Broncos Must Avoid Crash Course Against Jets

The NFL is a fascinating case study in living up to its “Any Given Sunday” mantra, a narrative that in addition to gambling and Fantasy Football (sometimes the terms are synonymous) makes it the pinnacle of U.S. spectator sports.

With that said, while the Denver Broncos are riding a high wave after thrashing the solid Arizona Cardinals 41-20 last Sunday, it is important that they maintain their focus as they play only their second road game of the season this weekend, against the New York Jets.

The Jets, coming off a 31-0 road loss to the San Diego Chargers last Sunday, have not had many, if any, propitious vibes this season and last weekend may have been rock bottom as head coach Rex Ryan opted to bench starting signal-caller Geno Smith in favor of veteran Michael Vick.

This decision came as a surprise to NFL on CBS Sports’ analyst Trent Green, who was calling the game with partner Greg Gumbel, as Ryan had told the broadcasters he would remain loyal to Smith no matter what happened.

In retrospect, however, perhaps Ryan had no choice as per a Thursday report from Pro Football Talk, and more specifically, Manish Mehta of the New York Daily News, the Jets’ locker room is “grumbling” about the way the 2nd year pro out of West Virginia has handled himself. As numerous NFL veterans can tell you, once a quarterback has lost the locker room, it could be curtains for that particular season.

Nevertheless, that post also asserts that Ryan is sticking with Smith for the time being, although this could be gamesmanship to keep the Broncos guessing. Denver will already be at a disadvantage as this represents one of the few times they will play in the 11:00 a.m. MDT time slot, another such incident will occur November 16 on the road at St. Louis, and teams from the West perpetually struggle in the early time frame on the Eastern seaboard.

Thus far this season, Smith has completed 58.1 percent of his passes for 949 yards, 4 TD’s and 6 INT’s, tied for the league lead in this category with Jacksonville’s Blake Bortles, Drew Brees of New Orleans, Chicago’s Jay Cutler, Ryan Fitzpatrick of Houston, Indianapolis’ Andrew Luck and Matt Ryan of Atlanta, but while the rest of these teams were all competitive Sunday, the Jets were anything but and things seem to be getting worse.

Presently, the Jets are 30th in the NFL in scoring offense, posting a paltry 15.8 points per game and are dead last in passing offense at 184 yards per game, an ignominious statistic that Smith is obviously responsible for. Additionally, as was discussed on Thursday’s edition of Sports Illustrated now, host Maggie Gray and NFL senior write at SI, Peter King, also rebuked Smith for not knowing what time a meeting was at San Diego last week, because of the time zone differential, so that’s another hurdle that apparently must be cleared.

Still, there are some bright spots as the rushing offense is sixth in league annals, averaging 139.2 yards per game while tailback Chris Ivory is posting 318 yards and a pair of scores on the ground as well as amassing a team-best 389 yards from scrimmage thus far.

Additionally, the Jets have a league-best 17 sacks to compensate for a unit that is otherwise a statistical sieve, with linebacker Calvin Pace posting 3.5 sacks and an additional 3 coming from defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson.

As for the Broncos, the solid victory against a quality Arizona team was their best win of the season thus far, both by margin and execution, as they posted 568 net yards of offense and signal-caller Peyton Manning amassed a career-best 479 yards as well as becoming only the second signal-caller to exceed the 500- passing touchdown threshold in NFL history.

Presently, Manning has 503 career touchdown passes and is six away from becoming the clear, undisputed leader in that category all-time as retired Brett Favre has 508 career scoring tosses.

In any case, Manning is second in the NFL  in both touchdown percentage on his passes (7.6 percent of his passes go for scores) and in yards per game (323.3) while completing 66.5 percent of his passes for 1,293 yards, 12 touchdowns and only three interceptions and still looking good in the 2015 Superbowl Odds. Additionally, wideout Demaryius Thomas (21 rec, 367 yards, 3 TD’s), may have broken out of his early season funk irrevocably as against Arizona, he amassed a Broncos’ franchise record 226 receiving yards on eight snags and a pair of touchdowns and seems to be comfortable out at his normal “wideout” position, rather than in the slot where he was for much of the time early in the season.

Tight end Julius Thomas, despite his regrettable chop block on Cardinals’ defensive end Calais Campbell, otherwise had a great game Sunday, catching two more touchdown passes. He now has a league-best seven scoring receptions and with these coming on 20 catches, he scores 35 percent of the time he catches the ball, a remarkable statistic.

Meanwhile, the passing game is also bolstered by wideout Emmanuel Sanders (32 rec, 435 yards-his 108.8 yards per game is second best in yards per game in the league) whose speed and willingness to go over the middle despite his light frame , (only 5’11” and 186 pounds) has served Manning well thus far.

Tailback Montee Ball will be out for an unspecified amount of time with an apparent groin injury so Ronnie Hillman is slated for his first start as a professional Sunday while it appears rookie tailback Juwan Thompson, who scored his first career touchdown against the Cardinals, will spell him.

As for the defense, the unit surrendered only 215 yards to the Cardinals, 81 of which came on one play, a touchdown from 3rd-string signal-caller Logan Thomas to utility man Andre Ellington, so even those statistics were skewed.

Linebacker Von Miller seems to be regaining his old form as he has a team-best 4 sacks and new acquisition, right defensive end DeMarcus Ware has stepped up with 3 sacks and linebacker Danny Trevathan seems to be finding his way in the lineup once again after suffering a training camp injury.

On special teams, kicker Brandon McManus, has made 5 of his 6 field goals on the season (83.3 percent) and made 2 of 3 field goals against Arizona, both of which were beyond 40 yards, a major concern for Broncos fans before Sunday as all the other kicks he had made were within 30 yards.

While he had to doink one of his field goal attempts in, he appears to be getting more confident as things progress forward and he may be called upon to be more of a factor as his comfort level grows.

Incidentally, the Broncos have made him the only kicker on the roster as they released Matt Prater last week, who was swiftly picked up by the Detroit Lions who have had their own kicking issues.