As far as momentum goes, the two teams set to face off in New York in Week 6 couldn't be further apart.
The Denver Broncos are rocking after their best win of the 2014 season, a 41-20 shellacking of the previously undefeated Arizona Cardinals. Peyton Manning and Demaryius Thomas enjoyed career days, Denver's defense didn't allow a third down conversion after the first quarter, and the Broncos offense set a franchise record in single-game yardage.
On the far, far other end of the spectrum, the New York Jets were shut down and shut out in Week 5, losing to the San Diego Chargers 31-0 in sunny southern California. Quarterback Geno Smith was benched, and backup Michael Vick didn't perform much better. Smith completed 33% of his passes; Vick completed 42.1% of his.
But that hasn't stopped the Broncos from praising New York, and whether it's sincere or an attempt at avoiding a trap game, Denver believes New York is better than their record would indicate, particularly on defense.
"Our guys look at the tape. They don't look at records. That's for people outside-fans or whoever," Broncos coach John Fox said. "They watch tape, that's what they do, study. And they've got a good football team. They lead the league in sacks. Defensively, they're like fourth against the rush. Offensively, they're top five in rushing. They've got a great back and a quarterback that can make things happen with his feet and arm. Their head coach, Rex Ryan, we have great respect for. He went to back-to-back AFC Championship games, so that's what we look at."
"I'd say (they're) better than solid," Manning said of the Jets defense. "They are No. 1 in sacks, a lot of three-and-outs... They've got a lot of talent, something like seven first-rounders starting on defense. It's a challenge for us in the pass game and the run game handling just their physical talent and then handling the different looks they give as well."
The Jets pass rush. As both Fox and Manning mentioned, this 1-4 team who just suffered a 31-0 shutout leads the NFL in sacks with 17 on the year. A week ago against the Chargers, the Jets pass rush didn't let up, sacking Philip Rivers three times with two additional hits and 12 hurries. New York's pass rush came from several angles: left defensive end Sheldon Richardson led the pack with a sack, hit, and three hurries, while right outside linebacker Quinton Coples had a team-high four pressures.
The Jets' quarterbacks. Has there ever been a more underwhelming duo? First, starter Geno Smith has struggled immensely, but still has the starting nod thanks to Rex Ryan's inexplicable support. But his on-field issues are just the tip of the iceberg; off the field, it seems he's far from the leader the Jets want and need after missing a team meeting last Saturday due to a time zone miscalculation.
Not that backup Michael Vick is any better. Vick admitted he wasn't prepared for the San Diego Chargers last week when he came in in the second half, a damning admission that would get you and me fired from our jobs (that is Vick's job, after all - be prepared to back up the starter).
Both Smith and Vick have vowed to improve. Maybe Smith's mistake was truly an outlier and a one-time faux pas, and maybe Vick will take his beating to heart and actually, y'know, do his job this week as the Jets prepare for the Broncos.
The Jets can take some solace in the fact that Smith has won seven of his 11 career home starts, accounting for 15 total TDs (10 pass, 5 rush). Since entering the NFL in 2013, Smith leads NFL QBs with seven rushing touchdowns.
Matchup to Watch
Broncos receivers vs. the Jets secondary. Keeping the Jets' pass rush at bay will be crucial, but Denver's best weapon against that will be Manning's receivers getting open, and getting open quickly. Demaryius Thomas will look to improve from his breakout game last week, while Emmanuel Sanders is still searching for his first touchdown of the season (despite averaging over 100 yards per game this season).
Jets DBs Dawan Landry and Dee Milliner have been New York's best members of the secondary - Philip Rivers targeted these two players eight times in Sunday's shutout, but only amassed 28 yards with no touchdowns against the duo. Milliner was most often targeted while covering San Diego's top receiver Keenan Allen.
But those two can only do so much, and Jets coach Rex Ryan relented that the Broncos are loaded offensively.
"This [Demaryius] Thomas kid might be as good a receiver as there is in the league, and by the way you've got the best slot receiver in [Wes] Welker. [Emmanuel] Sanders is second in the league in catches. The good news is this [Julius] Thomas kid has only got 19 touchdowns since last season. Really a group that's struggling. It's a joke. They're loaded offensively."
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