Run, Geno, Run!
The Broncos have had decent success shutting down opponents' running games this season. They've held opponents to 3.5 yards per carry and less than 90 rushing yards per game. However, those numbers are the result of two games in which they held the opponent to under 55 yards (Colts and Cardinals) and two games in which the opponents gained more than 125 yards on the ground (Chiefs and Seahawks). The Chiefs and Seahawks offenses are two run first offenses, designed much more like the Jets than the pass happy Colts and Cardinals. Another factor shared by the Seahawks and the Chiefs is they both have running quarterbacks. Russell Wilson and Alex Smith are first and third among NFL quarterbacks, respectively, in rushing attempts, rushing yards, and yards per carry. A running quarterback forces the defense to play 11 on 11 and account for the possibility of a QB run on every play. This prevents defenses from keying solely on the running backs on likely running plays, which in theory helps to open up running lanes that might otherwise be plugged.
As we have noted before, the Jets have been successful when Geno runs. In games where Geno has run 4 or more times the Jets have an 8-3 record. In games where Geno has run less than 4 times the Jets have a 1-9 record. After racking up 17 runs in the first two games the Jets have gotten away from Geno running the ball, having run Geno only 8 times in the last three games. Each of those last three games, perhaps not so coincidentally, have been Jets losses.
Also of note is the fact that the Broncos generate most of their pressure on the passer with their two star bookend outside pass rushers, Von Miller and DeMarcus Ware. Each has 3.5 sacks this year; all other Broncos have combined for only 4. One way to slow down edge rushers is force them to be concerned about the outside run and setting the edge. An ideal way to do that is with designed rollouts, option plays and Geno taking off and running the ball. A few designed running plays, some read options, maybe an option play or two, some designed rollouts; all should help not only the Jets running game but also should help open up some passing lanes for Geno. If ever there was a time to get back to Geno running the ball, this game would seem to be it. If the Jets are to have any chance at upsetting the mighty Broncos, the quarterback has to keep the Broncos defense off balance by running. The time is now. Run, Geno, run.
Man In The Middle
The Broncos have put a good pass defense on the field this year, currently ranking 8th in the NFL in passer rating allowed. They have been particularly effective in shutting down opposing wide receivers. Only one wide receiver, Reggie Wayne, has exceeded 60 yards receiving against the Broncos all year, and the Broncos have given up only two TDs to wide receivers all year. The middle of the field and short passes, however, have proven more fruitful against this defense. Cardinals running back Andre Ellington shredded this pass defense for 112 receiving yards and a TD. The Chiefs' running backs and tight ends put up 15 receptions for 164 yards against the Broncos. The Colts' running backs and tight ends combined for 15 receptions, 186 yards and a TD. Altogether opposing running backs and tight ends have combined for 42 out of 98 receptions, 537 of 1034 (more than 50%!) passing yards, and 3 of 5 passing TDs allowed by the Broncos. The way to attack this Broncos defense through the air is with the short passing game in the middle of the field to running backs and tight ends. If the Jets are to have any success here, Jace Amaro, Chris Johnson, Jeff Cumberland and maybe even Chris Ivory and Bilal Powell will need to be heavily involved in the passing attack. The Jets have tried to give Geno Smith more underneath stuff and quick passes this year. Sunday would be a good time to double down on that approach.
Magic Number 24
Over the course of the 2013 and 2014 seasons, including playoff games, the Broncos have played 23 games. They have failed to score 24 points three times; twice against the Seahawks, once against the Chargers. Over the same time span the Jets have played 21 games. They have managed to score more than 24 points five times, all in the 2013 season. The last time the Jets managed the feat was nine games ago against Oakland. The Jets have done it against the horrific pass defenses of Atlanta and Oakland, against a decent Buffalo pass defense that literally ran out of cornerbacks due to injuries, and against two decent pass defenses in New England and New Orleans. Each of the three times the Jets managed to top 24 points against a decent pass defense they rushed for more than 175 yards in the game. The Broncos have a good pass defense, currently ranking 8th in the NFL in passer rating allowed. The Jets cannot reasonably be expected to hold Peyton Manning and the Broncos under 24 points. The Jets only score more than 24 points against decent pass defenses when the running game goes wild. The magic number is 24. Time for the Jets running game to go off, or the Jets will find themselves on the wrong side of that number.
Sunday's game does not appear to present a favorable matchup for the Jets. However, it is interesting that most of the things the Jets need to accomplish to pull off the upset would appear to be not only things the Jets like to do and have had some success doing, but also things to which the Broncos may have some vulnerability. If the Jets can get the running game going early, get Geno involved in the running game, and succeed in some quick passing in the middle of the field to backs and tight ends, this game could prove interesting. An upset here is not completely out of the question.