Stephen Haynes back with you for episode six of GDL. We've got a couple hours before kickoff, but here's some time-blow reading. Just some stats, yakety-yak, and the usual useless pre-game analysis. Read up!
And at 4-1, all is right in the Jets' realm. Well, for the most part. Last week they won their first close-call game: a contest in which they outplayed the opponent for most of the game but shot themselves in the foot and did almost enough to lose it late but did just enough to hold on and win. Every good team has a couple of those each season. Now, with the Brett Favre show having left town and the Photogate buzz having simmered a bit, the focus can get back to football.
In keeping with our theme of titling games (yeah, it's become a thing), we've got today a Battle Before the Bye. It's that little obstacle to clear before the break – like the last exam that precedes winter recess. But this one's an open-book. The Denver Broncos aren't a very good team and the Jets should win this. Decisively. They've also got a chance to create some separation in the division with the Patriots facing the Ravens and the Dolphins at Green Bay today.
The Broncos are coming off a 31-17 loss to the Ravens in which they allowed Baltimore to rack up 233 yards and four touchdowns on the ground. In the teams' last meeting, November 2008, the Broncos beat the Jets, 34-17, behind Jay Cutler's 357 yards and two touchdowns.
This week's Jets “drama” was Darrelle Revis being ticketed on Thursday for speeding (doing 80 mph in a 40) while running late for a team meeting. The significance this will have on the game? None. Revis also continues to deal with the balky hamstring, which he aggravated in last week's game, and he'll be a game-time decision today. The significance that may have on the game? Some, certainly. The Broncos are second in the league in pass offense, averaging 333 yards per game and Brandon Lloyd (previously best known for rapping in the end zone as a 49er) is leading the NFL with 589 receiving yards. On the other side is Eddie Royal, who has 29 catches for 330 yards. He's used as a possession receiver, but he's a shifty route runner in the mold of Wes Welker. Although Antonio Cromartie has done well filling in for Revis, the Jets are 23rd in the league in pass defense, giving up 234.6 yards per game. They could use the depth at cornerback, so Revis' health (presence/absence) will certainly be a factor.
Despite all the yards the Broncos are piling up through the passing game, they're only averaging 20.8 points per game, which is 15th in the league. The Broncos have gotten very little from the running game which is producing a league-worst 51.8 yards per game – Denver, imagine that – and their backs are averaging an embarrassing 2.3 yards per carry.
For what it's worth, Jets are statistically the most dominant team in the NFL right now, having outscored opponents by a league-best 54 points. The Falcons are second with a +43 and the Titans third with a +37. (Just for the sake of knowing: No team in the NFC West has a +/- in the positive.)
It'll be interesting to see how Santonio Holmes improves in his second game. Last week he had three catches for 41 yards, but he was thrown to nine times. He's got some rust to work off and his timing and chemistry with Mark Sanchez has to improve.
LaDainian Tomlinson has 20 touchdowns in 18 career games against the Broncos. Even last season, with all his struggles, two of his better games came against Denver, totaling 173 yards and a touchdown. Tomlinson now is closer to his 2008 form, so that might be the better reference. In Week 17 against the Broncos that year, LT ran for 96 yards and three touchdowns on 14 carries.
Denver's secondary, without safety Brian Dawkins (knee) today, is ranked 16th, but they're allowing opposing quarterbacks a 93.0 rating. And, without top pass-rusher Elvis Dumervil this season, they've managed just five sacks, which is second fewest.
This one calls for balance. And no, not all game plans should have a good pass : run balance. But the the Broncos defense is deficient in both areas, so the Jets should look to take advantage of it. They've struggled to get a pass rush going (as mentioned above) and there are no ballhawks in that secondary. Even Champ Bailey, at 32, has lost a step and isn't the lock-up cornerback he once was. Also, with the injuries to Dawkins and outside linebacker Rob Ayers (foot), Dustin Keller should be able to do damage over the middle in the 10- to 20-yard range. D.J. Williams is Denver's only linebacker with better than average range in coverage.
The Jets, again, have the league's top rushing offense, churning out 165.2 yards per game. So, obviously, they'll need to do their share of ground pounding against Denver's soft front seven. The three down linemen are all over 300 pounds (including former Pro Bowl nose tackle Jamal Williams, who's about 350), but they haven't been able to create much of a wall. They're 25th against the run, giving up 127 yards per game. They haven't been gashed for lots of big plays (just three runs over 20 yards) and the 4.4 YPC against is decent, but teams are running it steadily. That teams are rushing 29 times per game against them is at least in part the fault of the offense, which hasn't been able to score a lot, even with all the yards. Teams are averaging 5.66 YPC running at right end Justin Bannan (12 tackles in five starts) and 4.68 going at left end Kevin Vickerson.
You know how defenses are always concerned with stopping the run? This week might be the exception. Denver's leading rusher, Knowshon Moreno (39 carries and 111 yards with a team-best 2.8 YPC) is listed as questionable but will likely play after practicing this week. Still, he's dealing with a bad hamstring and hasn't played since Week 2.
That said, the focus should and probably will be on stopping Kyle Orton, who already has 1,733 passing yards and eight touchdowns. (If you're wondering: those totals put him on pace for 5,546 yards, 26 TDs and 10 INTs. That probably won't happen, but that's the kind of start he's off to.) The Jets will have to lock up on Lloyd, his favorite target. The 6'0”/195-pound wideout isn't a burner, but he's become a solid route runner and has enough speed to break away for yards after the catch if given space. His best attributes are the ability to go up for high passes and make acrobatic catches in traffic. Which means he'll be a good matchup for Cromartie.
If Revis isn't able to go, Drew Coleman and Kyle Wilson will have to step up. Orton has effectively spread the ball around among the wide receivers. Royal, who's 5'10” and slippery, shifts between the slot and split end and can be a pest at either position.. And the 6'2” Jabbar Gaffney has 31 catches already (career-high is 55).