As impressive as the (3-1) Denver Broncos have looked at times this season, they hadn't put together a complete performance until last week vs the Arizona Cardinals. In that matchup, we saw the Peyton Manning offense flying high, like their record-setting 2013 counterparts, and we finally got a glimpse of everything head coach, John Fox and defensive coordinator, Jack Del Rio, have envisioned for their 2014 defense.
This week, the Broncos will travel ahead two time zones to take on the reeling (1-4) New York Jets. On paper, the Jets are a team replete with talent. So why aren't they winning? The answer is rather basic and can be summed up in one word. Quarterback. Or lack thereof. Let's preview what Broncos Country can expect in week 6 from the Jets.
Know Your EnemyDEFENSE
The Jets really do have a talented roster, which is why head coach, Rex Ryan, will be out of a job within a few short months. Granted, most of that talent is on defense. But the Jets troubles have taught the NFL a harsh lesson. It doesn't matter how good your defense is, if they're constantly on the field.
Unlike the Broncos, who have talent at all levels of their defense, the Jets primary defensive strength lies up front, in the trenches. They boast two of the best 5 technique defensive ends in football. Namely, Muhammad Wilkerson and Sheldon Richardson. These two former 1st round picks are the crown jewels of the New York Jets.
On the season, Wilkerson is currently the 2nd highest 3-4 defensive end, behind only J.J. Watt, according to ProFootballFocus.com, with a +11.7 overall grade. PFF's player evaluations, which are metered out via metrics and ratings, can be quite insightful in gauging a player's, and a team's, performance. If you're a regular reader of MileHighHuddle, then you know how much we value them.
Now, back to the Jets. Richardson is no slouch in the ratings either. He is currently ranked as the 6th highest 3-4 DE, via PFF, with a +8.8 overall grade. One need not rely on their grades alone to measure Wilkerson and Richardson's impact. Each have notched 3 sacks on the season, which is very impressive for 5 tech defensive ends.
But as ferocious as this duo is rushing the passer, they're even more proficient at stopping the run. They have a combined 6 tackles for a loss so far. As a team, the Jets are allowing 83 yards rushing per game on average, which ranks them 6th in the NFL. Another reason why the Jets excel in this area is the behemoth they have at nose tackle; Damon Harrison.
At 6'4, 350lbs, Harrison is a run stuffing animal. And he fits in perfectly with Rex Ryan's defense. After playing several stout front sevens thus far, the Broncos under-performing offensive line gets yet another tough matchup in the Jets. Center, Manuel Ramirez (Manny), is going to have to really step it up this week. The jet's triumvirate, who collectively could be called the "Sons" of Anarchy (Wilkerson, Richardson, Harrison), are extremely proficient at making plays in the backfield, which is an area that the Broncos, and Ramirez in particular, have struggled to guard against.
With starting running back, Montee Ball, out for the next few weeks, the Broncos will turn to their inexperienced, but talented backfield. As good as Ronnie Hillman looked last week, filling in when Ball went down, it's important to keep in mind that most of his 64 rushing yards came after the Cardinals best run defender, Calais Campbell, was knocked out of the game. Hillman will certainly be given the first opportunity as the Broncos primary running back, but his skill-set is not suited for a front seven like the Jets. Don't be surprised to see the Broncos two "power backs", C.J. Anderson and Juwan Thompson, carry most of the load this week.
In their linebacker corps, the Jets have a nice mix of old and new talent. David Harris anchors the unit with 8 NFL seasons under his belt. Although he's not quite the player he used to be, he is an excellent inside linebacker and thrives in Ryan's scheme. The Broncos interior linemen have to be stingy when they get to the second level with their blocks, because Harris knows how to stack and shed to make the tackle. Next to him inside is DeMario Davis. As a 2012 3rd round pick, he's young and explosive. Being mentored by Harris has accelerated his learning curve and it shows out on the grass. He's not the best in coverage, but he knows how to pursue and get downhill fast.
