On Sunday, the Bengals will face their first opponent of the 2016 season as they take on the New York Jets. After an offseason dominated by irritating quarterback-related headlines (sound familiar, Bengals fans?), the Jets seem eager to take the field in Week 1. New York boasts a stout run defense, headlined by Muhammad Wilkerson and Leonard Williams, as well as a solid wide receiver corps led by Brandon Marshall and Eric Decker. The matchup between A.J. Green and Jets corner Darrelle Revis looks exciting as well. Let’s get to our questions with Gang Green Nation’s MacGregor Wells on this week’s matchup!
Connor Howe: The Jets have placed starting right tackle Breno Giacomini on the PUP list. What has the position battle looked like, and has Todd Bowles named a starter yet? How are you feeling about the position considering Carlos Dunlap (13.5 sacks last season) will be the starter's first opponent of the season?
Smackdad: The battle for starting right tackle has been a dead heat between Ben Ijalana and Brent Qvale. The average fan has probably never heard of these guys, and for good reason. Ijalana was originally drafted in the second round by the Indianapolis Colts in 2011. He has bounced around without ever challenging for a starting role. Qvale was signed by the Jets as an undrafted free agent in 2014, and was viewed more as a guard than a tackle prior to the 2016 season. Neither has been terrible in the preseason, and neither has been terribly good in my opinion, although Pro Football Focus rated Qvale as one of the top tackles in the 2016 preseason, for whatever that's worth. It is a concern that neither has been able to stake his claim to the position. It is a concern that neither projects as more than a journeyman, hold the fort type guy. It is a huge concern that whichever one starts (and it could be both -- head coach Todd Bowles is toying with the idea of some sort of platoon at right tackle) will be facing Dunlap right out of the gate. It is probably a good assumption that the Jets' tight ends will be doing quite a bit of blocking work helping out the right tackle in this game.
CH: The Ryan Fitzpatrick contract negotiation dominated offseason headlines, but now that he's back, the national media has put that situation in the rearview. Do you think Fitzpatrick's extended offseason absence will have an impact on his early-season performance?
SD: Short answer: No. Long answer: No. Fitzpatrick got to camp in time for the first practice. He missed zero time in training camp. Most of the offensive players are returning from last year, the offensive coordinator returns and worked with Fitzpatrick for several years in Buffalo previously. The scheme is the same. There is no reason Fitzpatrick shouldn't hit the ground running. There should not be any negative effect for Fitzpatrick and the Jets offense from the protracted contract negotiations. On the other hand, there should be some concern that Fitzpatrick will struggle early on, due to the brutal early schedule filled with top defenses. Fitzpatrick and the Jets faced one of the easiest schedules in the NFL last year. This year the first six games for the Jets may well be the toughest of any in the NFL. Fitzpatrick has struggled against top defenses like the Bengals usually field. This game could be a difficult one for Fitzpatrick and the Jets offense, but because of the level of competition, not because of the contract negotiations.
CH: New York just parted ways with 2014 second-rounder Jace Amaro and third-rounder Dexter McDougle, as well as 2013 first-rounder Dee Milliner. What are fans’ thoughts on this? Will the Jets miss any of these players, considering guys like Kellen Davis and Juston Burris will likely see extensive playing time this year?
SD: Most Jets fans are not really puzzled or frustrated about cutting McDougle or Milliner. They are both viewed as failed draft choices who not only could not stay healthy, but also could not perform at an adequate level when they did see the field. For most Jets fans with those two, the primary feeling is good luck and good riddance. Amaro is a bit different. Many Jets fans feel the Jets gave up on him too soon. He too struggled to stay healthy and struggled with his play. Amaro had a decent rookie year followed by a year on injured reserve. 2016 was seen as a make or break year for Jace. But he struggled badly in the preseason and head coach Todd Bowles never seemed to warm up to him. Part of his problems with Bowles may have stemmed from his indifferent blocking efforts. With the right side of the Jets offensive line shaky the Jets seem to want their tight ends to be good blockers first and foremost. Amaro didn't fit the mold and was given the boot. Many Jets fans feel he still has a good chance to succeed as a move tight end, and were frustrated he won't get that chance with the Jets. Time will tell whether the Jets made the right move or gave up on Amaro too soon.
CH: Despite parting ways with a few guys, the Jets still look very similar to the team they were last year. What do you think the ceiling is for New York?
SD: The ceiling for the Jets will depend largely on how the following things play out. Is there anyone who can competently man the second outside cornerback position opposite Revis? Right now we don't know. If anyone emerges as a solid cover guy opposite Revis it will be very difficult to pass on the Jets. How will the outside linebackers do? The entire depth chart at outside linebacker consists of players who have never had a full time role in the NFL. If rookie Jordan Jenkins can grow up fast and second year man Lorenzo Mauldin can transition well from a pass rush specialist to a full time player then the front seven of the Jets can be elite. If those guys struggle and their equally inexperienced backups do no better, then edge rushing and setting the edge against the run could be a sore spot all year.
On offense Matt Forte has to stay healthy and productive as he enters his declining years. In addition, the Jets could use a third productive option at wide receiver. If Quincy Enunwa builds on the last half of last year or one of the three rookie wide receivers steps up the Jets could have a formidable set of weapons for Ryan Fitzpatrick. If most of those things break right for the Jets and Fitzpatrick doesn't regress the Jets might make a deep playoff run. More likely several of those things don't pan out and the Jets are a fringe playoff contender struggling for a Wild Card spot against a much tougher schedule in 2016.
CH: How are the Jets looking on the injury front? Are there any starters other than Giacomini who could miss, or be limited in, Week 1?
SD: The Jets emerged from the preseason relatively unscathed. Breno Giacomini is out for at least six weeks but he wasn't very good anyway and the level of play at right tackle may not suffer in his absence. Inside linebacker David Harris and outside linebacker Jordan Jenkins are a bit dinged up and are currently questionable for the game on Sunday. Sheldon Richardson is serving a one game suspension and will miss Sunday's game. All other significant players are good to go.