It's a rare event that a team gets to play an opponent in the preseason and then again in the regular season. It's even rarer that both games are away games at a shared stadium. The Jets really lucked out here. While the preseason game is meaningless, week 3 is notably somewhat of an exception. While the plays are all made up and the points don't matter (boy, that's an old reference), starters will typically play all the way into the second half of the game. You typically get to see first team offenses against first team defenses for a full half of football in what is considered the final preparation for the regular season. After this, there's not a lot left to learn about the team's core players. The fourth preseason game is an audition for the last handful of roster spots and a chance for guys who have no chance of making the final 53 to at least get some tape at the NFL level.
So far, the Jets are 1-1 in the preseason. After a miserable showing by the first team against the Lions, the Jets came storming back with a miserable showing by the first team against the Falcons. The first team offense was not overly inspiring, but it certainly looked equal to, if not better than, anything the Jets have fielded in recent memory. The first team defense has been a major disappointment, however. Without Wilkerson and Richardson, the Jets weaker LB and S groups have been exposed. In addition, tackling has been a major concern, approaching a level I can't remember having seen at any point during Rex's tenure. Say what you want about Rex, but he didn't skimp on tackling technique. If you said the obvious about Rex, know that penalties have remained an issue for the Jets despite his exit. These aren't issues that can be blamed on the vanilla preseason schemes, either. Hopefully, we'll see these issues get cleaned up to some degree on Saturday night.
On the opposing sideline of the city, the Giants are having a similar off-season. While the Jets' off-season could be described as a flaming train wreck colliding with an oil tanker, the Giants have had their best defensive player's finger amputated after a fireworks incident, contract disputes with their starting quarterback and said finger-challenged defensive player, and a rash of injuries that have decimated several position groups, most notably the safeties. On top of that, their first team units have also struggled badly against famed NFL powerhouses Cincinnati and Jacksonville. Manning struggled to get any chemistry with his receivers and the offense looked completely out of sync, similar to early in the year last season before Beckham took control. The defense allowed perennial All Pros Andy Dalton and Blake Bortles to lead scoring drives on all of their possessions, with Dalton scoring a touchdown on his only drive and Bortles leading the Jaguars to three field goals. Both teams come into the Snoopy Bowl with off the field embarrassments, contract disputes, and disappointing preseason starts. Both teams will have a lot to prove. There should be a few questions to keep an eye on tonight:
1) Who goes down? Every year, it seems like one spotlight player goes down in this game. Both teams have been ravaged by injuries and have back end players with a shot to prove themselves after two lackluster showings. This is the perfect cocktail for an injury disaster. Keep your fingers crossed that no one goes down and don't be surprised when they do.
2) Darrelle Revis or Odell Beckham Jr.? This will be a great match-up. It may not be Rice-Sanders, but any die hard fan will tell you that this is a must see. One of the most established CBs in NFL history going against the most promising sophomore WR the NFL has seen in decades. Add to this the fact that OBJ has been shut out this preseason and Revis' defense has been repeatedly victimized. I expect OBJ to make a few plays, but this match-up is a good thing for the Jets. Revis will have tape and experience against Beckham Jr. for the regular season game. Due to the fact that OBJ's game is based mostly on freaky athleticism and amazing hands while Revis is the poster boy for film study, this bodes well for us.
3) Who can buck the trend? Both teams have had awful first team showings thus far. Unless both teams somehow manage to fail on both sides of the ball (ala 2012 Jets vs. Cardinals), one team will have to look competent for a change. This game often shines some light on the coming season.
4) Who impresses? Each year in recent memory, one player tends to stick out like a sore thumb in this game. The best example I can provide comes from the 2010 game. Victor Cruz, a relatively unknown and undrafted rookie receiver, torched the Jets vaunted defense for 145 yards and 3TDs in limited action. It was a precursor to Cruz's explosion onto the scene as a top flight receiver, and foreshadowed his 2011 soul-crushing performance that ruined the Jets' postseason aspirations. I expect someone to stick out tonight and I'm hoping he's a Jet. Big Cat, hoooo! (my new Thundercat-themed cheer for whenever Leonard Williams makes a play.)
5) Vanilla or Chocolate? How much do the coaches dip into their playbooks and how much do they hold back? Obviously, the Snoopy Bowl Trophy is meaningless. But if your first team unit gets demolished in all 3 of their preseason games, your confidence going into the regular season is not going to be all that high. Do you risk revealing a bit to prevent that? It should be interesting to watch how Bowles handles that.
This is the one preseason game that I'm actually excited about. I watch the other games, but all of the vanilla schemes and back end roster players basically make it more of a workout than a contest. Game 3 is the first taste of real football that you get in months. How about throwing in some Revis/OBJ, an intercity rivalry, and the fact that it's a precursor for a regular season game? This is the best football you're getting from February until September. Enjoy the game!