SOMEWHERE IN NEW JERSEY – Covering football in New York when both teams are successful can be one of the most energizing media assignments around the league. Sitting in the MetLife Stadium press box on Christmas Eve 2010 when Victor Cruz rolled 99 yards for a touchdown felt like so much more than a highlight; it was a moment that changed the direction of two franchises, propelling the Giants to the Super Bowl and leading the Jets to the drawn-out, catastrophic end of the Rex Ryan era.
When both teams are bad, you just look forward to the New York Post headlines—“The Big Crapple,” anyone? I reached out to the Post and asked if there were any headlines that stuck out to them as perfectly emblematic of a bad spate of Jets and Giants football of late. They sent me: “Game of the Weak,” which was a November Sunday cover back in 2019 and featured Pat Shurmur and Adam Gase’s heads on the bodies of emaciated boxers. The subheadline: Giants and Jets ready to bumble at cat-cursed MetLife.
Man, 2019 was a simpler, more beautiful time. There was also a great back page from 1996 that had the headline “GRID SCHLOCK” (schlock, as I learned, means cheap or inferior goods or material; trash). There is also a subsection of that back page that refers to the Jets as “Kotite’s Klowns.”
There is still a tangible energy here when both teams are bad, just a more frantic and negative one. Losing in New York is hyper consequential. Someone is always to blame. Both Jets coach Adam Gase and Giants general manager Dave Gettleman have spent the season collectively fending off the angst of half a million angry New Yorkers. It can get macabre in a hurry.
So, we’re here to shine a light on the good.
What if we put together one New York football team out of the broken pieces of both 0–4 franchises? And, what if that franchise played the Giants’ 2020 schedule? We’ve assembled a group of experts to help us determine how the Gets (Jiants?) would do. [A friendly hat tip to Big Blue View, which I saw, shortly before publication of this piece, put together its own Jets and Giants All-Star team in late September.]
For the sake of this piece, here are the starting lineups I would trot out, based on an 11-personnel look on offense and a nickel front on defense. I think the exercise did give me a broader appreciation of Gettleman than I carried going into the writing. For example, the Giants’ defensive line is formidable, even if their offensive line needs work. They are 12th in run stop win rate, a respectable number even if the amount of draft capital and salary cap space they’ve thrown at the problem should have yielded a better result. Also, James Bradberry, who was drafted by Gettleman in his second-to-last year in Carolina and was signed to a three-year deal in free agency, is playing like one of the two best cornerbacks in football despite being paid like the seventh (in terms of his $14.5 million APY salary). Toss in Blake Martinez, who is also playing well and not making a ton of money relative to some of his peers, and there seems to be a foundation there, especially when considering we have Jets defensive tackle Quinnen Williams to throw into the mix on our combined team.
The problem is going to be on offense, and not just under center. If you combine the Jets’ and Giants’ offensive lines, only two players—Giants guard Will Hernandez (tied for sixth among guards at 75%) and Jets tackle Mekhi Becton (seventh among tackles in pass block win rate)—placed in the top 10 of either of ESPN’s pass block win rate or run block win rate rankings. The Jets and Giants are 29th and 30th, respectively, in pass block win rate. The Giants are 21st in run block win rate, while the Jets are 25th.
Which leads me to my second observation: The Jets are absolutely threadbare. This is not a professional roster at the moment, which, say what you will about Adam Gase, needs to be factored into any long-term evaluation of his coaching ability. The same can be said for general manager Joe Douglas, who has an incredible, Sisyphean journey ahead of him to remake this thing. Look at how many Jets would actually make this roster with a few generous stretches …
QB: Daniel Jones, Giants
RB: Devonta Freeman, Giants
TE: Kaden Smith, Giants
LT: Mekhi Becton, Jets
LG: Will Hernandez, Giants
C: Nick Gates, Giants
RG: Kevin Zeitler, Giants
RT: George Fant, Jets
WR: Jamison Crowder, Jets
WR: Darius Slayton, Giants
WR: Jeff Smith, Jets
DE: Dexter Lawrence, Giants
DT: Dalvin Tomlinson, Giants
DE: Quinnen Williams, Jets
DT: Steve McLendon, Jets
LB: Avery Williamson, Jets
LB: Blake Martinez, Giants
DB: James Bradberry, Giants
DB: Pierre Desir, Jets
DB: Bless Austin, Jets
S: Marcus Maye, Jets
S: Logan Ryan, Giants
To get a sense of how good this team might be, here is our roundtable of experts.
