And now one year later the Jets return home as arguably the best team in the AFC. One of the best Qbs in the NFL. The best offensive line in the AFC. A running back that looks like a different man. A defensive line that spends more time in the opponents backfield than on their backs. Linebackers that are playing aggressively. And a coaching staff that has found something special over these last 4 weeks. The Jets will be looking to build on these 4 weeks and keep their position on top of the AFC East as they match up with the AFC West leading Denver Broncos.
Jets Defense vs. Broncos Offense
After a fast start where the Broncos scored at least 34 points in their first three games, their offense has completely fizzled out managing over 20 points just twice in their last 8 games. The Broncos are somewhat over-reliant on their young QB Jay Cutler. Cutler has a super strong arm and physical tools that make scouts drool, but for all the yardage the team throws for they do not have an easy time scoring the points that should go along with all those yards. Cutler has plenty of weapons at his disposal. WR Brandon Marshall looks to be another in a long line of headcases at the position, but he is extremely talented. He has the ability to stretch the field and has great size. He is 5th in the NFL in receiving. Rookie Eddie Royal is very dangerous and has already had some monster games with over 150 yards receiving. He is not as consistent as Marshall, but for a rookie does a very good job of getting open underneath. Brandon Stokley is still a good third down receiver that will catch the ball over the middle and their Teís do provide for tough matchup problems. Daniel Graham is a great red zone target while Tony Scheffler has the ability to really make some long catches for a tight end. After years and years of dominant running games the Broncos running game has fizzled out. They are trying to find the right combination out there and the run has become more of a side note in the offense than a focus of the offense. The running game in Denver leaves something to be desired. Peyton Hillis, a north south type runner, will get the bulk of the carries. Selvin Young, if he is recovered from a groin injury, should get some carries as well. Both players have been productive, but that is more from teams willing to give up some ground gains to defend the pass than it is from either being good players.
The Jets defense, having dominated three of the last four weeks, will look to make a statement that their much maligned pass defense is not as bad as people think it is. The Jets have been torn to shreds by premier and not so premier passing offenses, and this is looking like the one Achilles heel that the team may have this season. Denver is a tough matchup for the Jets in this respect as they run an offense that can make you cover so many receivers on any given play. The teams first task will be to find a way to limit what Brandon Marshall can do. The Jets may try to switch the coverage on him to not allow him to get used to one coverage option. Darrelle Revis matches up best for him and can use the sidelines to keep him in check, but the one poor game he had this year was against Dwayne Bowe, someone similar to Marshall in that he is much bigger and more physical than Revis. Ty Law could potentially be used to bang him at the line and then pass him off to a safety. Law doesnít have the ability to keep up with Marshall if made to play single coverage with him. Most likely Law will spend most of the time harassing Royal at the line of scrimmage. Where the rest of the pass defense comes from is the big question. Stokley can provide the same problems that the Jets had with Jabar Gaffney against the Patriots. Hank Poteat might be the best option. Dwight Lowery has major problems and the other options are the awful Drew Coleman and even more awful Ahmad Carroll. The Jets could try David Barrett out there, but it looks like he may be used to try to cover one of the tight ends. Barrett was out there last Sunday trying to cover the Titan tight ends and he looked clueless, but that may be his best job out there. If the Broncos can get Scheffler matched up on a linebacker he can probably make a few big catches where he just outruns the slower Jets players. Keeping an eye on Graham in the red zone is something the staff has to drill into the heads of the players in practice.
It is unlikely that the Broncos can run on the Jets and its not very likely that they even try to do it. The way Kris Jenkins is playing in the middle makes it impossible to get a run game going. He could play a big role in getting to Cutler. While Cutler has hardly been touched this year, most of his sacks have come against 34 teams where the nose is holding up the interior allowing either and end to slip into the backfield or one of the linebackers to get to Cutler. Teams usually donít blitz from the secondary on the Broncos because of all the weapons they possess, but the Jets best blitz packages often come from the secondary and they might take a chance to two to set the tone of the game. One of the other major questions is if the Broncos will try and attack the Jets weak points in the passing game or will wait until it is too late to hit those secondary targets. When Cutler takes the field his first thought is to go long and his second thought is to go longer. If he is not patient enough to find the Stokleyís of the team over and over to keep the chains moving they will likely not have much success.
Jets Offense vs. Broncos Defense
Quite simply the Denver defense is a joke. In 6 games this year they have given up 30 points, many of which were against teams that donít usually score much anything, and only twice have held a team under 20 points. Denver constantly uses a rotation of players up front refusing to settle on a set group of players which has seemed to hurt them the last few years. The interior defense is extremely vulnerable to the run. Their tackles, led by former Jet DeWayne Robertson, just do not get any penetration or any hands on the runners to slow them down. DE Elvis Dumerville is a pass rushing specialist and has made that an area that teams are just pounding on with the run. Runners are easily getting around the corner and guards or tackles are able to get to the second level and block for their man. Things have gotten extremely bad since LB DJ Williams went down with an injury in early November. Williams was their leading tackler and one person that could at least get to the runner. He will sit this game out. None of the other linebackers are worth much anything. The team invested a lot of money in their secondary and they certainly have talent in Champ Bailey, one of the best corners of his generation, and Dre Bly, but the results just have not paid off as Denver would have liked. Bailey has missed the prior few games with a groin injury but is expected to play against the Jets, though he will not be 100%. The depth behind those two is poor, The Broncos safeties have been a concern all year. They get lost in coverage and donít offer run support either. Between the lack of pass rush and lack of talent the Broncos get thrown on at will. Overall the team is giving up a staggering 69.9% completion percentage to the opposition.
