Back in simpler days, my big brother and I used to get totally excited for the annual Jet-Giant preseason skirmish. At the time it meant everything, Boomer versus Simms, green clashing with blue, city bragging rights on the line.
Age and experience taught me just how little games in August actually mean in the grand scheme, cross-town tensions be damned. In the present, Bro just hopes his stars survive the game healthy, tortured memories of Jason Sehorn and Osi Umenyiora writhing on scalding turf etched into his skull. And Jets fans have their own hellish scrapbook, headlined by the devastating 2003 injury to Chad Pennington. Even still, the most detached observer would have to admit that there are many interesting subplots to follow in this year’s game, standard health hazards aside.
Ground control to angry Tom
The Giants have been rightfully touted as a potential Super Bowl participant. Only two years removed from their epic victory against the Patriots, and direct from an off season where they spilled over sixty million dollars into their defensive depth, Big Blue seems primed to compete for home-field advantage in the NFC playoffs. But… their preseason performance has been uninspiring, and a litany of injuries has torn apart what was designed to be an impenetrable defensive front.
Their head coach, Tom Coughlin, has never been one to mince words, and seems perpetually paranoid about his team basking in congratulatory press clippings. So a perfect storm of circumstance swirled in the land of the Giants, a broken blue facade clearing the way for a classic Coughlin tirade. “I just think for so long we’ve [read that] we’ve got so much depth,” he seethed in the aftermath of a shellacking by Chicago. “I don’t know what you’re watching, but the guys that are supposed to be the depth have hardly even practiced,” Coughlin continued. “I think you’re talking about something that looks good but hasn’t really materialized. Until we get this thing straightened around with everybody on the field, this rotation and this depth that we’re talking about really is a non-factor right now… I think you have to earn everything that is said about you,” he opined, voice betraying agitation. “What we believe in is that talk is cheap. Let’s do it on the field. It’s been very spotty on the field, so obviously it’s time to get to work and get this the way we want it to be, and for people to come to grips with reality.”
It seems Coughlin has gambled, unleashing his fury preemptively. It’s a bold move, an honest attempt to wake up a shiftless troupe. The occurrence will either be remembered as a harbinger for disappointment or turning point toward excellence, but in the extreme short-term, Coughlin’s edict will have a definite effect on this week’s match-up. The Giants should come out flying, eager to silence their skeptical commander. The Jets will have to match that level of intensity, lest they get buried early, as they did against Baltimore.
Disregarding the entire neighborhood angle in play here, Jets fans and management will be highly invested in this affair simply because, as the third dust-up in preseason, it will represent the clearest barometer as to where the team stands on the frontlines. First team pieces on both sides of the ball will, in all likelihood, man the field for the entire initial half.
While week four of the preseason ledger goes a long way toward determining those precious remaining roster spots, three offers a clear glimpse at the strengths and weaknesses defining an organizational identity. For at least 15 minutes Saturday night, this game will ride up to the edge of regular season importance.
Sanchez and the Kitchen Sink
It is interesting to ponder just how much the Coughlin’s urgency may have impacted his team’s strategy and execution, but the player most affected could be Mark Sanchez, who the Ravens greeted with complicated schemes that could be best described as downright cruel. If the Giants really want a decisive win, they may follow the Baltimore blueprint. This will represent a fascinating challenge for Sanchez, who rebounded from a dismal start to sling a touchdown against the Ravens.
The Jets may be best advised to test the Giants’ touted D-Line with a steady dose of their rushing attack, early and often. The success of this offense will be predicated on the run. Here’s the perfect opportunity to see if Thomas Jones and company can dominate a game.
