8:48 am Aug. 20, 2012
Tempting as it might be to characterize the Giants’ 26-3 shellacking of the Jets on Saturday as the latest demonstration of the franchises’ opposite sizzle/steak ratios, it’s instructive to remember that it was still a meaningless preseason game.
Remember last year’s Snoopy Bowl, a 17-3 drubbing by the ascendant Jets against the boring blue team with the grandpa coach whose players would’ve rather been playing for the Jets? In that game, Eli Manning, he of the deluded “elite” pronouncement, failed to throw a touchdown pass for the third straight preseason game.
Steve Serby, in his postgame column, perfectly captured the dangers of the overheated preseason takeaway. Eli, he wrote, “might want to do himself a favor and ask to borrow Tom Brady’s thesaurus so he can look up the meaning of the word ‘Elite.’”
Of course, that “E-Lousy” and “E-Lost” guy Serby described proceeded to have the best season a Giants quarterback ever has. So there’s hope for Jets fans, because it’s not that big a deal that their pair of famous, handsome quarterbacks haven’t yet led the offense to a touchdown. It’s a new offensive system, after all, and the new collective bargaining agreement has meant that teams are now rustier going into preseason games than they’ve ever been.
So if broad pronouncements about the state of the team or hair-trigger assessments of long-established players have no place, then what good is preseason to the fan?
The answer lies in getting reads on those players on the margins of significant playing time, or those who were newly acquired, either because they’re rookies or acquisitions from other teams.
Take D.J. Ware, for instance. As the third down back for the Giants last year, Ware was minimally competent but nothing more, averaging 3.5 yards per carry, a season after he averaged 3.7 yards. Whatever playing time he got, it owed less to talent than his seniority on the team, and the not-unrelated faith the coaching staff had in him to screw up less than the other healthy running back on the roster, rookie Da’Rel Scott.
But this year, he’s competing for a role with several other running backs, although his seniority gives him first crack at the second running back job. Once again, he looks competent and nothing more. It wasn’t a good game for the Giants’ run-blocking overall (2.1 yards per carry), but Ware was particular dismal, averaging 1.4 yards over his team-high 11 carries. Two low points included getting stuffed on a 3rd-and-1 and then missing a block as a member of the punt team, which resulted in Aaron Maybin’s blocked punt.
Ware’s a smooth athlete and at 6-feet, 225 lbs, has decent size for the position. But he’s not especially quick and runs with very little power. Ahmad Bradshaw, who left the game with a non-serious hand injury, and David Wilson are locks to make the team. If Scott (who has explosive straight-line speed) and Andre Brown (seemingly more power than Ware, and also marginally faster) can respectively be brought up to speed and stay injury free, both seem like better choices for a roster spot.
Bradshaw is obviously the starter and Wilson, despite only gaining just 3.3 yards per carry yesterday on his eight carries, nonetheless further impressed by again playing at a different speed than the rest of the Giants’ backs.
Should either of those two get injured, it’s essential to have another talented runner behind them. The Giants struggled to run the ball on Saturday just as they struggled to run the ball all last season: Their 3.5 yards per carry average was last in the league. They were able to sneak into the playoffs thanks to just enough miracle plays by Eli Manning and his receivers, but that’s not a replicable model for success, just as it's not advisable for a team that wants to win the Super Bowl to have a 9-7 record.
VICTOR CRUZ WAS DOMINANT IN SATURDAY'S GAME, posting five catches for 51 yards in just one half. If both Cruz and Eli Manning stay injury-free, watching them work together over the next several years should be fun.
Despite the Giants’ gruff company line that they’re above the fray of this Jets rivalry, it was clear they wanted to send a message on the game’s first play from scrimmage, a play-action stop-and-go route to Cruz on Darrelle Revis.
Cruz got only a half-step on Revis though, and Manning overthrew him for an incomplete pass.
THERE'S ANOTHER EXCITING RECEIVER COMING: Rueben Randle. Randle only caught one ball on Saturday, but it was a beautiful “high-point” job of a 49-yard bomb. That makes two graceful catches in two games: The first one was a shoestring catch on a ball thrown behind him in Jacksonville, on which he slickly plucked it with his hands from inches off the ground while running downfield and never broke stride. So far, so good with Randle.
THE FORECAST WAS LOOKING SIMILARLY OPTIMISTIC FOR THE GUY THE GIANTS selected after Randle, Jayron Hosley, who rebounded from his muffed punt last week by intercepting a Mark Sanchez pass and returning it for a 77-yard touchdown on Saturday.
Some interceptions are happenstance and the fault of the quarterback, and some are rewards for a job well done in coverage. Hosley’s was the latter: He stayed stride-for-stride with receiver Patrick Turner and forced Sanchez to make a throw at a difficult angle. Sanchez, who was otherwise very sharp, threw it slightly behind Turner, which was the same thing as throwing it directly to Hosley.
Unfortunately, and perhaps while high-stepping into the endzone on the play, Hosley sustained a turf-toe injury and left the stadium after the game in a walking boot.
Preseason shouldn’t form the basis for an assessment of an established player. But if the player’s established level is terrible, a preseason game can provide another data-point.
