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Jets facing Peyton Manning, Broncos with shaky offense and inconsistent defense

Jets quarterback Geno Smith (7) tries to get

Jets quarterback Geno Smith (7) tries to get away from Detroit Lions outside linebacker DeAndre Levy (54) during the first half of a game, Sunday, Sept. 28, 2014, in East Rutherford, N.J. Credit: AP / Frank Franklin II

Marty Mornhinweg's formula for fixing the Jets' offense is simple, yet troubling at the same time.

"We've got to block better, we've got to run better, we've got to pass the ball better, we've got to catch the ball better. It's that simple," the offensive coordinator said.

It's no surprise that the Jets, losers of four straight games, have the 27th-ranked offense. But Rex Ryan's team -- which has been outscored 127-79 this season -- somehow will have to figure out how to put up points Sunday against the high-powered Denver Broncos (3-1).

Peyton Manning's offense is everything Mornhinweg's is not -- fluid, efficient and explosive. The Broncos are third in passing yards per game (317); the Jets are dead last (184). Meanwhile, the Broncos are 15th in third-down efficiency (42.6 percent) and No. 1 in red-zone scoring (76.9 percent).

Of all the weeks for Ryan's inconsistent defense to face a future Hall of Fame quarterback, this might be the worst.

"That's an embarrassment," Ryan said after his defense surrendered 306 total yards in the first half of an eventual 31-0 beatdown in San Diego last Sunday.

Ryan playfully solicited suggestions from reporters on how to stop Manning, but he knows the key is getting the Super Bowl champion off the field on third down. If the Jets don't, "it could get ugly," Ryan said.

He likened Sunday's game to a chess match, pitting himself (a defensive guru) against Manning (a Super Bowl champion and one of the best offensive minds in football). Ryan took the analogy a step further, characterizing Manning as chess prodigy Bobby Fischer. "I'll try to find a way to knock some of those pieces off, steal them off," he joked.

Jets fans have seen Ryan pull off the improbable before, but the current crop of players doesn't appear capable of toppling Goliath this time.

Even worse: The Jets are at half-strength at key positions. Receiver Eric Decker (hamstring) is listed as questionable for the fourth straight week. Fellow wideout David Nelson (ankle) also is questionable, along with veteran linebacker David Harris (shoulder) and cornerback Darrin Walls (knee).

Meanwhile, the Jets will try to counter Manning's prolific passing attack with second-year quarterback Geno Smith, who has commanded the spotlight in recent weeks not for on-field excellence but because of his off-the-field behavior.

Smith lost his cool at MetLife Stadium and cursed at a heckling fan after the Jets' Week 4 loss to the Bears. A few days later, he bristled at the suggestion that his backup, Michael Vick, should play an entire quarter. And then, after the Jets' arrival in San Diego, Smith missed a team meeting because he was "mixed up" over the three-hour time-zone difference.

If Smith were playing well, perhaps those transgressions would be ignored by fans. But he's not. Among eligible quarterbacks, only Minnesota's Matt Cassel (65.8) has a lower quarterback rating than Smith (69.3), who was yanked at halftime against the Chargers after posting a 7.6 rating.

"He's under a microscope -- magnified times 10," defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson said with a shrug. "It's New York."

On Sunday, Smith will return to MetLife Stadium, where his hometown fans chanted for Vick to replace him two weeks ago. The question is: Will Smith come through in a pressure-packed situation?

"Knowing that we have a great offense and a great quarterback like Peyton coming in, the sense of urgency -- especially in the red zone, where we struggled -- has to be heightened," Smith said. "It's something that I believe will happen as long as we stay focused and we lock in and do the things that we are supposed to."

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