Of Eli and Matty Ice
There is no scientific method to determine why Matt Ryan stormed out of the starting blocks like a thoroughbred, and Eli Manning, who has matured into a fine quarterback despite occasional bouts with inconsistency, appeared totally dazed and confused as a freshman. Situations and circumstances have plenty to do with it, for sure, but the learning curve for prospective quarterbacks is nowhere near standardized. I remember Chad Pennington playing like he was destined for Canton in 2002, after backing up Vinny Testaverde for two years, and analysts everywhere concluding that this was truly the ticket, time on the bench to soak up experience. The Bengals went a similar route with Carson Palmer, and the early returns there were also great. Philip Rivers, another perfect example. Matt Leinart! Well… never mind. Than there’s the flip side… Flacco and Ryan, Roethlisberger before them, all rookies who performed at a relatively high level despite their total inexperience. Time will tell whether the Jets made the right call starting Sanchez as a rookie. Can he be another Flacco? Sure. Or another Eli? Long-term that’s an excellent proposition, but in the here and now, Jets fans and management are probably petrified about that possibility. What could this game tell us? Well, it will present more evidence pointing in a particular direction… if those Sanchez outlet passes once again land in the arms of beefy defenders instead of streaking halfbacks, the course of the Jets in 2009 could become clearer.
How ‘bout it, D?
Justifiably lost in the Sanchez hoopla against Baltimore were several instances of Raven receivers toasting Jet defensive-backs, especially when Flacco was pulling the trigger. The Jets’ defense has shown promising signs early, those inventive flood blitzes exciting to watch when they work, but the secondary has allowed a couple of big plays that could really sting when the games count. A dominant effort by a healthier unit would be a welcome sight for the team as they prepare for week one.
Look for Vernon Gholston to make his first start at LB on Saturday. Gholston, who has not even come within light years of living up to his hype will be in the slot that has been held by Calvin Pace since last season. As we know, Pace will sit out the first four games due to a illegal substance violation this off-season. Over the next month, Gholston will have the opportunity to either show he can be a productive member of the Jets defense or solidify his current reputation with most observers as a bust in the making. His camp this summer has been equally unimpressive as he’s been outplayed by Rutgers rookie LB Jamaal Westerman who wasn’t even drafted.
There were plenty of interesting takes on this week’s game from the headquarters at Florham Park…
Wallace Wright: The special teams ace was plenty hyped for showdown with the Giants. “It’s huge for us,” he said excitedly after today’s practice. “A huge rivalry. You want to win this game. It sets the tone for the season,” he said, before adding flat-out, “We want to beat the Giants.”
Rex Ryan: There was an amusing moment during Ryan’s presser today, as he displayed considerably less enthusiasm for the Giants than he mustered for his previous employer in week two. When questioned whether any experienced players had discussed with him the experience of locking horns with the Giants, Ryan responded with a perfectly timed, deadpan “No.” He should really chat with Wallace Wright. Ryan also dropped intriguing tidbit when queried about the possibility of adverse weather conditions. He suggested that the defensive starters would be primarily protected against the slick field. “I don’t want to have a setback with a guy like Revis in the preseason,” said the coach. This serious note was quickly countered by more humor. Ryan practically guaranteed that Harvard QB Chris Pizzotti would see some game action, preferably early in the second half. “He deserves it…” said Ryan. “We’ll probably be working for him one day.”
Shaun Ellis: The experienced defensive-end, a long-tenured Jet, sized up the Giants game. “It’s always good to play the in-state team,” said Ellis. “A little rivalry… it’s good. They’re a good tune-up. A dominant team. It will be a good measuring stick.”
But it was Kerry Rhodes who summed it up best, saying, “It’s a chance for both teams to get a win. We both lost last week.”
The Jets swapped punters on the roster today by releasing Ken Parrish and claiming Glenn Pakulak off waivers from New Orleans.
Pakulak has been a journeyman in the NFL since 2003 and most recently punted for the Saints last season where he averaged 47.7 yards per punt playing in the last eight games of the season.
The team also cut rookie FA LB Josh Mauga from Nevada.
Who wins this game?
I say the Jets; with their running attack the decisive factor in the first half.