When these teams met in 2010, the Jets pulled out a fourth quarter comeback after shutting down the Broncos’—at the time—celebrated passing game, dealing a demoralizing blow that Denver never recovered from. In fact, the Broncos went on to suffer a 59-14 beat down at home against Oakland the next week that effectively crippled their season. After the Jets were dealt a similar demoralizing loss against the Patriots last week, will they respond by putting the clamps on the Broncos’ offense once again, or fade further out of the picture in the AFC East? With the Ravens and Bengals both sitting at 6-3, the 5-4 Jets can ill afford an upset here if they are to contend for a playoff spot at all.
For probably the first time all year, contending for the playoffs isn’t a concept that applies solely to the Broncos’ opponents. Indeed, despite being a noticeably inferior team, the Broncos might just have a better shot at a playoff spot than the Jets do now that New York is effectively two games behind New England. Playing in the AFC West is a luxury teams like the Jets would love to have.
When a team runs the ball 55 times and attempts just eight passes and still wins, it’s fair to wonder if teams are taking them very seriously despite their success. If the Lions’ defense’s post-game comments a few weeks ago are any indication, they don’t. If the Broncos come away with a win here, it’s a safe bet that opposing defenses will absolutely be taking them seriously in the future. Here are three intriguing matchups to watch for in a Thursday Night Football game that should appeal to those fond of defensive showdowns.
Jets offensive line vs. Broncos pass rush
It feels a little ridiculous to be highlighting the Broncos’ pass rush as a threat in a game preview, but that’s how far Von Miller (+34.7) has taken this defense in his rookie season. The Broncos have generated little pressure outside of Miller, but his play has ascended to another level the past two games and Miller’s teammates began feeding off his efforts last week. For the Broncos to upset the Jets, they could use another productive game in the pass rush department. Mark Sanchez does a fine job when he isn’t feeling the pressure (+21.0) but a quarterback is defined by his ability to make strong throws in the face of pressure and Sanchez has performed miserably in that respect (-8.0), completing only 18 passes in 90 drop-backs.
Right tackle Wayne Hunter (-9.9) has improved after an awful first three games, but he faces quite a challenge in the explosive rookie linebacker who has recorded at least one pressure in each of his NFL games. Miller rushes predominantly from the left, so Hunter will need to be in top form to have a chance of making this the first time. DRE Elvis Dumervil has picked up three sacks in the past two games and is worth keeping an eye on as well. Considering the Broncos have scored over 20 points only once in Tebow’s four starts this season, they could use all the help their defense can give them.
Broncos interior offensive line vs. Jets defensive line
The Broncos have shown that they can win without even bothering to pretend they have a passing game, but it’s a different story to win without a passing game or a successful running game. If the Broncos can’t get some push on their interior runs, they will be in a world of trouble trying to win the game exclusively at the perimeter. Center J.D. Walton (-14.7) fed Kyle Orton a bad snap that ultimately cost the Broncos the game against the Jets last year, and a rebound for him would be huge for Denver. He had a good game against a good nose tackle in Kelly Gregg last week, but he’ll need an even stronger effort to get the best of Sione Pouha (+10.2).
Willis McGahee’s status is still up in the air—and he likely won’t be at 100% effectiveness if he does play—and Lance Ball is an adequate third-down back, but Walton and guards Chris Kuper (-4.0) and Zane Beadles (-16.5) need to help whoever gets the ball to pick up decent chunks of yardage consistently up the middle. If those first down runs up the gut are stuffed, Denver won’t be able to get away with handing the ball off every down. For the Broncos’ offensive gameplan to work, they need to put themselves in 3rd-and-short situations or they simply won’t have a chance to sustain drives. The Kuper-Beadles-Walton trio needs to consistently get the better of a more accomplished group of Pouha, Muhammad Wilkerson, and Mike Devito (+5.0) for Denver to be able to play the way they did last week.
Broncos wide receivers vs. Jets secondary
You might be thinking this is an odd choice for a matchup to watch out for; after all, the Broncos threw the ball only eight times last week. Not to mention the fact that we’re talking about a matchup between a relatively unaccomplished and inexperienced group of receivers and a secondary that contains Darrelle Revis (+12.5). However, that line of thinking is exactly why this is a matchup to look out for. The Chiefs became sloppy fairly quickly, focusing so intently on the run after Tebow didn’t attempt a pass in the first quarter that Broncos receivers, Eric Decker in particular, were able to get behind the secondary deep downfield on his few second-quarter pass attempts. Decker repeated the feat for a long touchdown in the fourth quarter.
The Jets’ secondary certainly has the skill and experience to handle Denver’s receivers, but no matter how good a defense is, it’s hard not to sell out against the run when you’re certain it’s coming every down. A veteran free safety like Jim Leonhard should have the discipline to not get lazy against the deep ball, or else Decker could find himself with another long touchdown even if Tebow again keeps his attempts in the single-digits. Decker, Eddie Royal, and Demaryius Thomas may not get a lot of opportunities to catch the ball in this game, but any one of them has a shot at a deep ball when the Broncos try to catch the secondary off guard. We’ll be watching to see who in that secondary keeps their focus, or who’s going to have some explaining to do in the film room when they’re caught cheating up against Tebow and the run.
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