It should have been a bright Saturday afternoon for the Jets today. They're playing the Packers at the shrine by the bay, Lambeau Field in Green Bay after two days of productive joint practices with the Packers. Rookie QB Zach Wilson is set to get his second pro start in Robert Saleh's second pro game. All signs were pointing to smooth sailing toward opening day at Carolina.
Then DE Carl Lawson tore his Achilles at Thursday's practice and a big piece to the Jets' rebuild under Saleh was lost for the coming season. But the first-year head coach won't allow the injury to derail the construction going on all around the team.
Fans will be keenly watching Wilson as he attempts to extend his time and improve his performance on the field. The young man showed that he could bounce back smartly from a Green & White Practice showing he wasn't thrilled with to perform accurately and efficiently in his two series vs. the Giants. This week, after facing strong pressure from the Packers' experienced defense, Wilson will have another chance to demonstrate his progress and coolness under pressure.
Wilson should get help from his running game, with the return of Tevin Coleman to the group of Ty Johnson, Josh Adams, La'Mical Perine and rookie Michael Carter. As Saleh said earlier this week about his run game, "I think we've got a pretty dynamic group that complements each other really well." And that group should help Wilson find his interesting WR group headed by Corey Davis, Keelan Cole, Jamison Crowder and Denzel Mims down the field.
See the Top Photos from Pregame at Lambeau Field Before the Jets-Packers Preseason Game
On defense, while Lawson's departure leaves a huge hole to fill for Saleh and defensive coordinator Jeff Ulbrich, the Jets D should still be trending upward. With Lawson on the field for only three plays and Quinnen Williams still rehabbing his foot (as he will be through this game) vs. the Giants, the unit still excelled in allowing 163 total yards, including a minuscule 56 net yards passing, and posting five sacks. Big Blue's only touchdown came after a 17-yard drive following a fumble recovery.
It's highly unlikely the Jets defense can duplicate those numbers on the road in Titletown. On the other hand, the Giants struggled without several frontliners available, including starting QB Daniel Jones. And today the Packers were reported to be going without starter Aaron Rodgers and backup Jordan Love, coming off a sore shoulder from last week's game, so they could be operating with No. 3 QB Kurt Benkert and just-signed No. 4 Jake Dolegala.
It would be improper to say the Jets are familiar with the sites and sounds and vibe of Green Bay, since no current Jets were around the last time these teams played in the preseason, in Green Bay in 2000, or even the last time the Jets journeyed to Wisconsin for a regular-season game early in 2014.
But the Jets historically have faired fairly well in Cheesehead Country. They have played all eight of their preseason games vs. the Packers in Wisconsin and gone 2-6 in those games. But they're also 4-3 in all games at Green Bay in the regular season and in all games, RS and PS, they will be trying to even the record at 11-11 while maintaining their points edge over the Pack, which stands at 470-429.
All this pregame accounting means nothing in the context of this game, which for Wilson, his veteran receivers, new and old, his fellow rookies, and the C.J. Mosley-led defense, is all about playing better day by day in the schemes of Saleh and coordinators Mike LaFleur, Ulbrich and Brant Boyer, and getting tighter and sharper for opening day at Carolina and their home opener against the Patriots.
So for now, on to Lambeau.