Every time we talk about the preseason, it comes with a caveat: It’s only the preseason. It doesn’t really count.
Teams aren’t using their best game plans, stars only play a few plays and the models of evaluation are different. For teams, the focus shifts from, “Can this player thrive in our scheme?” to “Can he win 1-on-1 battles?“
The best performances (hello, Julio Jones) and the worst (ouch, Kevin Kolb) should be taken with a pound of salt. This was all reinforced Friday night quite nicely during the New York Jets’ 17-6 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals.
As the New York Post pointed out, Cincinnati coach Marvin Lewis called Jets coach Rex Ryan and asked him not to run the Wildcat. And so, Ryan didn’t. The Jets’ not-so-secret weapon, one that will feature that Tim Tebow guy, remained in the holster.
And Tebow finished a fairly ugly night, completing four of eight pass attempts for 27 yards and a pick to go with 34 rushing yards. He did not play one snap in the system he’ll be utilized in most of this season. The single wing remained on the shelf.
So … what can we take from this?
Well, that we, the observers, are judging things differently from the coaches. We look at stats and big plays and drops and make our evaluations. Coaches don’t watch preseason games and make decisions on those performances.
Tebow threw a pick into the arms of Bengals LB Vontaze Burfict. How much does that matter? It matters only if it’s indicative of what he’s been showing in practice. If the pick was an anomaly, it doesn’t mean much.
Minnesota Vikings QB Christian Ponder, for instance, had a bad stats day. Yet, as this breakdown on ProFootballTalk.com explains, he actually played much better. Denver Broncos QB Peyton Manning had a completion go through the arms of a linebacker, which inflated his stats. It’s important to go deeper when trying to gauge how effective both signal-callers were.
Anyway, my point is, don’t just look at preseason games and try to decide whether a guy should or shouldn’t make the roster. I don’t think coaches do. I know personnel people don’t. I was originally surprised when, after I asked Kansas City Chiefs coach Romeo Crennel how he’ll value his team’s joint practice, he said he’ll lump it in with all the rest. I think that’s essentially how teams use preseason games. They’re one way to tell if a guy is progressing and listening when the lights are on, but they’re not close to the only way.
If the Jets plan to use Tebow in the Wildcat — and they didn’t get to on Friday — how meaningful were his snaps, anyway? Barring an injury to Sanchez, Tebow might not take any snaps in the regular offense this season. So basically, who cares how he did?
On the other side, if a defense gives up a ton of yards, some fans always freak out. But maybe they shouldn’t. If opponents ask offenses to scale back, defenses are likely asked to do so, too. Think about it. There’s no chance a team is even going to show its disguises or complex coverages or creative blitzes to the world. So how much does the product that is put on the field mean?
In my mind, this just makes every practice performance that much more important. In my mind, practice > preseason games. I figure it makes sense for coaches to judge their teams based on that equation.
That’s what the Jets-Bengals game made me consider. Food for thought…