The New York Jets stampede their way into Mile High Stadium after winning 3 of their last 4 games with the last two coming in impressive fashion. The Jets have built a team that is really starting to believe in themselves with a mix of veterans along with some talented rookies who have played starring roles.
The Jets are beginning to look like a team with supreme self-confidence who really don’t care who they play. The national media has been slow to jump on board which is not unexpected. ESPN had the Packer’s win probability at 81.3% (How they came up with that I have no idea.) but the Jets dominated much of that game. The Green Bay win opened some eyes, but it will take more than that to secure the optimism of pundits after a decade filled with poor results. No one is ready to jump on that bandwagon yet, but a few more wins could sway the tide.
So what has changed the last few weeks?
There have been a many factors sparking this revival. Part of it can be traced back to Joe Douglas. Some of it has been good fortune on Joe’s part but the overall design was solid from the start. There are many other factors too but let’s first start with Joe the architect.
Joe’s insistence to focus on the offensive line from the beginning of his tenure was a sound one. He tried many things right away that all failed but he continued with the process. It was a welcomed change from the Maccagnan era where the offensive line was last in the line of priorities. The Maccagnan era was a complete failure so Joe Douglas was forced to reconstruct a roster while at the same time deconstructing a incongruous mix of players while concurrently trying to become competitive.
After the mistake of drafting Mekhi Becton over Tristan Wirfs and the subsequent injuries to Becton, Joe had to work with the injury of George Fant as well. Joe signed Duane Brown who almost immediately went on IR with a shoulder injury. Things were not looking good. The saving grace is that Duane Brown is a baller. He loves the game and loves to play. So instead of going for surgery and missing the season, Brown decided to rehab then play which was a Godsend for the Jets. Along with moving Alijah Vera-Tucker to right tackle the offensive line looks stronger than it has in many years. There will surely be some more tinkering in the future but for now the line seems sound.
The future of the Jets quarterback situation come back from a preseason injury to take over the starting position. Zach Wilson has been very steady starting the last three games that have been all wins. He has been playing team ball, not just looking for stats; he has zero TDs and zero INTs in the last two game which have all been huge wins by decisive margins.
Breece Hall has been a revelation as a bellcow back who can carry the rock for the Jets 20 or more times a game. He also has props in the passing game so he is a true three down back. Michael Carter has been a change of pace player but has the ability in both the run or the passing game.
The defense has become dominant at times with Quinnen Williams taking the next step in his evolution as a preeminent interior defensive player. Rookie Sauce Gardner is everything the Jets sought in a shut down corner and more. He is just at the beginning of his evolution into the pro game but is already a top 20 corner according to PFF. He along with DJ Reed have given the Jets solid coverage on the outside.
So what does a Jets win look like in Denver?
In a word ugly. Not that any win is ugly but the Jets need to work hard to force their will on the Broncos. That will not be easy.
Make no mistake. The Denver defense is real. They have no glaring holes to exploit. Whereas the Packers were dominant in pass coverage (they lead the league) they were susceptible to the run which gave Breece Hall a career game (so far). The Jets had 179 rushing yards on the day in Green Bay, but they will find the sledding much tougher in Denver.
The Denver defense is strong up and down the roster. They rank 5th in pass defense (yards allowed) giving up a mere 3 passing TDs in 6 games. They have a special player in Patrick Surtain II who was (in my opinion) the most technically sound CB prospect in the 2021 Draft. He has taken his game to another level this year with great mirroring/coverage skills. He is the #2 ranked CB in coverage by PFF behind surprising Patriots rookie Jack Jones. The Broncos other corners (K’Waun Williams + Damarri Mathis) are unspectacular but solid.
They have a quality group of linebackers with Jonas Griffith and Alex Singleton as great coverage players. Where the Jets could make some hay would be targeting Josey Jewell who is not real athletic. He can be beat with speed by crossing TEs so the Jets on early downs may be looking at matching CJ Uzomah down the seam with his 4.62/40 against Jewell who has been slowed by injuries.
Denver rushes the passer very well as a team; they are tied for 4th in the NFL in sacks with 19, the Jets defense has 14 QB take downs. The trio of Baron Browning, Bradley Chubb, ad Nick Bonitto have been super quick off the edge so the Jets will have little time to throw in most situations. You just can’t hold the ball too long in passing situations.
The Denver rush defense ranks just behind the Jets in yards allowed. The Jets are ranked 11th while the Broncos are #12. In order for the Jets to make yards on the ground they will have to be able to handle the Broncos three down linemen (DJ, Dre’Mont Jones, and DeShawn Williams) with single blocks so they can get linemen to the 2nd level to take care of ILBs Jewel and Singleton to spring their RBs free.
The Broncos defense as a whole has allowed the 4th least points in the NFL so this will be a test for the Jets offense.
