BGA is back...and this time it's preseasonal (again)!
Coming up, part one of your breakdown of last night's preseason game, focusing on the offense including a long awaited rookie debut, more interesting developments in the battle at the wide receiver positions and some struggles at tackle, but perhaps not on the side you'd expect.
While Ryan Fitzpatrick and the success of the first team offense was of the utmost importance, that took a bit of a back seat to the performance of the back-ups. On the basis of this performance, Fitzpatrick is still pretty rusty and not quite on the same page as all of his receivers, but - without Brandon Marshall, Jace Amaro and Quincy Enunwa in uniform - he still put together a competent performance and left with a 7-0 lead after a perfect back shoulder throw for a touchdown to Eric Decker.
Fitzpatrick completed 9-of-16 passes, but missed the open man a handful of times. One early throw under pressure was almost intercepted as he wasn't on the same page with Decker and he also lost of fumble on a play where he probably held the ball for longer than he should have.
Hopefully the Jets will look a bit sharper when they're at full strength as the season gets underway, but let's describe the performance as adequate and move on to over-analyze the back-ups - even though if all goes to plan they won't be a factor in the team's success this season.
Geno Smith and Bryce Petty only led one scoring drive between them - with that being an 11-yard drive authored by Petty that ended with a long field goal. Then rookie Christian Hackenberg came off the bench much earlier than expected, aired it out a lot more than expected and for the most part was more successful than expected. Hackenberg led the Jets on one scoring drive for a touchdown and then was the beneficiary of good field position as the Jets went three and out after a long punt return and tacked on a field goal. Unfortunately, the feel-good story was ruined when he threw a bad interception that led to the game-winning touchdown.
For Smith, the most disappointing factor in his performance will be was that it was so short. He saw action on just two series, with the team picking up one first down but then being forced to punt each time. Smith completed three of his five passes, with one of those initially being called incomplete before the booth upheld a Todd Bowles challenge. That was his only first down completion.
The Jets won't see a defensive unit comprised of starters until opening day now, so I'm left to conclude that the decision to retain Smith as the number two has been decided. With Petty still yet to face starters, it seems unlikely they would risk him as the number two unless it was just for a game or two as they were forced to when Smith was injured last September. And if there was any danger of Petty or Hackenberg being so impressive that they could elevate themselves over Smith, that's likely gone now, as both made the kind of mistakes you'd expect from a young player.
Petty looked sharp and confident early, but his accuracy wasn't very good early on. He seemed to settle down, making a good throw on the run and then calling an audible to make a good throw down the middle. However, he then cost the Jets the lead by throwing a pick-six. On that play, the defensive end made an amazing play and Petty was under duress. However, he still rushed and forced the throw into a dangerous area and those are the sorts of mistakes that can cost you games at the NFL level. That's not to say that Smith hasn't made the same mistakes at times in the past, but his larger body of work will give the coaching staff more confidence that it won't be a consistent issue with him. They don't know that with Petty yet.
As for Hackenberg, most people figured he might get a series of two at best before seeing more time in next week's Bollinger Bowl. Instead, he actually got a chance for a more extended outing, recapturing the lead before making an elementary error and not seeing the defensive tackle dropping into coverage. This led to a forced throw being tipped up for an interception.
Prior to that, Hackenberg overcame a shaky start with two missed throws and a delay of game to hit his stride. He connected on two throws down the middle, a long out and a touchdown pass on a fade route. With expectations successfully tempered by Jets management, any success Hackenberg was going to enjoy would be well received, but it was encouraging to see him put together such an impressive string of throws.
It's obvious he needs some fine-tuning, but he needed to show some of his raw talent for fans wondering why he was drafted so high and he did that. Strangely enough, he struggled on short passes, otherwise his numbers (6-for-16) would have been more acceptable. It will be fascinating to see how far he can progress over the next 12 months.
Running backs and full backs
The Jets finally have some healthy backs and they worked them hard last night, with not much success. On 30 carries, five backs combined for just 79 yards.
Our first look at Matt Forté saw his best moment coming on a first down catch out of the slot. He was able to get to the outside a couple of times and make some yardage up the middle, but you'd have to optimistically call it a tune-up for him, rather than the kind of outing that will have rival teams trembling at the possibilities.
Bilal Powell had another consistent performance, with 34 yards on seven touches. He picked up a first down on a short-yardage conversion, but was twice tackled in the open field short of the marker on third down.
New signing Antone Smith was the third back into the game and showed good burst on a first down run. They tried to involve him in the passing game, but he dropped two and had one play where he should have picked up a third down conversion but was tackled short of the marker. He made one nice catch, though.
Terry Williams made his NFL debut late in the game and almost fumbled on his first touch near his own goal line. Then on the next play, he looked set to bounce it outside for a nice gain, but tripped over in the open field. I could see him getting a lot of work next week, though, so he'll be glad to have got his feet wet at this level.
At full back, Tommy Bohanon had a couple of bad missed blocks in pass protection and wasn't ready for Petty's early pass on the pick-six. His back-up Julian Howsare saw some time, but it's clear the team still views Bohanon as ahead.
Lache Seastrunk and Khiry Robinson did not play.
Receivers and tight ends
As with the quarterback position, the starters are obviously more important to the success of the team this year, but all the intrigue comes from the back-ups.
