Breaking Down the Jets vs the Broncos
Jets Defense vs. Broncos Offense
The Broncos will bring one of the more unique offensive philosophies in the NFL to the game. With a poor offensive line and an injury to starting RB Knowshon Moreno the Broncos have essentially abandoned the run, averaging only 15 runs a game the last three weeks at a paltry 1.8 yards per attempt. The team has turned to QB Kyle Orton to carry the offense in that time by having him pass for an average of 48 times per game. To say Orton is having a career season would be the understatement of the year. Orton, best known as the caretaker for the Bears where he barely threw the football, has already amassed over 1,700 yards passing and is on pace for a record breaking 5,500 yard season. Orton has more big plays than any other QB in the league and is very accurate and safe with the football despite the high amount of attempts. Orton does an excellent job of spreading the ball around and using all of his weapons. His top target is the athletic WR Brandon Lloyd who is finally looking to reach the potential so many predicted for him over 7 years ago when he was in San Francisco. Lloyd is a bigtime downfield threat that seems to have at least one big 40 yard reception every week. WR Eddie Royal does a good job in the slot and has the potential for big games, but also the potential to be invisible in the offense. He has great hands and is relishing the chance to play the “Wes Welker” role in the offense but can also be muscled out of games. WR Jabar Gaffney is the other target and while he does not have any physical skills that stand out, he is a capable veteran that is playing well in the offensive system. Orton gets almost no help from his offensive line, specifically the interior of the line where C JD Walton is a rookie and G Stanley Daniels is a Jets practice squad castoff from years past. LT Ryan Clady is having trouble with rushers having already allowed more than 3 sacks and 2 penalties. The team has struggled with blitzes and has a hard time picking up movement before the snap, resorting to holding penalties to keep the QB safe. Despite the gaudy passing stats the big weakness of Denver is scoring the football, where they are just an average club. The poor line play and lack of running game has hurt the red zone offense. The offense is designed to use the whole field and as it shortens the offense is no longer a well oiled machine and sputters. In the last three games Denver has moved into the red zone 12 times and come away with only two touchdowns and five field goals.
The staff could not have been thrilled with the defense who let a struggling offense come back on the Jets for the second time in the last three games. When you evaluate the defense as a whole for 60 minutes they are clearly not nearly as dominant as they were last season. However, last years team rarely made a critical stop late in the game which was the reason why the Jets barely squeaked into the playoffs. This years team is making those stops and that is the more important thing. The front 7 has been nothing short of spectacular. NT Sione Pouha, DE Mike DeVito, and DE Shaun Ellis probably make up the most underrated line in the NFL. They may not have the name value that other teams have, but they are playing extremely well up front. Lb's Bart Scott and David Harris are both having excellent years with Harris coming off a very strong game where he was the primary contain on RB Adrian Peterson. The problems are really coming from the secondary which is missing the superstar level play of CB Darrelle Revis and seems to be having communication problems which lead to big plays. CB Antonio Cromartie has been an excellent addition to the team, but is being thrown on at an alarming pace because he is getting little help and does not have the reputation of a Revis. No matter how good he plays that is not going to change unless there is someone in the area to start picking off passes that Cromartie deflects. The secondary coverage is a major issue. Revis suited up last week and had his worst game ever as a pro. He is either struggling with a hamstring injury or has something else wrong as he looked every bit as bad as a undrafted free agent struggling to make a team. Rookie CB Kyle Wilson has had a terrible time adjusting to the speed of the game and looks to have moved way down the depth chart behind corners Drew Coleman and Dwight Lowery. Team are exploiting the size of S Jim Leonhard as well.
