Nine days. Nine days and we’re back to the regular-season football that we’ve been craving forever. This preseason was an eventful one — and even gave us a game that felt like it mattered — but now we’re back to games that count. Before the regular season starts, we need to ground ourselves and how we talk about rookie quarterbacks, and one fanbase shouldn’t even bother watching their team this year.
Rookie quarterbacks are probably going to struggle early, and that’s just fine
A year ago, C.J. Stroud had it relatively easy as far as football is concerned. Ohio State was far more talented than the vast majority of teams it faced, allowing Stroud to be the best version of himself — one that torched college football for two straight seasons en route to being the second overall pick. Stroud has the talent to become the Texans’ long-term quarterback, but the circumstances here have changed drastically for him. This isn’t college football anymore — Stroud hits the road to Baltimore to take on the Ravens for his first bit of real NFL action.
It was smart for the Texans to not waste time and just name Stroud the starting quarterback. Feeding Davis Mills to what may be the best defense in football this year isn’t changing anything for a team that’s rebuilding. Stroud is going to play against tough defenses regularly throughout his NFL career, so they might as well just get this thing going immediately. Make no mistake about it: This is one of the toughest tests that a rookie quarterback could feasibly draw in his first game, and he most likely will struggle against a defense that features established Pro Bowlers and ascending elite talent. That’s OK, though. Everyone needs to know that a bad outing in Week 1 is OK. Breathe now.
This is not breaking news in any way, but rookie quarterbacks tend to be bad. They really tend to be bad against good defenses. This defense stifled Joe Burrow and the Bengals’ offense in the wild-card round on the road before losing on a freak fumble return for a touchdown. Stroud and the new-look Texans offense is a matchup the Ravens should win. While Stroud is drawing the toughest opener of the rookie starting quarterbacks this season, all three of them will face battles that far surpass anything they endured last season in college.
Stroud, Bryce Young and Anthony Richardson will all go through these hurdles. Stroud just gets the first swing at a defense that’s ready to cave heads in. No one should be surprised if this goes poorly for him because that’s what history says happens to rookie quarterbacks against elite defenses. A little perspective ain’t hurt nobody. Give these guys the space to fail early on, because they will. It’s the most standard cycle of NFL quarterback development. Giving space for failures only makes the eventual heights of their rookie season that much more enjoyable to experience.
The Jets have built something terrifying on the defensive line
Gang Green might be more threatening than actual gangrene this season. The Jets have built an absolute monster on the defensive line, a unit that appears capable of taking over any offensive line with its pass rush and overall ability to drop a bomb on opposing quarterbacks. It seemed like no matter the offensive line, starters or backups, no one could block the Jets this preseason. It took years of building through the draft and timely free-agent additions to get to this point, but the Jets are preparing for a whole lot of crash landings in what is one of the most pivotal seasons in the history of the franchise.
Everything starts with Quinnen Williams, who belongs firmly in the "Not Aaron Donald But Still Elite" tier of defensive tackles. He earned a market-rate contract this season and has fully developed into the game-wrecker that made him a coveted prospect prior to the 2019 NFL Draft. He has the skill set to play in any scheme that’s featured across the league, but in this scheme he’s allowed to be the most destructive version of himself. Robert Saleh’s scheme emphasizes defensive linemen being able to get up the field and disrupt at the line of scrimmage, which plays into what the athletic 300-pounder does best. The Jets are deep up front, but the ripple effects of their chaos all start with the world destroyer in the middle.
Williams accentuates the talent of the rest of the group, which can already hold its own. The Jets’ edge depth is wild. Jermaine Johnson and Will McDonald are recent first-round picks the team is developing on the edge to become game-breakers in their own right. Bryce Huff might be the best pure pass rush specialist in the league even though he’s on the smaller side for defensive ends. Throw in John Franklin-Myers, Michael Clemons and Carl Lawson, and it’s easy to see why the Jets have given offensive lines so much trouble this preseason and will continue to do so in the regular season.
The defensive tackle room might not be as deep as the defensive end spots, but it still has some guys who play well within their specific roles. Al Woods and Quinton Jefferson are nice spells for Williams, but they have an interesting Swiss Army knife in Solomon Thomas that brings the entire unit together. Thomas is well-versed in just about all of the spots along the defensive line and brings competency with his versatility. Franklin-Myers also has the size to play inside, giving the Jets dependable players who can play up and down the line. It’s rare to have one chess piece defensive lineman who can hold up against the run, let alone two.
