The Philadelphia Eagles are set to play their most meaningless of meaningless preseason games on Thursday night against the New York Jets. This game doesn’t really need a preview, because who cares, but here we are doing one anyway.
I reached out to our SB Nation associates over at Gang Green Nation in order to preview this week’s contest. The marvelous Michael Nania kindly took the time to answer my questions about the upcoming game. Let’s take a look at the answers. Also don’t forget to check out my Q&A exchange over at GGN.
1 - How do you think the Jets’ QB situation WILL play out this season? And how do you THINK it should play out?
I think Sam Darnold has proved enough through three games to show that he deserves to start Week 1 - and it’s the worst kept secret in the organization that he is going to be the choice announced by Todd Bowles whenever he decides to come out with it.
The Todd Bowles Jets have this odd reputation of veteran-favoring, but that simply is not Bowles’ M-O. He has done a good job since he was hired of balancing veterans and young players throughout the roster, playing players according to their performance on the practice and game fields rather than leaning towards either a win-now or win-later mentality. Last year, Todd Bowles sat Josh McCown for the majority of the preseason, just like he did this year. Bryce Petty and Christian Hackenberg were given every shot to seize the starting job - but neither took advantage.
Sam Darnold did not let the opportunity slip the way those two did. With a young quarterback on a team that truly is still rebuilding, you simply want him to show enough to the point where you can trust the entire roster can still compete and develop under his leadership. Will he struggle at times this year? Of course, perhaps more often than not. Rookie quarterbacks have historically produced very poorly, even at the start of careers that turned out to be great (Peyton Manning, Andrew Luck, etc.) When highly-invested young quarterbacks are benched from the start, it is mainly for one of three reasons.
A - The team has a proven good player in the starting role that will allow the team to seriously compete in the present (Alex Smith over Pat Mahomes, Drew Brees over Philip Rivers, Brett Favre over Aaron Rodgers)
B - The player needs time to make the mechanical and/or mental progression necessary to become a passable player that an offense can operate under (Jared Goff)
C - The player just stinks and is being hidden before his struggles can be revealed on the stage (Christian Hackenberg, JaMarcus Russell)
Darnold is ready. There are plenty of things he can still iron out - he’s 21 years old, after all - but he is mentally ready to lead an NFL offense and allow his team to progress without holding them back through ineptitude, all while getting his own career started off by facing the challenges he will need to master as quick as possible. Teddy Bridgewater has competed well and done a ton for the future prospects of his career, but his future value to the Jets lies in the draft selection he will eventually yield to them. It’s Darnold’s team - as it should be.
2 - I’ve often said that Sam Darnold should be the most favorite non-Eagles QB for Eagles fans to root for. Darnold being a big success while the Giants fail to find an adequate Eli Manning replacement would be fantastic. The Giants’ big mistake would regularly be on display in their own (shared) stadium. Do Jets fans feel a similar disdain for the Giants? Can Eagles fans and Jets fans bond over Darnold?
The Giants hate is mixed. Some fans can’t stand the team. Some fans don’t mind them simply because the teams are in opposite conferences. I think most hate stems from the opposing fans more than the team itself - since Jets fans and Giants fans obviously share a market. The typically hard-nosed, true-and-tired Jets fan can tend to be angered by the large number of spoiled Giants fans they are exposed to. While the fan disparity may not be as large, it’s similar to the Yankees/Mets connection - though those teams do play for real more often.
Let’s do it. We’re both green. We both fly. We’re only about 2 hours apart. We both loathe the Giants. You guys did what the Falcons couldn’t and took out the Pats. It’s a perfect match! Sure, Darnold can be your guy and we can be your AFC team!
[BLG Note: It also helps that BGN and GGN have similar names/abbreviations.]
3 - On a scale of 1-10 (10 being the most), how confident are you that Christian Hackenberg can even be a solid backup in the NFL? My theory is that the Eagles are trying to stash him on their practice squad in 2018 and see if they can develop him so that he can compete for a roster spot in the 2019 offseason.
I’d say a 1.5. Hackenberg was a bust among all busts for a franchise that has had plenty of them. The team did not let him even come remotely close to the field while opting to go with Bryce Petty - who at the moment is one of the very few worst quarterbacks of all time statistically. In the preseason, playing mostly against 3rd stringers in the third and fourth quarters, Hackenberg struggled to produce any sort of offense and was far outproduced by Petty. You might remember a disastrous outing in Philadelphia against the Eagles.
