With the regular season only a few weeks away, all of these little preseason games are starting to become noticeably more meaningful.
The New York Jets and Carolina Panthers head into this outing seemingly going in completely opposite directions. Whereas Carolina has looked very strong on offense up to now, New York has been a complete and total disaster on that side of the ball. Currently, Mark Sanchez and Co. are the only team in the entire NFL to not record a single offensive touchdown.
Is it time to panic? Not yet. But it will be soon enough if things don't change.
This is a big game for all involved. Here are three things to keep an eye on from each team:
New York Jets
1. How does Mark Sanchez look? Obviously this preseason hasn’t been particularly kind to the Jets’ starting quarterback, but he’s not entirely to blame for that. The offensive line is porous. The wide receivers are terrible. The play-calling has been iffy. And that’s to say nothing of the time that’s being spent in practice working on a style that’s completely and totally not conducive to the way Sanchez has gotten used to conducting himself on the field.
Up to now, Sanchez has racked up 80 yards and no touchdowns on 13-of-17 passing. His interception last week versus the New York Giants, a pass that picked off by rookie Jayron Hosley, likely didn’t win Jets fans' second favorite quarterback any new supporters. That said, this is the preseason, and preseason is the time to shake rust off. If Sanchez can bounce back today, all past sins will be forgotten. But he needs to bounce back tonight.
2. Can Santonio Holmes make an impact? Again, New York’s wide receivers have done their quarterbacks no favors so far in the preseason. Holmes’ return won’t solve the o-line problems (hopefully Austin Howard will do that), but hopefully he’ll at least be a threat downfield that a.) needs to be accounted for, and b.) can actually catch what Sanchez is able to put up.
Aside from Stephen Hill, can anyone even name another Jets wide receiver?
3. Can Tim Tebow steal the show? Up to this point, the Jets’ most high-profile offseason acquisition has been a non-factor. During a series of preseason games where Sanchez has been uninspiring (to say the least), Tebow has somehow managed to be even worse.
So far, he’s racked up nine completions on 22 passes for no touchdowns. Same thing that goes for Sanchez goes for Tebow too, though – if he shines tonight, the hype machine will explode and all his past troubles will be completely and totally forgotten.
1. Can Cam Newton keep this run going? Heading into this season there were two popular opinions on how Newton would fare in 2012-13. One group thought that he would inevitably experience a sophomore slump and regress from what he showed last year. The other, less cynical group maintained that Newton was on the verge of becoming elite, and that he’d take another step forward towards achieving that status this season. So far, the second group looks like it's going to end up being right.
Newton has been excellent up to this point and, in last week’s game versus the Miami Dolphins. he racked up 119 yards and a score on eight-of-11 passing. If Newton can perform well today, he’s going to ride a big wave of momentum into the coming season.
2. Can the Panthers’ defense irk the Jets’ offensive line? New York’s protection has been terrible thus far in the preseason, and Carolina definitely has the pieces to make today a very miserable day for Mark Sanchez/Tim Tebow and Co. If Charles Johnson and Greg Hardy can have big nights, it would not at all be surprising to see the Jets not score an offensive touchdown in this one as well.
3. How does Thomas Davis look? Nobody is expecting Davis to be the best player on the field tonight – just seeing him on the field will suffice. After he tore his ACL last September for the third time, there were a lot of people who wondered if he would ever make it back to this point. He has. Now he just needs to stay healthy, perform, and hopefully carve out a little niche for himself on this very legit defensive unit.