The Jets take on their neighboring rivals, the New York Giants, on Saturday in their annual “Snoopy Bowl” at MetLife Stadium. And while head coach Todd Bowles is abhorrent to call the third preseason game a “dress rehearsal,” he knows the value of lining up his starters for a lengthy period of time against a formidable opponent in Big Blue.
Bowles reasoned that Saturday’s tilt doesn’t have anything to do with trying to capture the “Snoopy” flag, or Tri-State bragging rights, but added that his starters will be challenged by the coaching staff to iron out the kinks and get in synch.
“This game means nothing, other than getting chemistry together. It’s not a dress rehearsal, because the regular season is 10 times more amped up than this. It’s a completely different deal,” Bowles said, adding the starters will play at least the first half. “But you do want to develop some chemistry as you play your guys longer, because they played shorter amounts of time in the other two games. You do want to see some chemistry and some cohesiveness.”
Gang Green will get a lengthy chance to show they haven’t fallen off, as they take on their co-tenants.
Metro takes a look at the defense and other key storylines to follow during this intrastate clash.
What to Watch For:
1. On the nose – The Jets will get a first-hand look at a literally big reason why there are some questions regarding the nose tackle position. Damon “Big Snacks” Harrison went from green to blue this offseason, leaving a 6-foot-4, 350-pound void in the middle of the Jets’ defensive front. Hoping to fill that void, Gang Green added Steve McLendon to the mix. A former Steeler, McLendon is 6-foot-3 and 315 pounds. And while he may not have the exact girth as Harrison, he’s considered one of the strongest players in the league. When the Jets want to get creative with their pass-rush in the 3-4 defense (three defensive linemen and four linebackers), look for second-year defensive end Leonard Williams to get some snaps at the nose. Bowles and defensive coordinator Kacy Rodgers have been tinkering with the 6-foot-5, 305-pound Williams during training camp, lining him over the center. And with his strength, athleticism, and cat-like reflexes, the former USC star could be the answer. He registered a sack as a nose tackle in the preseason opener against the Jacksonville Jaguars when he took down starting quarterback Blake Bortles, so the Jets may be on to something. Whoever gets the call over nose will be in the middle of a very intense battle with ornery Giants center Weston Richburg.
2. Last call – Three days after this game, the NFL mandates that every team trims its rosters from 90 to 75, meaning this is the last chance for many fringe guys. Aug. 30 will be one of the more emotional days for all parties – Bowles and the soon-to-be unemployed. The coach, a former scout himself, knows talent when he sees it, so those on the bubble will need to change his mind – a mind, Bowles admits, that is almost already made up.
“I have a good idea, but it’s still tough. I’m pretty sure about the guys I’m keeping and not keeping,” Bowles said when asked if he already knows who’s staying or leaving. “It’s still tough and you’ve still got two games to play. There’s a few spots I’m looking at, and a few people I’m looking at. But for the most part I have a got a good idea. It doesn’t make it any easier. ... There’s a few that I need to see, that still need to battle it out. We’re going to have to cut some good football players. We’re just going to make sure we have the right ones that fit us. It’s not always the best 53. It’s the right 53. We have a lot of decisions to make.”
Bowles also singled out a few guys that have caught his eye, perhaps hinting at their future. Names like rookie wideouts Jalin Marshall, Charone Peake, and Robby Anderson; rookie linebackers Darron Lee and Jordan Jenkins; veteran defensive end Jarvis Jenkins and rookie defensive end Lawrence Thomas; and offensive tackle Brandon Shell – who has great pedigree in being Hall of Fame tackle Art Shell’s great nephew.
3. Can he hack it? – Rookie second-round pick Christian Hackenberg has yet to sniff a down in a preseason game. It’s almost looking like the former Penn State star will take the equivalent of a red-shirt year for the Jets, as he’s unlikely to see any action on Saturday. His best bet could be in the preseason finale, but many think that could be a showcase game for either of his fellow backups, Geno Smith or Bryce Petty. Not that Ryan Fitzpatrick can relate to being a high-round bonus-baby, but the veteran said he can relate to not getting any playing time and minimal practice reps, since he was once the 250th pick in the 2005 draft and knows what it’s like to be way down on the depth chart. Fitzpatrick, though, said he’s sees promise in the rookie and advises him to always stay ready and continue to work – and the rest will sort out itself.
“It’s tough for him right now. You just look at his career thus far, [and] he has always been the top dog everywhere he’s been, so this is a new role for him. To be here and to be put in a situation where he’s not really getting many reps -- he has got to take a step back and learn,” said Fitzpatrick. “The biggest thing with him right now is has just got to put the time in. He’s got to swallow his pride and just work his tail off. Focus on becoming on becoming a better Christian Hackenberg every single day. And when the time comes [for actual game action], be ready. That’s how you learn, [by] getting out there. I think it’s always valuable for all quarterbacks in those game-like situations to get out there. And you’re going to learn a lot more doing that. You can only learn so much in the classroom I guess, so he’ll learn a lot more getting out there on the field and getting some reps.”