The New York Jets head to Denver to face the Broncos with a golden opportunity to move to 5-2 on the season. The Jets have won three straight while the Broncos have lost three straight. It’s been more than 10 years since the Jets scored a point in Denver, though, as they were shut out in their last two visits to Colorado. The betting line has moved in New York’s direction due to Denver quarterback injuries. The Broncos spent much of the week favored by around a field goal, but the Jets are now road favorites by 1.5 points according to DraftKings Sportsbook.
The big storyline out of Denver heading into this game is that Broncos quarterback Russell Wilson is going to miss the game, having injured his hamstring on Monday night against the Chargers. This should help the Jets, but Wilson had been struggling anyway, so perhaps this will give Denver a boost.
The Broncos traded for Wilson and signed him to a big-money deal during the offseason but things haven’t gone well so far as they rank last in the league for points scored with boos raining down from the crowd during their past few games.
The Broncos gave some first team reps to Brett Rypien during the week so he will be prepared to make the start, but they also elevated Josh Johnson from the practice squad.
Rypien beat the Jets in 2020 in the only start of his career despite throwing three interceptions. However, Wilson had only averaged 220 passing yards per game since passing for 340 in the opener and has only completed a career-low 58.6 percent of his passes this year so maybe starting a healthy Rypien over an injured Wilson won’t be the worst thing for the Broncos.
Johnson posted 300-yard games in his only two games last season - one with the Jets and one with the Ravens.
The Broncos suffered a blow a few weeks ago when their starting left tackle Garett Bolles broke his leg. Wilson was sacked four times on Monday night with Bolles out.
At the moment, the Broncos are listing journeymen Cameron Fleming and Billy Turner as their starting tackles, but former Jets undrafted free agent Calvin Anderson started at left tackle against the Chargers on Monday night. Fleming had been the starting right tackle when Bolles was still in the line-up, but moved to the left for part of Monday’s game with Turner replacing Anderson.
The Broncos began the season with the same starting interior line as last season with Lloyd Cushenberry at center, Dalton Risner at left guard and Graham Glasgow at right guard. However, Glasgow was benched for last year’s third round pick Quinn Meinerz on Monday night.
Cushenberry had seven penalties and gave up five sacks last season, which was tied for the team lead. He has five penalties already this year.
Fifth round pick Luke Wattenberg is also on the roster as an interior backup, but hasn’t seen action on offense yet. Another ex-Jet, Tom Compton, could be a candidate to start when he gets off the PUP list.
The Broncos’ running game took a hit when Javonte Williams suffered a season-ending injury a few weeks ago, so Melvin Gordon is now back in a starting role. Gordon, who had 918 rushing yards and eight rushing touchdowns last season, had a poor start to the season with four fumbles in the first four games. In that 2020 game with Rypien at the helm, Gordon rushed for 107 yards and two scores, including a late 43-yard touchdown run to clinch the win.
Although Gordon is listed as the starter, veteran Latavius Murray got the bulk of the work on Monday night and rushed for 66 yards on 15 carries. Mike Boone has done a solid job in a reserve role, as he’s averaging 5.4 yards per carry.
Tight end Andrew Beck will usually take some reps at fullback.
The Broncos lost Tim Patrick to an ACL injury and gave up tight end Noah Fant in the Wilson trade, but still have plenty of receiving talent.
Courtland Sutton, who had a thousand-yard season in 2019, is having another productive year with 31 catches for 430 yards. However, he was held to just 14 yards on two catches on Monday night.
Jerry Jeudy and KJ Hamler are the other two starters. Jeudy is averaging 17 yards per catch and is the only player on the team with multiple touchdown catches, but he’s been inconsistent. Apart from Jeudy and Sutton, no Broncos wideout has more than five catches.
Kendall Hinton, who is best known for having to start a game at quarterback in 2020 due to a Covid-19 breakout, is the main reserve, along with Tyrie Cleveland and two rookies, Jalen Virgil and Montrell Washington. Washington can be a jet sweep or end around threat.
