The Broncos, the defending AFC champions, are fresh off a 41-20 win against a tough Cardinals team in a game that featured quarterback Peyton Manning throw his 500 touchdown pass. On the year, Manning has thrown for 1,293 yards, 12 touchdowns, 3 interceptions and a 66.5 percent completion percentage.
The Broncos pass-heavy offense has oodles of weapons for Manning. Wide receiver Demaryius Thomas is a physical specimen who can win a jump ball down the field and might be the best receiver with yards after the catch– he’ll be used heavily in the screen game. Emmanuel Sanders, signed this offseason, leads the team in both receptions (32) and yards (435) and will line up both outside and in the slot. Tight end Julius Thomas has the size and speed to be a matchup problem for any team he faces. He has seven touchdown receptions on the year. Wes Welker has returned from a reduced suspension and is being worked into the offense. Welker is obviously always dangerous out of the slot.
The Broncos running back situation is not the best. Knowshon Moreno is now in Miami and Montee Ball (groin) is expected to miss at least a month. That leaves Denver, who is averaging under 80 yards rushing per game, with Ronnie Hillman, C.J. Anderson, and Juwan Thompson to carry the load. Obviously, running the ball is more of an afterthought in Denver’s offense.
Denver has a much improved defense. They rank fourth in total defense and give up 21.8 points per game. Football Outsiders also ranks Denver as the second most efficient defense in the league. The unit has some players on it, with probably none better than cornerback Aqib Talib. Opposite of him is Chris Harris, who has been impressive through four games as well. Denver generates their pressure primarily through defensive end DeMarcus Ware and outside linebacker Von Miller. Those two have seven of their 11 sacks on the year.
The Jets are coming off one of their most pitiful offensive performances in franchise history. Quarterback Geno Smith went 4-12 with 27 yards in the first half before being benched for Michael Vick, who fared no better. Unsurprisingly, the Jets lost to San Diego 31-0.
As always, the health of wide receiver Eric Decker will be key. It cannot be put into words how much more effective the Jets offense becomes with Decker on the field as a reliable target. Decker sat out last week (hamstring) but is expected to play against his former team. Jets quarterbacks struggled but a lot of it was due to the poor wide receiver play. The Jets are just not talented enough to win matchups on the outside.
The Jets defense has a huge task on its hands. The Jets are a relatively healthy bunch with cornerback Dee Milliner (quad) healthy. The Jets defense wasn’t much better than its offense last week, but if there is one player who deserves praise it’s Milliner.
I’d like to see creativity with the Jets defense this week. I hope blitz schemes get more creative and Antonio Allen isn’t used as a true cornerback. Last year, Allen held his own against some of the games best tight ends and he could very well be seeing a lot of Julius Thomas come Sunday. The Jets should make the Broncos one dimensional, so the question becomes can they do enough to stop Manning? If the front seven can step up and pressure Manning (the Jets are tied for first with 17 sacks) than this game could be interesting.
The most important part of the game will come inside the red zone. The Broncos score touchdowns on 76.9 percent of their trips (first in NFL) and the Jets defense has given up touchdowns on 73.3 percent of trips (second-worst in league). That formula is going to need to flip if the Jets want to have a chance, along with improved offensive red zone play.
After the play of last week, it’s hard to see a situation where the Jets win. However, the NFL is a week-to-week league and Rex Ryan has responded best with his back against the wall. Hope for the best come Sunday.
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