The Jets are going to have a number of decisions to make this week in regards to how they play defense. They can either load up the field with defensive backs and primarily play dime the whole game or they can use their base defensive package and load up with pass rushers and go after Kyle Orton. Seeing how the Jets played Randy Moss last week, it is likely that Cromartie will be matched up solo on Lloyd for the entire game. Lloyd is not nearly the route runner Moss is and is nowhere near as big as Moss either which should give Cromartie a sizeable advantage. The only negative with that philosophy is that if Lloyd does break free he is going to be gone for a TD and those big plays are the only way for Denver to score the football. The bigger question is what do the Jets do with Royal and Gaffney. If Revis is healthy enough to play he will probably get the Royal assignment in the slot since he should have the speed to keep up with him. If he can not play look for Coleman to get that job. The Jets have to make sure to contain Royal after the reception, something they did not do with Percy Harvin last week. The fear the Jets will have is if they are forced to put Wilson the veteran Gaffney. Right now those type of players know too many tricks to get penalties called on the youngster or to simply shake free for a small gain. Denver lost their 4th WR to injury and the tight end and running back position is often needed to help block so that should help the Jets be able to give more help to those corners this week. The Jets will try to confuse Denver with some of the pass rush schemes and have been doing a great job with corner and safety blitzes these last few weeks. This could be the type of game where you a James Ihedigbo get some bigger playing time and be used to rush Orton. The two areas of the field where the Jets will likely be loading up with the blitz are inside the 20's. Denver is a mentally fragile team and has been accused of not being able to stand up to get up from a beating. Backing a team up inside their own 20 gives a mental edge to the Jets as does knocking the team around in the red zone. The lack of red zone success is clearly in the head of the Broncos and that is the place where a few well timed QB pressures can change the outcome of the game.
Jets Offense vs Broncos Defense
Denver's defense was dealt a devastating blow before the season when they lost pass rushing LB Elvis Dumervil for the year. Dumervil had 17 sacks last season and was the only pass rusher the team had. The team total is only 5 on the year and they are one of the worst teams in the NFL at pressuring the QB. The lack of a pass rush will only be worse this game with the loss of OLB Robert Ayers to a broken foot and nobody to step into his place. The team will hope Jarvis Moss can show some life with more chances this week. The pass defense has been adequate and relies heavily on CB Champ Bailey and S Brian Dawkins. Bailey, playing for a new contract, has looked excellent this season and has done a remarkable job against some top flight receivers this year. Dawkins, who is an all around presence, is out for the game as is his backup leaving the Broncos with a complete unknown at the position. Injuries have forced rookie CB Perrish Cox into the starting lineup and, like the Jets Kyle Wilson, he is struggling in covering veteran receivers who run routes Cox simply does not understand. The run defense has been something of a disaster this year as it has been feast or famine for the unit. A week after shutting down the Titans Chris Johnson they were run over by Ray Rice and the Baltimore Ravens. The Broncos run defense is strongest in the middle where the huge veteran NT Jamal Williams and ILB DJ Williams reside. The outsides are where the team has the biggest problems as the teams starting defensive ends, Keith Vickerson and Justin Bannan, are not really starting quality players. Bannan is more of a role player, who did well with the Ravens in that role, while Vickerson is a converted DE that is just trying to hand on in the league. They don't hold the edges well and allow runners to make their cuts and get into the second level. One of the bigger issues with the run defense seems to be concentration as they seem to sleep on some of the backup players when they enter the game. With the injuries to Ayers and Dawkins, expect the run defense to be even more of a problem.