At tight end, Albert Okwuegbunam caught 33 passes last season, but only has two catches since week one this year and some rumors suggest he could be traded. Third round pick Greg Dulcich came off injured reserve to make his debut against the Chargers and caught two passes, including one for a touchdown. He is now listed as the starter.
Eric Saubert and another ex-Jet Eric Tomlinson round out the rotation with Beck also able to contribute here. Saubert has seven catches including a touchdown.
The Broncos also gave up Shelby Harris, who led them in sacks in 2021, in the Wilson trade. With Harris gone, Dre’Mont Jones, who had 5.5 sacks and a team-high nine tackles for loss last year, is their most productive defensive lineman. DeShawn Williams now starts at the other end position and DJ Jones is the starter at nose tackle.
Mike Purcell is the backup nose tackle and the team brought in two rookies on day three; Matt Henningsen and Eyioma Uwazurike, who has only played one game so far. One of these may need to start on Sunday as Williams is listed as questionable having injured his back on Thursday.
The Broncos signed Randy Gregory to a big money deal during the offseason but he’s on injured reserve so they opted to move Baron Browning from an off-ball role into a starting edge defender role. It’s worked out really well, as he’s been generating good pressure since the move was made.
Browning is a good complement to Bradley Chubb, who is performing well again after his 2021 season was disrupted by an ankle injury. Chubb has 5.5 sacks to lead the team.
Jonathon Cooper, who started five games last year, backs up on the outside along with Aaron Patrick and second round rookie Nik Bonitto. Of the three, Bonitto has seen the most action so far.
On the inside, Alex Singleton is the leading tackler and has started three games with Josey Jewell out. He might move back to the bench if Jewell makes his return this week having been listed as questionable. The other starter is Jonas Griffith, who started four games last season.
Justin Strnad is also capable of filling in at inside linebacker, but has only played on special teams so far.
The Broncos’ pass defense has been solid this year, even though pro bowl safety Justin Simmons only just returned to the lineup following an injury. Simmons, who is on a four-year, $61 million deal, intercepted a team-high five passes last year.
Although Simmons made his return, the Broncos lost starting cornerback Ronald Darby to a torn ACL two weeks ago, so fourth round rookie Damarri Mathis has moved into the starting lineup.
The other cornerback is Patrick Surtain II, who is having another great season after leading the team with 14 pass breakups and four interceptions in 2021. K’Waun Williams is their main slot cornerback.
At safety, Simmons lines up with veteran Kareem Jackson, who was the team’s leading tackler in 2021. Caden Sterns had been starting when Simmons was out, but he’s listed as doubtful for Sunday. PJ Locke has seen some brief action as a third safety but rookie Delarrin Turner-Yell has yet to see action.
Essang Bassey had seen some action off the bench at cornerback but he’s been ruled out of Sunday’s game, so Michael Ojemudia or Darius Phillips may need to step up. They’ve played just one snap between them so far.
Kicker Brandon McManus has been under pressure in the Broncos’ first six games as four of them have been decided by three points or less. He missed a 64-yarder in the closing seconds of their opening day loss to Seattle and had a second half miss with the scores tied in their 12-9 loss to the Colts. After missing six kicks all of last year, he already has four missed kicks in 2022.
Denver’s new punter is Corliss Waitman, who entered the season with just two appearances under his belt. He’s 24th in the league for net punting average.
The Broncos have again elevated Mitchell Fraboni from the practice squad to replace long snapper Jacob Bobenmoyer who is on injured reserve.
In the return game, Washington handles both kicks and punts. He’s been unspectacular on kickoffs so far but is averaging 11 yards per punt return with a long of 30. Hamler backs him up on punts, while Boone or Virgil could be an option on kickoffs. Last year’s return man was Diontae Spencer who is now on the Jets’ practice squad.
In coverage, the Broncos gave up two touchdown returns on kickoffs last season, although it’s usually pretty easy to achieve a touchback at altitude. If they do cover any kicks, Saubert, Singleton and Strnad are among their most productive players to watch. Cleveland and Bassey are the primary gunners on punts so someone will need to step in for Bassey.
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