3 Takeaways from Jets Preseason Opener
All eyes were on QB Christian Hackenberg in the Jets' 2017 preseason opener.
The New York Jets opened up the preseason on Saturday night with a home matchup against one of the darlings of the NFL offseason, the Tennessee Titans. In typical “Week 1 of the preseason” fashion, the teams combined to score just 10 points, as the Jets downed the Titans 7-3.
Veteran quarterback Josh McCown (3-for-4, 72 yards, 1 TD) engineered a 78-yard scoring drive for the first-team offense on the very first series of the game to produce the night’s lone touchdown. His 4-yard TD pass to second-year wideout Charone Peake marked the first time the Jets have scored a touchdown on the opening drive of the preseason since Chad Pennington was the quarterback in 2003.
Even with Pennington in attendance, it was all eyes on a different quarterback inside the stadium on Saturday night: Christian Hackenberg. The second-year signal caller out of Penn State hadn’t seen game action since last season’s preseason finale in Philadelphia. His performance highlights my biggest takeaways from the Jets’ victory:
Hope for Hackenberg-- After the McCown scoring drive and a subsequent defensive stop, the Jets gave Hackenberg the keys to the first-team car on their second offensive series. He remained under center until the final minute of the third quarter when he was replaced by third-stringer Bryce Petty. Hackenberg finished a respectable 18-for-25 for 127 yards, despite losing a fumble in the third quarter and also being on the wrong end of a few drops. Overall, it was a fine showing for the former Nittany Lion. He wasn’t asked to do too much--his longest completion went for 14 yards--but he showed more command of the offense and made better decisions than he has at certain times in practice, especially last week when his first-team reps were increased and he threw four interceptions. McCown is still the clear favorite to at least begin the season as the team’s starting quarterback, but Hackenberg looked comfortable and his development from this time last year was noticeable.
Defense is Fast and Could Surprise-- For whatever two stops of a Marcus Mariota-led offense is worth in the preseason, the Jets accomplished just that on Saturday. The defensive line is poised for a bounce back year after recording sacks on just five percent of opposing pass attempts last season (28th in NFL). It starts with third-year man Leonard Williams who looked like an absolute beast on his first quarter sack of Mariota. The defense recorded eight sacks in the game. Backup linebacker Julian Stanford (Wagner College) recorded one of those sacks and continues to impress. Fellow linebacker Demario Davis seems rejuvenated in his return to the organization, and the guys patrolling the secondary behind the likes of both he and Williams are just as explosive and exciting. Jamal Adams and Marcus Maye, the team’s first and second round picks in this year’s draft, both started at safety but weren’t tested much in limited action. However, Adams displayed his versatility by logging multiple snaps at free safety, strong safety, linebacker, and slot cornerback. Titans’ wide receiver and first round pick Corey Davis didn’t play in the opener, but forcing Mariota and the rest of Tennessee's starters to punt on back-to-back drives is still something to note for the Jets D. Cornerback Buster Skrine nearly intercepted Mariota on the second defensive stop. I get that it’s the preseason but this group has a quiet confidence about them. Two series wasn’t enough for the starting defense, so they opted to run sprints on the sideline during timeouts. It’s a good start.
Question Marks on Special Teams-- The kicking competition between Chandler Catanzaro and Ross Martin has been ongoing since the spring. Catanzaro, 26, spent the last three seasons kicking for the Arizona Cardinals. The 24 year-old Martin, a second-year boot out of Duke, lost last year’s competition to Nick Folk but is back and has looked good so far in camp. On Saturday, Catanzaro saw the first game action at the position and failed to capitalize. He converted his only extra-point attempt, but hooked a 55-yard field goal wide left in the second quarter. Martin looked good at times in practice last summer, but he was inconsistent in preseason game action. Look for him to get his shot next week in Detroit. Additionally, Lachlan Edwards is the only punter on the roster and one of his punts traveled a whopping...14 yards...on Saturday. It was a fluke punt, but a setback nonetheless for a guy who is trying to rebound from a disappointing rookie season.
The End Zone: If you didn’t see the awesome video of Titans’ QB Marcus Mariota greeting a fan and his family in the tunnel prior to Saturday’s game, check it out here.