Fat Man’s Five-Course Meal, Week 5: Broncos - Jets

(Note:  Doc Bear contributed to this tasty meal)

Here at Fat Man, we think you deserve more than just football analysis.  You deserve a nice meal, too.  So in the spirit of food and drink, we present to you our weekly analysis of the upcoming Broncos game and opponent.  May you leave a little wiser.  And with a full stomach.

The Appetizers (Big Picture) - Because everyone needs a little snack right when they walk in the door.

The New York Jets come into this game the darlings of the NFL.  After a razor-thin loss in Week 1 to the Ravens, the Jets have rolled off four straight wins against quality opponents like the Patriots, Dolphins, and Vikings. 

Offensively, the Jets come into the game ranked 1st in the league in rushing yards per game and 3rd in rushing yards per play.  That’s fortunate for them, because the Jets run the ball like they’ve got Earl Campbell in the backfield.  They are one of only five teams in the league that run the ball more than they pass (52% of the time).  One of the potential pitfalls for the Jets last season was interceptions. QB Mark Sanchez has dramatically improved in this department this year.  He has yet to throw even one interception.

Defensively, the Jets are 4th in the league in rushing yards allowed per game and 4th in the league in rushing yards allowed per play.  As we all know, running the ball isn’t the strength of the Broncos anyway.  The good news is that the Jets rank 23rd in passing yards allowed per game and 15th in passing yards allowed per play.  Thus, despite all of the attention that the Jets’ secondary has received with the likes of CBs Darrelle Revis and Antonio Cromartie, they have been rather average against the pass. 

This is an important point.  While both the Ravens and Jets have top-ten defenses, there is a distinction that differentiates the two defenses which bodes well for Denver.  The Ravens were excellent against the pass and good against the run.  The Jets are excellent against the run, and average against the pass.

We can translate this difference into points as well.  The Jets on defense give up on average 0.13 Expected Points (EP) per pass.  The Ravens only give up 0.03 EP per pass.  In short, expect that the Broncos will have more success this week through the air than they did last week.

Home/away trends favor the Jets.  Over their last ten road games they are 7-3, while the Broncos are a sluggish 5-5 at home.  As an aside, since the 2005 AFC Championship run, the Broncos own a 52% winning percentage at Invesco Field—proof that money and mediocrity can coexist rather nicely. 

Traditional wisdom suggests that the Broncos have some built-in advantage because the Jets are traveling on a short week.  But this is not the case.  Going all the way back to 1998, there have been 162 games played in which a team has played on Monday night, faced a short week of preparation, and then traveled to play an away game the following week.  Surprisingly, these teams have won 48.77% of the time.  This is actually higher than the statistical winning percentage that away teams have had in general (43%).  So the traditional wisdom is an old wives’ tale.

The Salad (General Strategy) - Because your mother would want you to eat your vegetables.

When you talk about the Jets’ approach to defense, the key word is ‘aggression’. Rex Ryan’s defense is described as a 4-6, where there are 4 down linemen, typically shifted to the weak side of the formation.  Behind this there are multiple looks from the three linebackers and a strong safety.  But let’s face it, it’s a lot of chaos pre-snap with the goal of bringing 5 to 7 rushers, and sometimes 8. 

To say the Jets love to blitz is an understatement.  They’ll employ stunts, twists, overloads, delays, cornerback and safety blitzes; they’ll have no hesitation taking a defensive tackle or end and dropping him into the flat or the middle zone.  Ryan has even been known to draw up an improvised blitz package on the sideline during the game if needed.  As Tom Brady has said, “It’s a challenging scheme because they blitz everybody.  You never know where they are coming from.”

In that respect, they aren’t that dissimilar to Wink Martindale’s approach last week against the Ravens in the 2nd half, but even more aggressive. They do, of course, have more of a core of players than Denver does, but that’s something that will change over time. Denver’s issue will be keeping in enough players to hold off the blitz and let Kyle Orton do his thing. It will also mean walking that fine line between max protect and lack of receivers. With Brandon Lloyd and Eddie Royal out there, one need not be concerned about that aspect, although it could be problematic and need some tweaking in-game.

Defensively, the Broncos have some serious challenges. They are looking at the team that is first in the league in rushing, and they are missing LB Robert Ayers and S Brian Dawkins, among others. It’s the classic setup - will the younger players step up? The Jets have no film on rookie linebacker Kevin Alexander (who was just promoted from the practice squad today), for example - will he play, and can he make a difference? Can CB Perrish Cox handle the kind of attention that he’s going to get with Champ Bailey on the other side? The Broncos are only 3.5-point underdogs - part of that is the uncertainty factor. The Jets should be rated up by a touchdown, but they are on the road, on a short week and playing a quarterback who is second in the league in yardage. He needs a running game, but what’s new about that?

Soup (Special Teams) - Because, like good special teams, a great soup can make the meal.