The Broncos offense has been the other side of the coin when it comes to efficiency combined with scoring. While the Broncos defense has been stout, the offense has struggled mightily to this point. The ballyhooed arrival of Russell Wilson has so far been a huge failure. The Broncos rank #31 in the NFL in points scored, 21st in yards gained and 18th in plays run. The also have committed the most penalties of ant offense with 56 for 486 yards in just 6 games.
Now the offense will be without Russell Wilson as he has been ruled out of the game which gives Brett Rypien his 2nd NFL start of his career. Where Russell Wilson is a scrambler, Rypien in a classic pocket passer and will be a target for the Jets pass rushers.
The Broncos lost their lead RB Javonte Williams for the year due to a knee injury. He has not played in 2 1⁄2 games but still leads the Broncos in rushing. RB Melvin Gordon has been nicked up with injuries but was cleared for this game. Newcomer Latavius Murray and Mike Boone round out the backfield.
Courtland Sutton is the Denver deep threat and leads the Broncos in receiving. Jerry Jeudy has averaged under 3 receptions a game and KJ Hamler has 4 receptions in the 5 games he has played. It’s any ones guess who will be Rypien’s target hog, he will be taking his first snap of the year in a game this Sunday.
How does the Jets defense stop the Broncos?
The Jets defense has come a long way in the last few weeks. A three game winning streak is something to hang your hat on plus it gives you reassurance that what you are doing is working. The defense should come into this game hungry to feed on a Broncos offense that has been dormant of late plus is starting a backup signal caller.
It should come as no surprise that the Jets should work to stop the run which will make the Broncos one dimensional and puts the ball in the hands of an inexperienced QB to make the plays. Rypien has talent. Don’t be fooled by that. I had hoped the Jets would have drafted him in the 6th round of the 2019 instead of Bless Austin who is no longer on the team. Yet he hasn’t had first team reps at QB until this week so he shouldn’t be in sync with his receivers. This could lead to miscues.
Once the Jets force the Broncos to pass, their edge rushers should be able to pin their ears back to rush the passer. Normally the defense would have to be smart, not to let Russell Wilson out of the pocket where he can do damage. With Rypien at the helm this will not be a concernl. The Jets will know where he is.
The Jets have a pair of corners that match any set of in the NFL. The PFF grades on DJ Reed (19th) and Sauce Gardner (15th) in coverage grades tell the tale of what your eyes have witnessed. Both Gardner and Reed should be able to handle the Broncos outside receivers with little help. Michael Carter II is 35th in coverage grades from the slot so there are no easy paths to receptions for Rypien. I look for at least one INT from this trio in Sundays game.
So how do the Jets score on offense?
The Jets will need to be patient on Sunday against a defense who has given up 20 or more points only once this year. The Jets should work to build on their strengths in this game which would be a downhill running game along with some quick passes on slants and crossing routes. You don’t want to be in 3rd and long so as to incur the wrath of the vaunted Broncos pass rush. A punt is not always a bad thing, the Jets need to avoid turnovers which would give a struggling Broncos offense a short field.
Once the Jets establish the straight ahead running game they can use their inside traps and end arounds to get big gainers from a defense looking for the power game. They can also look for a few seam shots to Uzomah against the ILBs of the Broncos.
Once the run is established to some degree that should open the play action pass. With Elijah Moore inactive the Jets will be using either Jeff Smith or Denzel Mims as their 3rd receiver in 11 personnel. I suspect that the Broncos will match Patrick Surtain II against Cory Davis all over the field. I like a matchup of Denzel Mims size 6’ 3” 210 lbs against K’Waun Williams 5’ 9” 185 especially on skinny posts and slant routes. Other than Surtain who is 6’ 2” the Broncos secondary lacks size so if the Jets can get some time in the pocket I look for 2 or 3 deep shots with the Jets bigger receivers.
The weather of the game should be dry and mild which is good for the Jets. One thing you can’t plan for is the mile high air which can be debilitating if you are not acclimated to it. I once spent a month in Denver many years ago and was lucky enough to play numerous games against two great ABA basketball players from the Denver Nuggets (while they were still pros). One was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame back in 2006. I was a baller in my day and more than held my own but you can’t understand how hard it is to breath in that thin air when you are playing a sport. I would slice the lane to make a layup but then spend a few seconds with my hands on my knees while I tried to catch my breath. I was in great shape at the time but it didn’t make a difference. The Jets will need to rotate players quite a bit more than normal during the game. I hope they have extra oxygen on the sideline.
This is not an easy win for the Jets even though the likes of Russell Wilson is not playing. I hope the Jets will play even harder knowing that the chance to get to 5-2 and go 4-0 on the road is hanging in the balance. You can’t let opportunities like this slip by but many times human nature takes over and teams think they can just show up and win; I pray that is not the case. Denver is still a tough squad and they are looking at the Jets as a team they should beat and need to beat or they will drop to 2-5. The season will be all but over for them at that point. Never let a wounded opponent have a chance, dominate them from the start and don’t give him any hope for victory.
I will say the Jets win a harder than they expect game 16- 10. They will fly back home knowing they got away with a close win against a quality defense.
What do you think the score will be and who is the winner?