Jenny Vrentas, Sports Illustrated Senior Writer and former Jets and Giants beat reporter for The Star-Ledger:
I started with a modicum of optimism. Perhaps when put together, the end result would be ... intriguing? Alas, this exercise has deeply reinforced how flawed both of these teams' rosters are, which I imagine was the point. The defensive front seven is solid, but there are holes in pretty much every other position group. Going game by game, I wound up with three wins for this all-star unit: Chicago, Cincinnati and one of the two contests with Washington.
Brian Costello, Jets beat writer, New York Post
I’ll give them two wins over the Football Team, one over the Eagles and then throw in one more surprise win. I know the Jets’ roster much better than the Giants’ so three things jumped out at me. Are the Giants cornerbacks really that bad that Pierre Desir and Bless Austin made the team? And Jeff Smith gets the nod at wide receiver after one game? Yeesh. That is amazing. I would still pick Sam Darnold over Daniel Jones. They both have been bad this year but Darnold’s experience would be the tiebreaker for me.
Art Stapleton, Giants beat writer, The Record
Would this combo team fare much better than the actual Giants over the course of the season? Well, problem is the Jets are not particularly strong in the positions that could significantly improve the Giants. They have mirrored weaknesses. I’m not sure Becton has similar success against the defensive fronts Andrew Thomas has faced, and the wide receiver upgrade is minimal for Jones. Marcus Maye for Jabrill Peppers is a wash. Leonard Williams probably belongs, which is ironic. He’s played well. It’s a sad state of affairs when an “all-star” team doesn’t provide much of an upgrade, and this wouldn’t.
Gary Gramling, Senior Editor, Sports Illustrated
Looking at this roster, I can appreciate that even East Rutherford United will neither create pressure off the edges nor cover anyone (James Bradberry is fine, Marcus Maye is ... decent, Logan Ryan ... is versatile?). So they'll give up a million points; the question becomes whether they can protect Daniel Jones well enough to have a functional offense, and that line looks serviceable enough. In my timeline of the multiverse, I'm putting Evan Engram and Sterling Shepard on the field instead of the Smiths (Kaden and Jeff)—Slayton will stretch the field, and you’ve got two reliable underneath/intermediate route-runners and a chess piece in Engram. Give me Adam Gase running the offense with that personnel, and Patrick Graham running the defense, and we'll go 5-11.
Mitch Goldich, Writer/Editor, Sports Illustrated
I think this team is in some trouble. This is the NFL in 2020; an average defense doesn’t help you much. If you’re not great on D, you better be ready to outscore teams, and I’m not worried about this offense doing that at all. This team has below-average quarterback play (this year, at least) and weak weapons. Also, the Giants play in the NFC East but otherwise have a tough schedule. They play the AFC North and NFC West, which means a better-than-many-expected-so-far Bengals plus seven good teams. And they’ll still be underdogs against the Eagles and Cowboys twice. I like the comedy of two of America’s favorite punching bags, Adam Gase and Jason Garrett, taking turns running the offense. Maybe Joe Judge can have them doing old XFL-style coin tosses each quarter for control. That would be the highlight of a, let’s say, five-win season.
Albert Breer, Senior Writer, Sports Illustrated
Can I put Sam Darnold in? Also, can we put Golden Tate or Sterling Shepard in? Le'Veon Bell? If so, and assuming we can't heal Saquon Barkley or get C.J. Mosley to play, I'm thinking (self-appointed) Coach Breer can get this group to seven wins or so. Corner's a problem. I'm not sure we can rush the passer. And the skill positions, as GM Conor Orr has them laid out, are still an issue. Plus, I'm not sure some of the guys Orr ordered to the bench are going to take too kindly to it, so culture could be an issue, too. But the offensive line's O.K., the interior defensive line's O.K., and the quarterback (with good protection) is good enough to scratch out some wins. Especially with the kind of coaching they'll get in this scenario.
Unsatisfied with mere conjecture, we turned to the hard science. On Thursday night, I phoned 13-year-old Anthony Lucarelli, a Madden savant, who quickly fired up his Xbox and imported this roster into the game.
He had just one question: “Should I turn off injuries?”
Lucarelli faced a few hiccups. For example, Jeff Smith was not in his version of the game so we swapped in Golden Tate. He noted that “The Madden sim is so bad sometimes. The Bears or the Browns usually win the Super Bowl.”
Reservations aside, he plowed ahead and aligned the Gets defense so that all our personnel would be on the field at the same time. I had assumed this process would take hours, given that my last experience with Madden was back in 2014. He had the results to me within 30 minutes.
The result? 3–13. Take that, Breer.
So it goes. If you look on the bright side, the way these two teams are playing, one of them might end up in a position to draft Clemson star quarterback Trevor Lawrence in a few months. Maybe then combining the two rosters will be a little less gloomy.