With Marshall and Enunwa out, Decker found himself in the rare situation of being the primary target and Fitzpatrick didn't have much success in finding him early, although he got open a few times. They eventually hooked up on the touchdown connection, though.
Robby Anderson and Jalin Marshall both were in the starting line-up with Anderson once again leading the team in receiving. However, Marshall had success in the first half, while Anderson did all his damage later on. In terms of producing against starter-level talent, it seems than Marshall is closer to NFL-ready, while Anderson might be more of a roster stash to develop into a future contributor in the early stages of his career.
Marshall took on Enunwa's role in the offense, motioning to the edge of the line and into the backfield at times and delivering a couple of first downs on a slant and an out route. However, he continues to make errors too, fumbling out of bounds as he tried to make something happen in the open field and dropping an underneath pass. He made one good block from the edge.
Anderson almost made a couple of plays in the first half, but perhaps doesn't have the same familiarity with Fitzpatrick as Marshall, who has been receiving first team reps all throughout camp. In the second half, he made four catches for 65 yards, including the touchdown from Hackenberg. He definitely looks like a keeper - especially since Jason La Canfora reports that other teams may be interested in him.
Rookie Charone Peake has also had a good camp and got into the game early here but seems to be slightly behind the other two rookies. He made a good catch downfield, but had another one broken up as he seemed to be out-physicalled at the point of the catch.
Once again, Kenbrell Thompkins and Kyle Williams did not play and it's difficult to see how the team will be able to find room for them with the rookies continuing to make a strong case for being retained. The veteran with the best chance of taking one of those spots is probably Jeremy Ross. Most of his contributions will continue to be on special teams, but he made a tough catch over the middle, holding on despite a big hit. He did not return after that play though, so we need to wait for updates because an injury at this stage will hurt his chances.
Chandler Worthy made the most of an opportunity to get in the game in place of Ross, making one first down catch and a good downfield block. He failed to come up with a low grab from Hackenberg, though.
At tight end, Kellen Davis got the start again, but remains a non-factor in the passing game. He had one missed block. Zach Sudfeld was more of a factor, with three catches for 32 yards but he struggled as a blocker. Third-stringer Brandon Bostick made a first down catch-and-run, but he continues to struggle as a blocker too. Wes Saxton got into the game late but the only time he was targeted was on Hackenberg's interception.
Jason Vander Laan didn't get any offensive snaps.
The Jets' offensive line was as close to full strength as it's been all preseason, with four of the projected starters out there and Ben Ijalana and Brent Qvale splitting time at right tackle. Qvale got the start again, but perhaps a time-share is the approach they'll take if Breno Giacomini can't go on opening day, as seems likely.
Ijalana left the field after appearing to hurt his arm, but Bowles wasn't concerned about an injury after the game. While he was out there, Ijalana held up pretty well. Qvale just about managed to protect the quarterback, although he seemed to struggle to do so cleanly on a number of occasions. He was also stood up on a running play, forcing the runner to redirect.
With all the concern at right tackle, it was the left tackle position where there was some cause for concern this week. This was a good test for Ryan Clady, who was tasked with blocking Olivier Vernon, and was beaten a few times. He was also responsible for a strip-sack, as Damon Harrison stunted underneath and he reacted late. However, the main blame on that play goes to Brian Winters, who was driven back and thrown on the floor by Jonathan Hankins and Fitzpatrick for pulling the ball back in instead of getting rid of it, as you can see:
The rest of the line was, perhaps understandably, not quite in sync, both in the running game and dealing with stunts in pass protection. Nick Mangold and James Carpenter each made a couple of nice run blocks but also had a couple of mistakes. Unfortunately, the much anticipated Mangold-Harrison match-up never really materialized, as the few plays Snacks did make came when he was blocked by someone else.
On the second unit, rookie Brandon Shell got one drive against Vernon because the Giants starters stayed in the game for longer than the Jets' did and managed to do a good job on him on two protections. Overall, Shell held up really well in protection until right at the end of the game where he was badly beaten on consecutive plays for a hit and a pressure that caused a Hackenberg fumble. Shell had mixed results in the running game, but has been quietly impressive on the whole.
In terms of the back-ups, there may still be roles available to be won next week. Pretty much everyone has had positives and negatives so far.
Dakota Dozier, the second team left guard, did a good job of anchoring in pass protection, but made some mistakes in the running game, including one that led to a run being blown up for a loss.
Wesley Johnson, the back-up center having started last week, did a good job at the point of attack in the running game. However, he had one bad snap and he and Craig Watts seemed to get their wires crossed on a stunt that led to a sack. Watts also allowed his man to get off his block to stuff a run.
Mike Liedtke had mixed results in the running game but held up pretty well in protection at right guard. Also off the bench, Jesse Davis and Kyle Friend saw action after not playing last week. Friend had one low snap, but made one aggressive block at the point of attack. Davis allowed his man to stuff a running play on a couple of plays.
Finally, Jarvis Harrison was perhaps more consistent than he's been so far this preseason and had one good edge-setting block, but still looked bad on a couple of plays, leading to pressure and a couple of runs being blown up.
Next up…Moving on to the defense where Muhammad Wilkerson's return has us wondering just how good the defense can be, but an injury to a key player could threaten to spoil everything.