The Jets are the best offense in the AFC and the Broncos will have a hard time keeping up with this unit. The offense showed glimpses during the first half of the season, but now has everyone on the same page and is firing on all cylinders seemingly every time they touch the football. The offensive line has done an outstanding job of controlling the game for the Jets. They have dominated the last four opponents including the top ranked defense in the NFL. They should be able to continue their success this weekend in controlling the Broncos linemen and opening huge holes for Rbs Thomas Jones and Leon Washington. Jones should be able to churn out big run after big run to control the clock while Washington is going to be a major threat to score going off tackle on either a sweep or screen. The Broncos have to be well aware of the challenge posed by Brett Favre this week as well. Their secondary has been efficiently dismantled by the names of Brady Quinn, Jamarcus Russell, Matt Ryan, and David Garrard and now they will face one of the best in Favre. The Broncos will have an extremely tough time matching up with the Jets receivers. In recent weeks they have had all kinds of problems matching up with any type of speed which will allow Favre to take a few chances with Coles and do not be surprised if Chansi Stuckey sees him name called. Dustin Keller, quickly developing into a major threat for the Jets, is going to get his chances as well as Denver does not do a great job covering the tight ends. The Jets can attack this defense through the air either with the short timing patterns of recent weeks or with 20+yard patterns designed to quickly move the team down the field. Offensively this has the makings of a run and pass for 200 type of game.
Denver does not do a great job covering kicks and it has been a problem for them this season in their shootout type of games. They have given up one punt return for a touchdown and one kickoff for a touchdown and rank right near the bottom of the NFL in return yards allowed. Washington will be looking to break one early on to give the Jets the advantage. Royal can be a dangerous returner for the Broncos if the Jets are not careful.
Denverís field goal kicker is in a funk and can not seem to find his way between the uprights anymore. He has a big leg and has made 5 field goals over 50 yards, but right now is not reliable from anywhere. Jay Feely looks to have locked down the position for the Jets for the rest of the season while Reggie Hodges has done well enough in the limited amount of times he is asked to punt. At the end of the day, the Jets should clearly have the advantage in special teams.
There are times when great coaches just can no longer move forward with a team and that is where Mike Shanahan is at in Denver. He has lost to both the Chiefs and Raider this year which is about as bad as it can get for a coach. Denver has missed the playoffs two years in a row under Shanahan and will only make it this year by default as the rest of the West is simply that much worse than Denver. Shanahan has made a mess of the defense and has not really helped Cutler turn the corner from being a fantasy QB to a winning QB in his 3 years in the NFL. Shanahan is a great coach, but ever since the switch from Jake Plummer to Cutler the team has done nothing but underachieve.
Eric Mangini can put a mark on his resume with a win this week. Bill Belichick, Jeff Fisher, Mike Shanahan- back to back to back wins. That is a great accomplishment. The Jets have done a great job these last four games in their preparation for the games and have come out looking much better prepared than their opponents to start every game which says a great deal about the preparation Mangini and his staff are bringing to the games. There is still that worry about how the team calls the defense from ahead, and Denver will be a challenge for Mangini in that they bring some of the same strengths that New England and Arizona brought when playing from far behind.
The Jets will get a huge ovation when they take the field this week and deservedly so. The 12th man will make this an environment early on that can really hurt the Denver Broncos both offensively and defensively. If they can not take the crowd out early it may be a long day for the Broncos. Denver is not a very good road team and is constantly giving up a boatload of points away from home, while the Jets have been a dominant team at home, especially offensively. Anyway you slice it that is a very hard matchup for the Broncos.
Can the Jets lay down this week? Itís doubtful. The team doesnít have anything wrapped up and everything the team is saying seems to show that they are looking at the much bigger picture and they know the bigger picture means winning out. Would a loss hurt the Jets this week? Not too much. They would still be in the lead of the AFC East and would either remain tied for the second seed or be one step closer to the division if the Steelers beat the Patriots. So the sky isnít falling if things do not go the Jets way, but certainly a win puts the Jets in a very powerful position in the AFC.
For Denver to win this game they are going to have to score in the 30s and the way the Jets defense is playing combined with the way the offense dominates the football it will be hard to imagine them doing it. The Broncos just do not seem mentally strong enough to go into a hostile environment and beat a quality team on the road. I know I said Iíd pick against them just to keep the streak alive, but it is very hard to make a case for Denver this week. Jets in a romp. Have a Happy ThanksgivingÖ
Jets 39 Broncos 17