Like the Broncos, the Jets are having their own red zone failures right now having to settle for a number of filed goals last week when they could have put the game away if they converted on just half of their opportunities. By my count the Jets have passed the ball 28 times in the red zone compared to 19 runs and its not an area where Sanchez has been great. The Jets have thrown for 6 red zone scores this year, 3 of which came in the Patriots game and 1 of which was a Brad Smith pass. This is the one area where Sanchez has not played very well because he is being very cautious about not making a mistake and not wanting to lose the chance for 3 points. With the running game clicking behind LaDainian Tomlinson and with Shonn Greene now looking as if he found himself these last two weeks the Jets should consider trying to pound the ball into the end zone. If they can find that red zone efficiency they are going to be one of the best offenses in the NFL . The offense is now complete with WR Santonio Holmes back from suspension which should make them more explosive and hopefully help out around the goalline as well. Holmes looked decent last week but dropped a few passes and had timing issues with Sanchez on others. Those will likely be worked out in the next week or two. WR Braylon Edwards is having a fine season and looks to have re-established himself as a legitimate number 1 WR making big plays all game long. TE Dustin Keller has not been very active these last two weeks in the stat sheets, but teams are accounting for him whenever he is on the field. He has had a strong start to the year. The offensive line is re-emerging as the dominant force that the fans grew accustomed to last season. They are devastating in the run game and LT D'Brickashaw Ferguson has recaptured the Pro Bowl form that was missing those first two or three games of the year. Ferguson manhandled All Pro DE Jaren Allen last week. LG Matt Slauson is showing signs of improvement and C Nick Mangold is as steady as they come, even with an injured shoulder. About the only concern is RT Damien Woody's inability to deal with speed from the outside, but that is the same problem that plagued him last season and the Jets were able to survive with no problems.
On paper the Jets offense would look to have a major advantage this week. The Jets physical running game with two quality backs is something that the Broncos simply should not be able to match up with. The depth in the receiving corps. should be far too much for the Broncos corners and safeties to match up with. After watching the tape of the Ravens games, the Jets will try to physically and mentally wear down the defense with long drives. The Broncos are a terrible 3rd down defense and have problems getting off the field which is why they give up so many yards per drive. If not for the Broncos offense keeping the opposition off the field for long chunks of time, their defense would rank as one of the worst 3 defenses in the league. All of this plays into the running game being used to set up the pass down the line. Anticipate both Tomlinson and Greene to get about 20 carries apiece this game as long as the Jets are playing within one score of the Broncos. The contrasting styles of the two runners will make it hard for the defense to adjust, which could mean the Jets will rotate the two players in and out within a series more than they have been thus far. Once the run game is established the play action pass is going to open up which should help both in the red zone and in the deep passing game. Sanchez has developed one of the best play fakes in the game and it is deadly once the run is established in a game. Expect some differences in the passing game this week. The last two weeks the Jets have avoided the middle of the field and opted for hitting big sideline routes with Edwards and Holmes. Bailey is good enough to take one of those two players away from the deep passing game, but the Broncos have nobody to cover the other player or Keller. The Jets need to get Keller involved in the offense again and with Dawkins out of the game this is the game for the Jets to send Keller out on those seam routes he is excellent at running. The Broncos will leave the middle of the field open for shorter routes than the Jets are used to running and the Jets need to use that to their advantage. Both Holmes and WR Jerricho Cotchery, who had a string game last week, should be very effective on those patterns. Whomever of the big two that is not covered by Bailey is going to get a few deep balls thrown their way. Sanchez has been extremely patient in the pocket and loves to use the pump fake to let his receiver break deep. Everytime Cox lines up on Edwards, Sanchez will run that play until Cox proves he can stay with the receiver. If Cox primarily plays on Holmes the Jets will use Holmes' route running to try to set up the youngster for something later in the game where Holmes can shake free deep down the field.
Denver's special teams coverage is among the worst in the NFL. They have allowed huge kick or punt returns in 3 of their 5 games, including a 98 yard TD return against the Titans. Their best special teams player, Wesley Woodyard, will miss the game with an injury. Eddie Royal is a capable return man, specifically at punt returns. Demaryius Thomas had been sharing kick return duties with Royal, and doing well in that role, but will likely not play due to a concussion. K Matt Prater is perfect on the season.
K Nick Folk was the star of the game last week with 5 FG's made as he continues to ease the concerns of those who did not look favorably on his signing last year. P Steve Weatherford has become a weapon for the team with the hang time he gets on his punts seeing teams with no chance for return. KR Brad Smith made another timely big return last week and he seems to have a knack for getting those big kick returns at the most needed time for the Jets. The coverage teams have played very well and Marquice Cole is quietly turning into a very good special teams player. Overall this has been a complete turnaround from the poor overall play last year.
