The Jets and the Eagles, two NFL green teams who are longtime summer friends and foes and who both think they can do better in 2022 than they did the previous season, are set to test those assumptions against each other in their almost annual preseason battle Friday at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia.
We say "almost annual" because the teams will be meeting for the 21st time in the last 22 summers, the only break in their longtime series coming in 2020 when all NFL preseason games were canceled due to COVID.
This series is certainly a strange one when considering how the Jets and Eagles fare against each other in the preseason and the regular season .The Jets lost again the the Birds last RS, 33-18 in December. It was the Jets' 12th loss to Philly all-time without a single win.
The summer is different. The Jets are 25-16-1 since the teams first met in 1967, and they've posted a 13-5-1 record since '02, a 19-game stretch that began with nine straight Green & White wins and most recently played to last year's 31-31 tie at MetLife Stadium.
But who wins and who loses Friday won't be as important as how much improvement each team can show over last year's regular-season showing. And that will come down to, among many areas, how the right side of each offensive line holds up against the left side of each defensive front.
For the Jets, it's all about protecting second-year QB Zach Wilson and giving him time to find his new and improved set of skill players. That project was going along smoothly behind the offensive line, which some players speculated could be among the NFL's best this year.
See the top photos from pregame before the first preseason game of the 2022 season.
Then early this week, RT Mekhi Becton went down with his second knee injury in a little more than a year and will miss most if not all of this season ahead. Head coach Robert Saleh, coordinator Mike LaFleur and OL coach John Benton moved on to contingency plans at the position, which means fourth-year vet Chuma Edoga and fourth-round rookie Max Mitchell among others will be trying to protect Wilson's open side from the likes of LE Brandon Graham and LT Fletcher Cox, two fixtures and reliable pass rushers on Philly's DL. RT help could arrive in veteran Pro Bowler Duane Brown but the Jets have not confirmed the reports that Brown has agreed to terms with the team.
Flip the script and the Jets' defensive end slot will get the long-awaited debut (not counting three defensive snaps in last year's season opener vs. the Giants) of edge rusher Carl Lawson, who has rebounded strongly from last year's season-ending August Achilles injury with his second strong summer as a member of the Green & White.
Lawson won't be alone in trying to pressure and sack Eagles QB Jalen Hurts, as also likely to line up on the left side of the Jets' four-man line will be first-round pick Jermaine Johnson and possibly fourth-round DL Micheal Clemons among others.
They'll have a challenge for some of the evening going up against Philly RT Lane Johnson, who bounced back from early-season off-field problems in '21 to have a fine season for the 9-8 playoff Eagles and come back this summer to plaudits from HC Nick Sirianni, who has stated that Johnson "is the best right tackle in the NFL." So the Jets' revamped pass rush will have a high hill to climb right out of the box.
There are plenty of other storylines and positions of interest. For the Jets, how will fellow first-round rookies Ahmad "Sauce" Gardner at CB and Garrett Wilson fit into their new schemes? And let's not overlooked Round 2 RB Breece Hall. Other veterans signed in the offseason with big roles ahead come September include CB D.J. Reed, S Jordan Whitehead and LB Kwon Alexander.
But a key element to remember for this first game of summer is that no starters for either side should be expected to be on the field from the second quarter forward Friday. Saleh said of Wilson and the rest of his starters, "If they put together a good first series, we'll call it a day. If not, we'll just go out there and try to get a certain number of plays."
And the goal that Saleh has for his QB, and by extension for all his players in this opener, is simple.
"Just execute the best way you know how. Get comfortable in a game situation, timing, clock, play clock, getting out of the huddle, getting lined up, playing through cadence a little bit. It's really their first time playing a game since whatever the last time was, so it's just a matter of just getting out there and getting comfortable. No expectations."