We know how difficult it’s been for the Broncos on special teams.  For the Jets, however, things have been looking pretty bright.  The Jets are 2nd in the league in average starting field position (the 35-yard line), and there are two primary reasons why.  First, they have 12 takeaways on the season and lead the league in turnover differential.  This means they are getting turnovers which are both killing the other team’s momentum, but providing excellent field position for their offense.  Second, their kickoff return game, in which they rank 3rd in the league.  Brad Smith, their return man, is a great all-around athlete, and while he doesn’t possess blazing speed, he has great field vision and is great at finding cracks in the coverage.  Since he also doubles sometimes as a runner in the Wildcat and has played QB in the NFL under Eric Mangini, one might expect this kind of vision. 

Their punt return team is also a very respectable 9th in the NFL.  So no matter how you give the Jets the ball, they are going to be putting pressure on the field position battle.

As good as they’ve been on kick returns, they’ve been almost up to the take on kickoff coverage, in which they rank 10th in the league.  Their punt return coverage is a somewhat dismal 23rd, however.  It’s too bad Denver’s punt return team ranks just 18th in the league at 8.3 yards per return. 

Entree (Strategy) -  Because you need to think about how you’re going to finish the main course.

The zone blitzes are coming, the Broncos can be sure of this.  To counteract this, they will likely use a general strategy of:

1) 3-step drops.  This allows the ball to get out of Kyle Orton’s hand quicker.

2) Increasing Max Protect, using a pro set and 2 TEs, or a 3-TE set, if Richard Quinn and Dan Gronkowski are both ready for it.

3) Hot reads - setting up the play so that Orton has only to stand up and immediately throw to the hot receiver. The only issue is that Orton can overthrow if he’s a bit ahead of the play.

4) Their best imitations at a running play, which might include another appearance from Tim Tebow and/or the Wild Horses formation.  It could also include getting the wide receivers into the running game like we saw last week against the Ravens early.  Only this time, let’s hope the Broncos don’t hold on the play. 

5) WRs Brandon Lloyd and Demaryius Thomas. When both are out on go routes, blitzing becomes very dangerous if the backfield picks up the blitz -  especially if TE Daniel Graham chips and goes with a drag route. He’s very likely to be open underneath, and Graham can get yards after the catch. He’s not elusive, but he’s big and strong enough to make it hard for a cornerback to bring him down alone. If the protection holds, you’re in a one-on-one between Lloyd and Royal. We have to think that Cromartie, being embarrassed by Royal in the past, will be wanting to try and cover him, even if he’s in the slot.

6) Bubble and tunnel screens.  The Jets are so aggressive in their blitz packages, it would be amazing if the Broncos don’t pull out an array of screens to loosen the Jets up a bit. 

On defense, things are much simpler for Denver—stop the run on first down.  The Jets run the ball 70% of the time on first down.  The only games in which they didn’t run the ball on first down this much were against the Vikings and Patriots.  In both games, the Jets were trying to fool the defense with heavy play-action passes.  However, you won’t see the same approach tomorrow.  Rex Ryan believes the Broncos are soft; he’ll be out to show how physically dominant the Jets are at the line of scrimmage.  Expect to see the Jets come out in 2-back sets to the start the game, line it up, and try to pound the Broncos.  The Broncos should counter and take a page out of the Ravens’ playbook by sneaking one of the safeties into the box.  They ought to also give consideration to run blitzing on 1st down as well.  Even if the Jets are passing off of play action, it could prove fruitful to getting even a little pressure on Sanchez. 

Dessert (Keys to the Game) - Because your sweet tooth will always remember what you had for dessert.

The key to this game is controlling the run. Denver has to stop New York’s running game - never an easy task - and begin to get their own back on track. Knowshon Moreno may be back, and while he’ll have to kick off some rust and count on the OL to create some openings, he, too, will have his work cut out for him. But if he can show that Denver can run the ball too, Kyle Orton’s day will be easier. Orton’s performance to date has been remarkable - he needs to keep that going. Due to injury, Orton hasn’t been as strong in the second half of the past two seasons, but he seems to be holding up well, which bodes well for Denver.

If Denver can’t establish any semblance of a running game tomorrow,  Orton will again take to the air.  This might not be the worse thing to happen.  Again, it’s worth noting that the Jets are a different team than the Ravens.  The Ravens were great against the pass and good against the run.  The Jets are great against the run, but average against the pass.  If the pass protection holds up tomorrow, Denver’s wide receivers will again take center stage.

The Jets played Cromartie almost exclusively on Randy Moss last week against the Vikings because of his unique combination of size, long arms, and speed.  Given the reputation Brandon Lloyd is now earning as a deep-threat receiver that splits and beats the safety-corner double team, the Jets will have to deal with him.  This could force Cromartie on Lloyd, which would have the added bonus of opening up the slot for Eddie Royal—presuming that the Jets don’t view Royal as the threat. 

Lastly, how long can Mark Sanchez go without throwing an interception?  At the beginning of the year, many were speculating that Sanchez could be the downfall of the Jets due to his propensity for throwing picks.  While he’s certainly proven the doubters wrong, can he keep up his perfect record of keeping the ball away from the opponent?

Feel free to leave your thoughts about the game tomorrow.  Anything we missed?

I’m glad we had this talk.  Now, vaya con Dios, Brah.

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