While many fans have not had time to lick their collective wounds after the beat-down versus the Patriots, our beloved (5-4) New York Jets must quickly regroup and travel to Mile-High Denver, Colorado to face the rejuvenated (4-5) Broncos. On paper, this might look like a bit of a mismatch. The Broncos have no passing offense to speak of, and the Jets feature one of the best run defenses in the league. However, games are not played on paper, and this one has the potential to be an upset. Jump with me for the key players and match ups.
Let me start off by saying that I do not hate Tim Tebow. I root for him every week (except against the Jets), simply because his style is unlike any other in the league. Has any other team in the history of the NFL attempted to win by putting a fullback under center, and letting him run the option full time? Essentially, that is what the Broncos are doing, and so far the results have been overwhelmingly positive. Success in football is measured in wins, and the Denver Broncos have been (4-3) in games that Tim Tebow has started dating back to last year. This is significant, considering that they have been (4-15) over the last two years in games that Kyle Orton has started. However, their are several red flags. Last week against the Chiefs, Tim Tebow completed two throws. That is not a typo; an NFL quarterback managed to win a game by completing only a pair of passes. The Broncos' offense is predictable, and it seemingly plays into the Jets' strengths. This leads me into the first key:
- Healthy Body, Healthy Mind: This game comes at an extremely inconvenient time for the Jets, having just played on Sunday night. It was the biggest game of the year, and letdowns of that sort tend to linger, as John B wrote yesterday. Furthermore, the Jets only get 3 days to study and practice for a very unconventional offense, and then must fly across the country to play in high altitude, the effects of which were detailed here. It is a very tough environment to adjust to, and the Jets haven't had a full week to rest their bodies. This is why depth will be so important. LaDainian Tomlinson has now been ruled out with a sprained MCL, but I would have given the regulars some extra rest this week anyway. Its time to see what Joe McKnight can do with some extra carries, and maybe Bilal Powell will even see some touches. Against a Broncos team that is decidedly middling, our young guys should be given every chance to prove themselves. I personally thought that Garret McIntyre looked pretty decent in the snaps he got against the Patriots, and guys like him will need to step up to give the fatigued starters some rest. Lastly, Rex Ryan and Mike Pettine will have to bounce back after a lackluster effort versus the Pats. The Jets have the personnel to shut out the Broncos' offense, so it is up to the coaching staff to get the team ready for an uncommon offense in an unusually short week.
- Mark Sanchez: Jets fans might not want to hear it, but the Broncos biggest weakness on defense is against the pass. They allow opposing quarterbacks a 100.2 QB Rating (3rd worst in the NFL), so attacking them through the air looks to be an effective strategy. However, Sanchez regressed slightly against the Patriots, locking on to receivers and throwing uncatchable short passes. I caution that the Broncos have the ninth best pass rush in the NFL, and Sanchize always tends to struggle against pressure. D'Brickashaw Ferguson must return to form, because the Jets passing attack can be in for a big day if they can contain the pass rush. The Broncos have also given up the second most passing TD in the NFL, so Plaxico can really shine this Thursday (note: the Broncos' tallest CB is Champ Bailey, who is 6 feet tall. That is a five inch difference when matched up with Plaxico).
- Von Miller: The rookie has been a force rushing the passer this season, piling up 8 sacks and 2 forced fumbles already. If the Broncos hope to compete, Von Miller will need to live in the Jets' backfield, and force Sanchez to throw before he wants to. Containing this man will be key for the Jets, because he has the talent to single-handedly turn the momentum in his team's favor.
- Getting off to a quick start: When the Broncos faced the Lions in Week 8, the results were disastrous. The Lions won by a 35 point margin, largely because they made Tim Tebow throw the ball. If the Jets manage to take an early two score lead (doubtful, given Schotty's 1st quarter struggles), the game will be decided. If the Broncos manage to stick around, they will be able to play their game and run the ball as often as possible, which plays to Tim Tebow's strengths.
- Sione Pouha: Against the Patriots, Rex often played seven defensive backs. Against an inaccurate quarterback like Tebow, I would be surprised if the Jets dropped back more than five men. They will stack the box in anticipation of a run, and Sione Pouha will be key as the leader of the defensive line. Mike DeVito and Kenrick Ellis will also be at full strength, and Mo Wilkerson has been playing the run very well this season. Calvin Pace will also be a player to watch, as it is usually his job to set the edge. The Broncos love to run the ball, doing so 55 times against the Chiefs. Luckily for Denver, the Chiefs run defense is very mediocre, giving up 4.2 yards per carry. The Jets have been much better against the run in recent games, giving up 4.0 yards per carry (good for 8th best in the league), after a very rough start to the year. Furthermore, the Broncos lost running back Knowshon Moreno to season ending knee surgery, and Willis McGahee has been limited in practice with a bum hamstring. Giving third stringer Lance Ball thirty rushes might have worked against the Chiefs, but it is not the best plan against a stout Jets defense.
At every level of competition, Tim Tebow has proven to be a winner. With that being said, Tebow's record this season is a bit of a mirage. His first win came against an (0-5) Miami team, the second win was against a Raiders team that was starting Carson Palmer for the first time (following Palmer's semi-retirement), and their third win came against a reeling Chiefs team that lost their QB during the game. When they matched up with a competent team, the results were ugly: a 45-10 Lions win. The Broncos quarterback has a 45% completion percentage, and their top two running backs are injured. Their run defense is average, and their pass defense is below par. The Broncos have the seventh worst turnover margin, and are going up against a Jets team that is very adept at forcing turnovers (fourth most interceptions and seventh most fumble recoveries). As for the unique style of offense, perhaps Darrelle Revis said it best:
On whether Tebow can succeed all year:
"No, not for a whole season," Revis said. "Because we know what they're doing, and we feel comfortable in our game plan."
- Darrelle Revis, per Jenny Vrentas
Player to Watch: The Jets will continue to ground and pound for the most part, but there are definitely holes in the Broncos secondary that Sanchez can exploit. Plaxico Burress looks like he is building a steady rapport with his quarterback, and the Broncos are very prone to giving up passing touchdowns. Look for Plax to get into the endzone at least once.
Prediction: A game that should be a blowout will be made tougher by the short week, extreme altitude, and emotional letdown from losing the Pats game. The Jets will start slow but eventually pull out the victory, led by Sanchez' 2 TD and Nick Folk's 3 FG.
On a side note, John B has been nice enough to take me on the Gang Green Nation staff as a writer. Thank you guys for all the support and recs on my Fanposts, I hope you will continue reading now that it will be an official GGN feature.