there in Detroit on Saturday night. Brent Qvale and Ben Ijalana have split the starts at right tackle, but Shell could emerge there, too. That's way too much uncertainty for a position that desperately needs continuity. Their performance will matter on Saturday night, but the starting lineup could be a huge indicator of what Bowles is thinking for opening day.
5. The all-important kicker battle
No, "all-important" is not a joke. This Jets offense is almost certainly going to struggle this season and points will be hard to come by, so they absolutely need a reliable kicker if they want to put any points on the board at all. So far it appears that Ross Martin has a slight edge over veteran Chandler Catanzaro, based mostly on the fact that he's been the better kicker in camp all summer long. Martin was 2-for-3 in Detroit last week, converting from 31 and 28 yards and missing from 56. Catanzaro was 0 for 1 the week before but that was from 55 yards. Who knows which one will get the opportunities against the Giants -- or if the Jets offense can get close enough to get any opportunities at all. But the feeling is that Martin, who has never kicked in the regular season, could close out this competition with a solid performance on Saturday night -- if he gets the chance.