The Jets’ defensive line leads what should be one of the best defenses in football, if not the best. The presence of all of these guys will make life easier for All-Pro cornerback Sauce Gardner, who is already one of the elite cornerbacks in the game. The Jets have excellent players at every level of their defense, but it all starts up front. The plays they can make with their defensive line will only have a ripple effect for the entire unit, which should terrify opposing offenses.
Aaron Rodgers is the key for the Jets to get back to the playoffs, but the defensive line is going to play a major role in how far they ultimately get this season. Trench play enthusiasts, this is the team for you.
Cardinals fans should look elsewhere this season
The Cardinals sure seem like they're tanking this season. Feelings about tanking aside, this team is not putting forth a competitive roster. They spent free agency in the bargain bin, just filling out a roster without spending on any big, or even moderate, fish in the pool. Then, they traded down in the draft, collecting the Texans' first-round pick in the process. This is undoubtedly a team gearing up for 2024 and beyond, giving itself multiple options at quarterback whether it’s Kyler Murray, Caleb Williams, Drake Maye or someone else. Colt McCoy was just cut, leaving Josh Dobbs, who joined the team last week, or Clayton Tune, its fifth-round rookie quarterback, as the starting quarterback for Week 1. Everyone can see what’s happening here. No delusions of grandeur, not with this roster.
A message needs to be sent to Cardinals fans before everything kicks off: No one is forcing you to watch these games. You’re not a bad fan if you tap out of this season and watch the other teams that are actually trying to be competitive in 2023. Football seasons are scarce. The scarcity of football season itself is part of what makes the sport a year-round draw even when there are no games. We all know this is going to be a disaster. The plan is for it to be a disaster. That doesn’t mean you have to watch this. Give yourself a game or two just to feel out the new regime and see how they draw it up on gameday, but don’t get drawn into the entirety of the 2023 season. There’s nothing here by design.
NFL RedZone is going to be your friend here. Find the games that have top-tier quarterback play so you know what standard to hold the Cardinals to moving forward. Look for other top picks who aren’t playing on this team. Review this team in the offseason, don’t spend your precious Sundays on it. Find the games that have Patrick Mahomes in them. Look, the temptation to watch this team will be strong, but there’s so much great football out there that locking yourself into a team that’s rebuilding is a waste of a Sunday. Go explore the rest of the league in 2023 and come back to the Cardinals in 2024. Protect your mentals.
Trevor Lawrence has the perfect wide receiver for his talents
This is the year of the undesirables. The Jets are Super Bowl contenders for the first time in forever and the damn Jaguars have a quarterback-wide receiver duo that most teams would kill for. Jacksonville took a risk by trading for former Falcons wide receiver Calvin Ridley coming off of his gambling suspension, but the early returns are strong for the connection between Ridley and Trevor Lawrence.
Ridley, if he’s healthy and fully in football shape after roughly two years away from the game, is a legitimate top-10 wide receiver. When Julio Jones went down with an injury in 2020, Ridley performed like one of the best wide receivers in the game. He totaled 90 catches for 1,374 yards and nine touchdowns and had eight 100-yard games that season. Just off pure talent alone, Ridley is one of the best wide receivers in the game. Based on what Lawrence put together at the end of last season, it’s fair to be excited about what this duo can do together.
Lawrence and Ridley connected three times for 50 yards in the Jaguars’ preseason finale against the Dolphins. It wasn’t just the highly apparent skill level of the Jaguars’ new duo. They already had a nice rapport, too, showing off chemistry down the field on a couple big-time connections. With the rest of the AFC South in either a rebuild or re-tool mode, this is the moment for the Jaguars to take a leap and become the dominant team in the division. It’s fair to wonder about the rest of their roster, but Lawrence and Ridley are a legitimately exciting duo to track.
The Jaguar call for glory is upon us and hopefully, the Jaguars are able to create the environment for Lawrence and Ridley to be the best version of themselves for the upcoming season. If they can do that, the Jaguars might have a shot to get past the divisional round and into the AFC championship game again for the first time since the 2017 season. Lawrence opens up a new world for the Jaguars and Ridley’s presence should only accentuate how good No. 16 is.