The Jets and Giants had their record summer streak of preseason games snapped in 2020 by COVID but the teams that have shared a stadium since 1984 still have the most current renewed preseason rivalry in NFL history — the Jets and Giants will be meeting for the 53rd time in the past 54 summers.
Mixing green apples with blue oranges, this is also a game for establishing or reestablishing the upper hand in this rivalry. Adding their 14 regular-season games to their 52 preseason games, the Jets trail in the series by one game, 33-32-1. This one of course is nothing close to win-at-all-costs, but as Jets HC Robert Saleh said, "Naturally you're going to compete and try to do your absolute best, but at the same time keep the main thing the main thing in regards to what we're trying to accomplish."
Here are five things for Green & White fans to watch for in Sunday's 1 p.m. ET start, which will be the regional rivals' first preseason afternoon kickoff since 1977.
Saleh has tabbed first backup Joe Flacco as the starter for this one after Flacco sat the first two preseason games. Will it be enough for South Jersey Joe, assuming he may get the nod as well for the season opener against his first NFL team, the Ravens, should Zach Wilson need to continue his rehab? It will have to be. But Flacco also got scrimmage-like work with the Jets' three joint practices in the past two weeks, and he was very sharp passing in the two practices with the Falcons.
And what goes for Flacco will probably also apply to all the ones on both sides of the ball. On the one hand, it's the last summer game of the NFL's new three-game preseason scheduling, so one might expect to see lots of second- and third-stringers early on. On the other hand, for the second year the NFL has given a bye to all teams before starting the regular season, so teams have an extra week to heal physically and mentally for Week 1. So as Saleh said, his starters will go anywhere from a quarter to a half in this "dress rehearsal" for 2022.
Not Just About the QBs
Flacco will also want to get some sync-up time with his skill players, who also have been limited in the first two games of summer. At WR, how will second-year man Elijah Moore, vet Corey Davis and first-round rookie Garrett Wilson mesh? Out of the backfield, what will be the division of labor between second-year starter Michael Carter and second-rookie rookie Breece Hall?
The tight ends also haven't been unleashed, except for rookie Jeremy Ruckert, who caught his first pro TD at the Eagles. So it'll be one last chance for C.J. Uzomah and Tyler Conklin to show not just promise but a glimpse of how they will mesh with the wideouts in the pattern. It's still early to speculate, but consider that both Uzomah (Bengals) and Conklin (Vikings) had career receiving years last year and their combined receiving totals were 110 catches for 1,086 yards and 8 TDs. Is that doable by the TE position in a regular season? We're getting closer to finding out.
Firing Up the D
It'll be interesting to see how the Jets vets react to being on the field with the gate opening for their only time on the loose in the preseason. We're talking about you defensive dudes, and in particular DL Carl Lawson and MLB C.J. Mosley.
"Obviously we're going to listen to our coaches," said Mosley, who along with Lawson suited up and warmed up for the Eagles but were told by Saleh before kickoff that they weren't going. "But it's our job to be ready when our name and number are called. Apparently it's going to be called Sunday, so we'll be ready."
Especially important will be defensive performance. The ones, with exceptions, played at Philly, the twos started vs. Atlanta, and those units allowed 508 yards and 30 points in their two halves of preseason game work. The ones with all starters at the ready will want to improve on those numbers, and it could be tough sledding against a Giants offense that is second in the NFL in total yards and passing yards and first in first downs in the preseason rankings.
See the Green & White on the field with the Giants during joint practice.
Greg's Got Leg
Greg Zuerlein's approach after getting the kicking job over Eddy Piñeiro was typical of the focus of a 10-year pro, which he is: "There's not anything different, just business as usual." Don't expect to see much different in the PK results. Greg's been an 80%-plus FG kicker and a 55% kicker from 50+ for his career. His booming hit and smooth followthrough on his 44-yarder vs. the Falcons will be the norm.
What is worth a look-see is who's handling kickoffs vs. the Giants with an eye toward the roles as decided by Saleh and STC Brant Boyer for the RS. Zuerlein had an 80.8% touchback rate (80 of 99) for Dallas last year, his career best and third in the NFL among qualifying kickers. Yet P Braden Mann had a 90;9% TB rate (20 of 22) that would have led the league if he had enough kickoffs.
Unkindest Cuts Ahead
No doubt more important than winning this Mayor's Trophy: Football Edition game is for all of the twos and threes and bubble players getting enough time to show that they either belong on the Jets' 53-man roster or are deserving of a spot on another team's active roster. With NFL rosters going from 80 to 53 on Tuesday, the Jets will move 27 players, either by release, waiver or reserve. So watch for spirited play from everyone and especially after the starters go to the sideline. Key positions that need to be whittled down with some difficult cuts are DL, CB, WR and RB.
The goal that Saleh referred to above is simple. For the 53 who survive the Turk's final cuts, it's "to create that cohesion so that in Week 1, we're hungry."