FOOTBALL IS BACK!! The Hall of Fame game is the official start to the NFL preseason. The New York Jets will face the Cleveland Browns on Thursday night in Canton, Ohio at the Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium — outside the Pro Football Hall of Fame. NFL fans get to watch live football action a couple of days before the Annual Hall of Fame enshrinement ceremony on Saturday, August 5.
Typically, starters do not play in the Hall of Fame game. So, unfortunately, we will not yet get to see Aaron Rodgers suit up for the first time with his new team or observe if Deshaun Watson has improved from last season. However, Zach Wilson will be starting for the Jets, which should be entertaining. Maybe he can prove that a summer spent with Aaron Rodgers has taught him how to play quarterback ... or maybe he will still be terrible — either scenario will be fun.
Though the Steelers aren’t playing in Thursday’s Hall of Fame game, it will be an opportunity to scope out Pittsburgh’s AFC North competitor. Here’s how to watch and what to watch for as the Jets vs. Browns go head to head in the 2023 NFL Hall of Fame Game.
How to watch Jets vs. Browns
Date: Thursday, August 3
Start time: 8 p.m. ET
TV channel: NBC, NFL+
Game odds: Jets -1.5, O/U 33.5 points
What Steelers fans are watching for
Browns’ running back depth behind Nick Chubb
Nick Chubb has always had a veteran counterpart in the backfield to help take some of the workload off his shoulders throughout the long, tiring NFL season — Carlos Hyde in 2018 and Kareem Hunt from 2019-2022. The Browns are taking a different approach this year as none of the running backs behind Chubb have more than 35 career carries in the NFL.
Second-year RB Jerome Ford has been getting a lot of love this summer from Browns’ coaches. Can he perform well in the preseason and earn himself more snaps in 2023? Or will Demetric Felton Jr. or John Kelly Jr. shine in the preseason to prove they’re worthy of a roster spot? Nick Chubb can’t do it all. One of these guys will need to step up and help in the running game to keep Chubb healthy and refreshed all year long.
Browns’ young wide receiver additions
Aftering trading for Elijah Moore and selecting Cedric Tillman in the 3rd round of the 2023 NFL Draft, the Browns may have a stacked wide receiver room for Deshaun Watson to lean on this season. It is unclear how many snaps either of these two will play in the Hall of Fame game (if at all), but it would be great to get to see how they plan to use these two young weapons in a real-game scenario.
Jim Schwartz’s aggressiveness as defensive play-caller
The Browns’ defense was less than inspiring over the last three seasons under coordinator Joe Woods — they ranked 20th in points per game allowed during that span. Last season, the team really struggled to create pressure on opposing quarterbacks, recording just 34 sacks and 152 QB pressures in 2022 (both were tied for fifth fewest in the NFL, per Next Gen Stats).
After firing Woods following the 2022 season, the team hired Jim Schwartz as their new defensive coordinator. Schwartz was last a defensive coordinator with the Philadelphia Eagles from 2016-2020. Per Next Gen Stats, the Eagles led the NFL in QB pressure rate from 2016-2020 under Schwartz — notably, his squad consistently excelled at creating pressure without blitzing. Even though it's likely that many of the Browns’ starting edge rushers will be on the sidelines during the Hall of Fame game, it will be interesting to see what Schwartz can get out of his backups and possible role players.
NFL’s new kicking rule
This will be the first time NFL teams and kick returners get to experiment with the new kicking rule that was passed early this year. To try to reduce the number of injuries on kickoffs, the NFL is now allowing returners to fair catch the ball during any kickoff in which the ball travels behind the receiving team’s 25-yard line. The team would then automatically receive the ball at the 25-yard line in this situation. However, the returner is still allowed to actually “return” the kick and gain more yards if he so chooses. Coaches and players will need to figure out the best strategy for their squad as the preseason and regular season progresses. It will be interesting to see how the first two teams decide to practice this new rule.