On the outside, Quinton Coples and Calvin Pace, know how to set the edge in the running game and they're not half bad at getting after the quarterback. Between the two of them, they have 4.5 sacks on the season. The push that Wilkerson and Richardson get inside, really helps Coples and Pace outside. There's a reason the Jets are tied for the most sacks in the league thus far. However, the Broncos duo at tackle, Ryan Clady and Chris Clark, should have no issue keeping them off of Manning. A lot of that burden lies on the Broncos interior with Ramirez, Orlando Franklin, and Louis Vasquez. The trench war between these two units on Sunday will be a key to the game.
The Jets biggest defensive weakness comes in the form of their secondary. Which is a talented, but inexperienced group, with the exception of 9-year veteran safety, Dawan Landry. If the Jets are unable to put pressure on Manning up front, look for this beleaguered secondary to get lit up like it's Independence Day. The Jets went all in on Dee Milliner when they traded Darelle Revis and the results of that faith have yet to pay dividends. Look for Demaryius Thomas, Emmanuel Sanders and Julius Thomas to all have productive outings on Sunday.
Geno Smith has had a very difficult 2014. After tossing more interceptions (21) than he did touchdowns (12) in 2013, he has struggled to find a groove and play with confidence thus far. On the season, he has continued that trend with only 4 touchdowns to 6 interceptions. In 5 games, he is averaging less than 200 yards passing per game. The Jets passing game really is atrocious and the primary perpetrator is Smith.
Jets fans have been calling for Michael Vick to supplant the 2nd year gunslinger and last week, for a short time, their wish came true. Alas, that wish morphed very quickly into a nightmare as Vick failed to complete more than 50% of his passes (42.1%) vs the San Diego Chargers. And the end result was an embarrassing shutout.
The Broncos front seven are licking their lips at the prospect of facing either of these quarterbacks. What was once a strength of their team, back when the Jets appeared in back-to-back AFC Championship games, namely, the offensive line, has been banged up and average at best thus far. Via PFF, the Jets offensive line, through the first 5 weeks of the season, collectively ranks 21st in the NFL. So when I say "average at best", I'm actually being charitable. Look for the Broncos defense to have a banner day at Met Life Stadium.
The Jets currently have the 3rd best running game in the league, averaging 139.2 yards per game. Their thunder and lighting approach, with Chris Ivory and Chris Johnson, has really been the team's only offensive bright spot. However, he Broncos are allowing just 88 yards rushing per game and if Manning and the Broncos offense get out to an early, multiple score lead, it will render this facet of the Jets offense obsolete.
A player of great interest for Broncos Country, Eric Decker, has been struggling with a hamstring injury for multiple weeks now. As it stands, he's questionable to play on Sunday. But it would take being rendered unconscious for him to miss his chance to give John Elway a little payback, as ridiculous as that sounds.
When Decker became an unrestricted free agent, earlier this year, Elway didn't even try to re-sign him. He didn't even make him an offer. So Decker took the offer from the highest bidder, which came in the form of the Jets. His season thus far has been marred by injury and terrible quarterback play. Decker has experience catching balls from unskilled quarterbacks, but at least with Tim Tebow, he was winning games.
Even if he plays on Sunday, look for Aqib Talib to shut him down. Decker struggles when pressed at the line of scrimmage, which the Broncos know all too well. Don't expect Decker to have a very productive day, if he suits up.
Jeremy Kerley has been solid, but when he is your best weapon in the passing game, you truly have problems. Look for Chris Harris to be matched up on him. That leaves David Nelson, who will likely draw rookie 1st round pick, Bradley Roby. Overall, I like the Broncos secondary here.
This game is likely to get out of hand early. As awesome as the Jets defensive line is, they can't rush the passer and cover at the same time. You can bet that Peyton Manning has been poring over last week's film, looking at all of the areas the Chargers exploited the Jets defense to the tune of 31-0. Manning will not only use that information, he'll build on it.
Broncos 45, Jets 12
Naturally, Brandon Perna has some input on this game too. Check out his hilarious predictions.