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Previewing the Jets’ opposition: Denver Broncos

NFL: Denver Broncos at Jacksonville Jaguars Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Last year, the Jets led late into the fourth quarter and almost beat the Broncos but eventually lost 37-28 after a clutch field goal and a late touchdown iced the win. On the day, the Jets’ wide receiver unit had been decimated by injuries and Brett Rypien was forced into action as the Broncos’ quarterback. Denver will enter Sunday’s game as a heavy favorite, though.

Quarterbacks

A former Jet, Teddy Bridgewater, has taken over as the Broncos starter at quarterback and he’s led them to a 2-0 start with some terrific play.

Usually known for his short passing, Bridgewater has been airing it out a lot over the first two games which have seen him pass for just under 600 yards and four scores.

Drew Lock lost the battle for the starting role to Bridgewater in camp. The former second rounder started 13 games last year and threw for almost 3,000 yards but only won four starts.

Offensive Line

The Broncos return four starters from last year’s unit, although right guard Graham Glasgow missed last week’s game. He is listed as questionable for Sunday but did return to full practice.

The left side of the line is solid as tackle Garrett Bolles and guard Dalton Risner played over 2,000 snaps between them last year without either of them surrendering a sack. Bolles, who is also an excellent run blocker, improved his penalty count from 17 to just seven in 2020, although that still led the team.

Center Lloyd Cushenberry led the team in offensive snaps last year but had an up and down season as he gave up a team-high four sacks.

The fifth starter is Bobby Massie, who signed a one-year deal during the offseason. The Jets will hope to generate some pressure against him on the edge.

The Broncos’ bench includes Netane Muti, a sixth round pick in last year’s draft. He got the start in place of Glasgow last week.

Also on the bench are Calvin Anderson, who was poached from the Jets’ practice squad a few years ago, third round rookie Quinn Meinerz and journeyman Cam Fleming.

Running Backs

Melvin Gordon, who led the Broncos with 986 rushing yards and nine touchdowns in 2020, got off to a good start this season with a 100-yard game against the Giants. However, he was held to just 31 rushing yards by the Jaguars.

He’s been sharing the workload with dynamic rookie Javonte Williams, the 35th pick in April’s draft and a former teammate of Jets’ running back Michael Carter. Williams rushed for 64 yards on 13 carries against Jacksonville to lead the team.

Damarea Crockett is the third stringer and Andrew Beck is the fullback but neither has seen action on offense yet this season.

Pass catchers

The Broncos are without Jerry Jeudy, who led the team with 856 receiving yards in 2020, because he’s been placed on injured reserve with an ankle injury. However, they have Courtland Sutton back and he’s off to a solid start with 10 catches for 173 yards in the first two games. Sutton was a thousand-yard receiver in 2019 but missed most of last year with a torn ACL.

With Sutton out, the underrated Tim Patrick stepped up and had a good year, leading the team with six touchdown catches. He already has two more this season.

KJ Hamler caught 30 passes in his rookie season last year, including a game winning touchdown against the Chargers. However, he was dealing with hamstring issues throughout the year so may be more consistently effective this season.

The bench also includes Diontae Spencer, who is more of a special teamer, and Kendall Hinton, who is best known for last year’s game when he was forced to play as an emergency quarterback due to a Covid-19 outbreak.

At tight end, Noah Fant is the starter after catching over 60 passes last year. Reserve Albert Okwuegbunam has some ability too. The pair combined for 17 catches and two touchdowns in the first two games. The third tight end is Eric Saubert.

Defensive Line

The Broncos play a 3-4 system with a defensive line that is led by another Jets cast-off, Shelby Harris. Harris was third on the team with 11 quarterback hits last year and has a good knack for deflecting or batting down passes.

The other starting end is Dre’Mont Jones, who had 6.5 sacks last season, and the starting nose tackle is Mike Purcell, although he’s missed some practice time during the week and is listed as questionable.

DeShawn Williams and McTelvin Agim return in reserve roles while veteran Shamar Stephen was signed in the offseason to add more depth.

Linebackers

The key to Denver’s success on defense is their edge defenders; Von Miller and Bradley Chubb. It’s therefore good news for the Jets that Chubb was just placed on injured reserve.

Miller is off to a good start this year, with three sacks already after having missed the entire 2020 season due to an ankle injury. However, the rest of the team has zero sacks between them and none of the other edge defenders have even recorded a quarterback hit.

Behind Miller, Malik Reed - who filled in for Miller and led the team with eight sacks in 2020 - is the most likely to step up. Reed almost signed with the Jets as an undrafted free agent last year before opting to go to Denver instead.

Rookies Andrew Mintze and Jonathon Cooper will serve as backups and the Broncos also just poached Aaron Patrick from the Jaguars’ practice squad for added depth.

Chubb isn’t the only front seven starter missing for the Broncos because they also lost inside linebacker Josey Jewell, who racked up 113 tackles last season. Jewell is apparently out for the season after suffering an injury on special teams.

AJ Johnson was the team’s leading tackler in 2020 and could line up alongside Justin Strnad who would be making his first NFL start. Third round rookie Baron Browning is also available as depth, but some believe he might be used more on the edge in Chubb’s absence. Jonas Griffith rounds out the rotation here.

Defensive Backs

The Broncos just placed Ronald Darby on injured reserve, so first round rookie Patrick Surtain has moved into the starting lineup with Kyle Fuller. Bryce Callahan, who played outside last year, has gone back into the slot.

At safety, Justin Simmons is the leader of the secondary. The veteran signed a four-year, $61 million contract in March after racking up five interceptions and nine passes defensed in 2020.

Veteran Kareem Jackson, who converted from cornerback a few years ago is the other starter at safety.

Most of the Broncos’ secondary depth comes from their 2021 draft class as Surtain, Jamar Johnson, Caden Sterns and Kary Vincent were all selected. Johnson and Vincent haven’t seen any action yet but Sterns saw some action as a reserve safety.

Safety PJ Locke and cornerbacks Mike Ford and Nate Hairston, another former Jet, provide veteran depth.

Special Teams

The Broncos’ special teams unit has been a disappointment for the past few seasons and that has continued this year as they gave up a kickoff return for a touchdown against Jacksonville.

Kicker Brandon McManus is solid though. He’s made all 10 of his kicks so far this season. In 2020, he made 10 field goals from beyond 50 yards and only missed one from within 50. That included a clutch go-ahead kick against the Jets late in their win last season.

Punter Sam Martin is a middle of the pack guy statistically, despite getting to kick at altitude in all his home games.

Spencer, who played a few years in the CFL, is a good punt returner who had a touchdown last season, but he’s not had much success on kickoffs. Hamler is listed as his backup.

The Broncos got rid of their most productive special teams tacklers last season, but Ford and Strnad have contributed early so far this year. Running back Mike Boone, who is currently on injured reserve, will also contribute in this area.

Finally, Harris has always been a threat to block field goals and extra points.