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Jets-Broncos preview: When Darnold met Elway

Sam Darnold of the Jets in the first

Sam Darnold of the Jets in the first quarter against the Browns at FirstEnergy Stadium on Sept. 20, 2018 in Cleveland. Credit: Getty Images/Joe Robbins

Sam Darnold met with a number of teams prior to the draft, but he had a memorable experience when he worked out for the Broncos. Darnold got to sit down and talk to John Elway.

The legendary quarterback and Broncos president shared some things with Darnold that he knows can help him as he navigates his way through his first NFL season.

“It was cool to be able to meet those guys, and especially to meet John Elway and kind of understand his perspective on football and life, what he dealt with as a rookie and all of that stuff,” Darnold said. “So it was cool to be able to talk to him about that."

Darnold wouldn’t divulge much about the conversation though.

“He was just talking about the difficulties and when it clicked for him,” Darnold said. “Just those kinds of details that I won't share.”

Darnold is only 21 so he didn’t get to see Elway play live. But he knows his history and legacy as one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time.

The Broncos ended up taking outside linebacker Bradley Chubb two picks after Darnold was selected by the Jets. But Denver coach Vance Joseph, who worked out Darnold during the visit at USC, came away extremely impressed.

“You wouldn’t believe what kind of athlete he is,” Joseph said. “His movement and the things he can do with his feet and arm angles, the arm talent’s there. When I watch him play for the Jets it’s the same guy I saw at USC.

“He’s a playmaker. He’s capable of getting hot and making a lot of big plays for his football team. He can make a lot of off-schedule plays. When a quarterback can do that it definitely can give a defense problems.”

Darnold is only 32-for-65 with one touchdown and two interceptions in his last two games. But Broncos star linebacker Von Miller paid Darnold high praise, saying he was the best offensive player in the draft and he thought he would go first overall.

Maybe Miller was buttering him up. Last week, Jaguars coach Doug Marrone talked up Jets inside linebackers Avery Williamson and Darron Lee. Then Marrone exploited the two of them with a short crossing routes that the Jets couldn’t cover last Sunday.

Broncos cornerback Chris Harris Jr. also complimented Darnold. But Harris noted something Darnold does that could benefit Denver.

“He’s extending plays like (Patrick) Mahomes. Great footwork,” Harris said. “The Jaguars dropped about three picks last week so that’s something. I definitely noticed that. He’s going to force it in there. He’s going to try to make all the throws. He has no fear and he’s playing to win. That’s one thing you like from a rookie.”


Getting down big early has put more pressure on Darnold to make plays. The Jets would like to establish their running game.

They ran only 14 times in Jacksonville for 34 yards. They planned to run the ball, but the Jets were down 16-0 by halftime so they passed 31 times. Bilal Powell carried it eight times for 26 yards. Isaiah Crowell ran four times for no yards, and was tackled in the end zone for a safety.

In their home opener, the Jets trailed Miami 20-0 in the second quarter. They ran 19 times and Darnold threw it 41 times.

The Jets rushed for 169 yards in their Week 1 win at Detroit and 107 in Cleveland in Week 3 when they squandered a 14-0 lead. In both, they ran at least 30 times. Unless they fall behind early again, the Jets will try to run the ball against Denver. 

“We just got to continue to pound the rock, continue to find creases in the defenses,” Darnold said. “That just opens up the pass game. That opens up the whole offense. We got to stay consistent with it, consistently run the ball and we will.”

THE X-FACTOR: Andre Roberts

 Like the Jets, Roberts started fast in Detroit with 160 return yards and their first special teams touchdown in six years. He has totaled 107 yards in the three games since. Special teams coach Brant Boyer was unhappy with the kick-returning blocking last week. The way the offense has been sputtering, the Jets could use a spark from Roberts against the Broncos, who placed punter Marquette King on IR promoted Colby Wadman. Better field position could be huge for the Jets. They rank in the bottom three in yards per drive and next to last in plays per drive.  


Darnold’s four touchdown passes are tied for the second fewest by a quarterback who has started all of his team’s games with Eli Manning, among others. Denver’s Case Keenum is the only one with less. He's thrown three.

Keenum hasn't thrown any since the Broncos’ Week 1 win over Seattle. He also had three picks that day. In his last three games Keenum has been intercepted three times and sacked eight times.

The Broncos have one of the NFL’s best running games. Rookies Phillip Lindsay and Royce Freeman each average at least 5.0 yards per carry. But Denver would like to be more balanced offensively. 

“I don’t care how we get into the end zone,” Keenum said. “I like throwing touchdowns. I like when guys are running them in, too. We have two great backs – they’re doing a great job – but we’ve got a bunch of targets. I think receivers and tight ends, they want to get in the end zone, too. Whatever it takes.”


0:  Points the Jets have scored in the first quarter their last three games.

25: Points the Jets have been outscored by in the first half of those three games

0.5: Difference in passer rating between Darnold (72.6) and Keenum (72.1) – they rank 22nd and 23rd among the 24 QBs who have attempted at least 100 passes thus far.

5.6: Broncos rushing yards per carry, the second highest in the NFL.

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