On HBO Sports’ HARD KNOCKS, we hear a plethora of pre-season speeches by coaches, hoping to unlock the full potential of their players. No matter the choice of words or the skills of the orator, the fate of the team’s season record lies in the skills of its talent. Nevertheless, this season of HBO’s legendary gridiron series opens with a parable about crows and eagles. New York Jets head coach Robert Saleh says that the crow is the only bird that will attack an eagle. The crow attacks the Eagle with a stealth approach from above, for the former is too powerful of a foe to engage head-on. How does the eagle overcome this? By taking the crow to an altitude so high that the crow suffocates. Coach Saleh tells his Jets squad that every team on their schedule for this season are crows.
The New York Jets were a highly anticipated entry into the nearly two-decade run of HARD KNOCKS. Their 2022 season started with a respectable 7-4 record. Then the franchise went into near-total collapse. The Jets lost their remaining six games and failed to score a touchdown in three of the final games. 2022 marked the 12th consecutive year that the team did not make the playoffs. 2021 number two draft pick Zach Wilson has immensely struggled in the quarterback role. His rookie season and sophomore NFL years have placed the young athlete in a position of vying for a backup quarterback position. Who now has the offensive reigns? As we well know, future hall-of-famer Aaron Rodgers holds the spot.
Rodgers was once a backup quarterback to hall-of-Famer Brett Favre. After the latter retired, he was instrumental in continuing the Green Bay Packer’s storied franchise history of winning seasons and playoff appearances, even winning Super Bowl XLV against the Pittsburgh Steelers. Rodger’s later career has thrived, however, aging and declining line pass protection has taken a heavy toll on the ace QB. In the first game of the 2023 preseason, Rodgers was only on the sidelines. In a close contest against the Cleveland Browns, Zach Wilson threw five passes that put the Jets in field goal range twice, culminating in a few points on the board. Ultimately the team fell a few points short against the Browns.
Going into this season, Rodgers was the central attraction for HARD KNOCKS. His presence was to be the main talking point of episode one. Or so I thought. Thus far, this season’s highlight is narrator Liev Schreiber. Certainly, his narration is always something to anticipate, but here he breaks the fourth wall. At the mid-point of the episode, we hear Schreiber use the word “I”. Shortly afterward, a helicopter lands and the man himself steps unto the Jets’ practice field. As many Jets players ask “Who the hell is that guy”, Rodgers informs the inquiring minds to go speak to the “voice of God”. For the first time in HBO Sports and NFL Films history, the players are able to meet the narrator of the series, while the series is being filmed. Top-tier innovation from the world’s gold-standard premium cable network.
The 2023 WGA and SAG strikes have seemingly not affected HARD KNOCKS. We at HBOWatch are not sure if this series’ status as a docuseries allows it exemption from guild rules, or if NFL Films’ status as a journalistic outlet allows exemption from the guidelines of the ongoing strikes. Regardless, we are fortunate to receive new programming during these uncertain times. COVID and Guild Strikes have yet to curtail the production of HARD KNOCKS. Will the New York Jets have the same level of resilience? HARD KNOCKS will return Tuesdays at 10 PM ET on HBO. HBOWatch will cover the next several episodes in one post, finishing the series with an analysis of the series finale. Stick with us, fans!