Hackenberg has awful mechanics and accuracy that disallow him to complete even routine throws. His touch and anticipation are nonexistent. I give him a 0.5 because at the least, he does have experience dealing with adversity and playing in pro-style offense that asked a lot of him pre-snap at Penn State. However, anybody can stand back there and run an offense. Not everybody can stand back there and make the throws necessary for the offense to actually work.
I doubt Christian Hackenberg ever takes a regular season snap.
4 - Which Jets players are you “most excited” to see in this year’s preseason finale?
Rookie tight end Chris Herndon out of Miami, who has flashed all throughout camp, debuted against the Giants and showed out with a couple of nice blocks but did not register a catch as he dropped his only target. I’m excited to see more of him.
Defensively, I’m looking at undrafted free agent outside linebacker Frankie Luvu out of Washington State. At 21 (22 in a few weeks), Luvu is by far the youngest outside linebacker/edge defender on the roster. With the edge being without a doubt the weakest link on the defense, Luvu could easily make a play for a roster spot with the edge (pun intended) he has with his young age. He registered a sack last week. If he can make some more plays against the Eagles, he can all but lock up a roster spot. This position group could use all of the help it can get.
5 - Last year at this time, I asked you about your confidence level in former Eagles defensive coordinator and NYJ head coach Todd Bowles. How has that changed since then, if at all?
I knocked Bowles a bit for his game management. I’m not sure those issues have gone away, as there were still some issues with decision-making this season in terms of aggressiveness in certain situations. One example fans love to point to when criticizing Bowles was his decision to punt on a 4th & short late in a game at Denver in which the Jets were being shut out, but still had a remote chance of victory. Fans have claimed it as a sign of complete lack of faith in the offense.
Another note I talked about on Bowles was his ability to develop on defense. On that front, there were some positive signs. Rookie safeties Jamal Adams and Marcus Maye were imperfect, but played every snap and overall were major upgrades at the position compared to 2016.
Inside linebacker Demario Davis, a Jet from 2012-2015, was re-acquired prior to the season in exchange for safety Calvin Pryor, who is already out of the league. Many fans looked at the trade as a swapping of trash - Davis had struggled to develop in his first Jets tenure. However, in his return season under Bowles, Davis finally found his stride at age 28 and became a very productive every-down strongside linebacker. Once a sieve in coverage, Bowles simplified Davis’ role, limiting his 1-on-1 matchups, and Davis thrived covering the flats in addition to providing his already elite run defense. Davis is on to New Orleans, and former Titan Avery Williamson was signed to take his place. Possessing a similar skillset but aged three years younger, it will be interesting to see if Bowles can work the same magic with Williamson.
Overall, I still think Bowles is just one of many middling coaches who doesn’t necessarily give his team a major boost like a Bill Belichick, Kyle Shanahan, or Sean McVay, but isn’t a joke like a Hue Jackson or the like. Bowles has done a tremendous job cleaning out bad locker room presences and revitalizing the vibe around the team, creating a positive culture that the team has not had since the early Rex Ryan days - but without the bravado. A lot of veterans have come in and experienced career years under Bowles (Marshall, Fitzpatrick, Decker, James Carpenter, Kelvin Beachum, Demario Davis, Jermaine Kearse, Morris Claiborne). He also has done a great job avoiding favoring of either veterans or rookies.
Bowles does need to prove that he can develop young talent on both sides of the ball - most importantly, Sam Darnold. The drafting has been poor in recent seasons, but Bowles still needs to do his part and show he can build an environment in which young players continuously emerge and thrive as they become longterm contributors. Leonard Williams, a gift at #6 in 2015, is perhaps the only surefire longterm plus starter the team has drafted since Bowles took over. Is that the fault of general manager Mike Maccagnan for bringing in lackluster talent, or the fault of Bowles for failing to develop what he has been given? The answer can never been clear, but it is Bowles’ job to develop the men in the building.
His game management, while spotty, is something that many coaches are considered to “struggle” with until their team is simply talented enough to win games. The Jets have more talent this year than they did last - but are not quite good enough to be playoffs-or-bust just yet. With Darnold around, Bowles likely is safe into 2019 as long as things don’t go completely haywire this year. Regardless, the time has never been better for Bowles to prove he is capable of leading this organization to sustained success.