Josh McDaniels is one of those brash young coaches that you either love or hate. He completely broke apart a team that looked to have a bright future with his trades of players such as QB Jay Cutler and WR Brandon Marshall. The team started 6-0 in 2009 and then limped to the finish line inexplicably missing the playoffs in an epic collapse down the stretch. His defensive changes have made a bad defense worse and sees many players trying to learn new positions on the fly. Still, he has created an offense out of spare parts that nobody wanted that is one of the best passing offenses in the league. He has helped Kyle Orton find a career that nobody thought he was capable of having. The question right now is how McDaniels will deal with all these injuries. He comes from the Bill Belichick mode where he believes anyone can be inserted into the game with minimal loss on the field as long as they follow the coaching plan. If he is correct in that assumption his team has a chance to make a run in a bad division. If he is wrong he is the kind of coach that will probably lose the team very quickly as they struggle to find a winning combination.
Rex Ryan talked the talk this year and has backed it up as his Jets are regarded as one of the best teams in the NFL. What is encouraging is that Ryan is smart enough to realize that there are problems with the team even with the good start. Ryan last season was extremely protective of the team, specifically the defense, but this year has been more critical, but in a constructive way. He has made some tough decisions to switch players out of starting roles and its paid off. He admits he made some mistakes both in clock management and in allowing Darrelle Revis to call his own shots about playing time. The handling of Revis may be the most important job for Ryan this week. Revis will travel with the team, but Ryan has to sit with his staff and get a real medical opinion about Revis. If Revis is hurting that badly he absolutely can not play as it is more important to make sure he is healthy in December than it is to have him limping around right now.
The one thing that does not play in the Jets favor this week is the travel for the game. Traveling out West has always been hard for the Jets, but going to Denver off a week where the team did not finish their last game until Tuesday morning is a huge challenge. Because of the altitude Denver is one of the toughest places to play and as it stands right now the conditioning of the Jets team could be an Achilles heel. The Jets are only 1-6 in their trips out West since 2005, with their lone win being the drubbing of the Raiders last year.
Because teams tire out in Denver one of the keys is to jump out early and attempt to coast to the finish line. The last thing you want to do in Denver is to have to dig down and pull out a 4th quarter win. In the last 5+ years the average margin of victory for teams that play in Denver is 12.25 points. Only 4 of Denver's home losses in that stretch have been by less than a field goal, and 3 of those happened in 2005. If the Jets are in a position where they have to come from behind late they are going to lose the football game.
Could this be a letdown game for the team? Possibly. There is uncertainty about the status of Revis and LB Calvin Pace. There is a bye week that the players may already be looking forward to next week. This is an environment that Sanchez has never seen or had to prepare for. The team is coming off a big win in a prime time game. Denver has all the big injuries making it even easier for a team to think this is just a walkover. All those factors are there for the Jets to overlook the Broncos and come out of the game 4-2.
If the Jets are patient and gameplan the offense to attack the right areas of the defense they should not lose this football game. The offense has to convert on third down and keep the defense off the field and fresh. We have seen the defense tire out in Miami and against Minnesota and Denver is definitely the area where teams get exhausted on the field. The way to avoid that is to have long offensive drives that keep your defense on the bench. If the Jets decide to play into the Broncos hands and find themselves in 3rd and long situations the defense is going to give up a ton of yards and points late in the game for the third time this year.
The Jets are better than the Broncos in almost every aspect of the game. They are the better defense. They are the better offense. They have the better special teams play and coach. Denver's advantages are all in the intangibles this week. They have a unique home field advantage and they are playing a team coming off a very short week. Is that enough to win the game? It should not be, but in a wacky NFL year you never can take anything for granted. If the Jets are going to lose this game it will be apparent in the first 10 minutes of the game. If they look lethargic and look content to play for a 17-13 type win Denver will pull off the upset. The way the Jets have played this season its unlikely that they suffer a letdown game after just 5 games.
Jets 27 Broncos 16