Wayne Hunter was beyond bad on Saturday, and not for the first time in the tumultuous year-plus that he’s been the Jets’ starting right tackle.
He allowed two sacks and helped cause a third by letting Justin Tuck around the bend, thus forcing Sanchez to step into a sack by Osi Umenyiora. He would have allowed a sack to Tuck on another unmolested loop-around, but the play nullified because of a questionable offside penalty.
To make matters worse, he played a part in a failed fourth-and-1 conversion by bypassing the chance to block defensive tackle Rocky Bernard, who was knifing into the backfield to make a tackle. Hunter let Bernard go, seemingly concerned with blocking a linebacker on the second level who never figured on the play.
Hunter’s was actually decent for a stretch last year, but his terrible games have occurred with alarming frequency. According to Pro Football Focus’s play-charting rankings, Hunter was the fifth-worst of the league’s tackles who received at least 50 percent of their team’s snaps. He allowed the most quarterback hits and the third-most sacks.
OF COURSE, IT'S NOT JUST HUNTER. THE PASS PROTECTION overall has been awful in the Jets’ first two preseason games, basically rendering their entire offense a nonstarter. It’s hard to judge individual components of the offense if nobody has a chance to do anything.
Jets quarterbacks have been sacked 12 times so far. To put this in perspective, this would put them on pace for 96 sacks on the season. Last year, the St. Louis Rams allowed the most sacks in the N.F.L., with 55.
SANCHEZ DESERVES SOME CREDIT. YES, THE HOSLEY pick-six continued last year’s pattern of horribly timed mistakes, but the guy went 9 for 11, and looked good.
Remember that version of Sanchez that looks good? That version has been forgotten about amid his poor 2011 and the Tebow hoopla. But when Sanchez is on, the guy looks like an athlete, and his ball hums to all the right places. It’s a seductive image: It’s why the Jets drafted him fifth overall and handed him the keys to the franchise, and it’s why everyone thought before last year that he was on a sure upward trajectory toward greatness.
Sure, in hindsight, we know that everyone was taking their cues from the head coach and was a little overconfident about everything. But this might happen yet.
A COUPLE OF MISSTEPS BY GREG BUTTLE, THE FORMER Jets linebacker and the color analyst for these preseason games, must be pointed out.
During one disquisition on Victor Cruz, Buttle said that Cruz was originally in Jets camp, but that the Jets cut him and thus enabled him to sign with the Giants.
The second wasn’t so much a mistake as it was a dishonest premise. It came when Buttle was ostensibly “breaking down” Tim Tebow’s famously flawed throwing motion.
Buttle meant to show that Tebow was taking steps to shorten his long delivery. First, he showed two still shots (one from last season, one from last week) that showed Tebow in full long catapult mode, his arm parallel to the ground in its cock-back. This was bad, Buttle said, correctly.
But then the CBS crew showed a shot of Tebow in a later stage of his delivery, with his arm coming forward and the ball, consequently, around his ear. Buttle took that shot and used it as evidence that Tebow, in the span of one short week, had mastered the quarterback’s short throwing stroke. Of course, no quarterback on Earth--not Aaron Rodgers, not Drew Brees, not Dan Marino--has that compact a motion. The reason Tebow’s hand was at his ear owed to where his arm ended up, not where it started.
THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN TEBOW'S THROWING MOTION and that of most other quarterbacks was illustrated on a single play in the latter half of the third quarter.
Tebow was flushed out of the pocket to his right, his non-throwing side. While on the run, he spotted a wide open Stephen Hill some 35 yards downfield with no Giant within 15 yards of him. Tebow threw, but his pass was short and fell incomplete. Immediately after, Tebow made a frustrated gesture indicating that Hill should have come back to the ball, as most veteran receivers would if they saw their quarterback scrambling.
Perhaps that’s true, but most veteran quarterbacks would be able to flick a throw that distance with no problem. The difference between Tebow and most quarterbacks is that Tebow derives most of his throwing power from his full-body motion, which includes the arm catapult that Buttle insisted that Tebow had eliminated.
One reason people are skeptical about that Tebow can change his throwing motion is that he simply lacks the requisite “arm speed” to be able to make a strong throw without his entire arm and body doing so much work (think Aaron Rodgers, or even Mark Sanchez). Therefore, the whole idea that Tebow can somehow work himself into developing better throwing mechanics is fallacious. That’s no knock on him, either – only a select few people have enough arm speed to play quarterback in the N.F.L.
To illustrate this point, let’s switch sports to baseball. Think of Tebow as the typical “Quadruple-A” slugger whose strength enables him to hit 30 home runs a year in Triple A, but who can’t catch up to a big league fastball. Nobody would accuse that player of lacking strength, just like Tebow can throw deep bombs as well as anybody – there’s a lot of power there. But his bat-speed – or how fast his bat comes through the hitting zone – is what disqualifies him from being a big league slugger. Tebow detractors, including me, point to the speed at which his arm comes through the throwing zone as evidence that he’ll never be a good conventional N.F.L. quarterback.
More by this author:
- Gary Cohen, the anti-Michael Kay, also broadcasts during his time off
- Blue blood: The harsh logic behind the cutting of Bradshaw, Canty and Boley