The Jets run defense has been impenetrable this season, as opposing running backs have charged the middle of the defensive line but have disappeared in Kris Jenkins’ grasp. The Jets have allowed only 78 yards rushing per game (third in NFL) as the Raiders’ Justin Fargas was the only running back to run for more than 70 yards against the Jets (28 carries, 74 yards, 2.6 avg.)
However, while the run defense has been one of the league’s dominant units this season, the Jets’ pass defense has faced its struggles. JaMarcus Russell (17-for-30, 203 yards, one touchdown), Tyler Thigpen (25-for-36, 280 yards, two touchdowns) and Matt Cassel (30-for-51, 400 yards, three touchdowns) have looked more like All-Pro quarterbacks against the Jets rather than the inconsistent and unproven quarterbacks they truly are. The Gang Green defense has allowed 239 yards passing per game, as only the Chargers (265.5 yards allowed/game), Dolphins (240.6) and Chiefs (240.4) are the AFC teams to allow more.
While the struggles against the pass have been noticeable, head coach Eric Mangini believes that more than just the secondary is to blame.
“I don’t see it as a function of purely the secondary. Pass defense, defense, it’s all coordinated. The rush has to be able to get there. The lanes have to be disciplined. The plan has to be executed,” Mangini said. “If we’re going to continue to improve in that area, it’s not just the secondary, it’s the whole group.”
The secondary began the season with a youthful spark, as fourth-round draft pick Dwight Lowery started the season-opener at cornerback and defensed two key passes near the goal line. Within just a few weeks Lowery has already hit a rookie wall, while Darrelle Revis is busy turning in a Pro Bowl-calibur season. Revis, who is consistently matched with the opposition’s top receiver, is second in the AFC with four interceptions.
After grabbing 26 interceptions in just 40 games while in college, Lowery is still waiting for his first in the NFL. Mangini explained that Lowery’s struggles are not uncommon for young cornerbacks.
“There are a lot of guys that have been through exactly the same thing. Darrelle Revis struggled at different points last season,” Mangini explained. “Ty Law has struggled throughout the course of his career. David Barrett. Everybody goes through it. When you line up at that corner position, your struggles are well documented. They are highlighted.”
While the pass defense has faced better days, the Jets can smile about the end result of their 11 games. New York sits in first place in the AFC East with a 8-3 record and have their eyes on their first division title since the 2002 season. The Jets have won five in a row and seven of their last eight. Two weeks ago they defeated the rival Patriots (34-31 OT) on the road and last Sunday they traveled to Tennessee and handed the Titans their first loss of the season (34-13). Next up is a matchup with another first place team. The Jets will be squared up against one of the league’s elite passing attacks when the AFC West-leading Broncos visit the Meadowlands Sunday.
Quarterback Jay Cutler possesses one of the strongest throwing arms in the league and now in just his third season, he’s already turned into one of the league’s elite quarterbacks. Cutler currently leads the AFC in passing yards (3036 yards) and is third in the conference with 19 touchdown passes. With a running game that has uncharacteristically struggled this season (109.5 yards/game, 19th in NFL) under head coach Mike Shanahan and is down to journeyman Michael Pittman at starter, the Broncos will surely look to attack the Jets through the air. Wide receiver Brandon Marshall (67 catches, 887 yards, four touchdowns) has already grown into one of the league’s elite receivers and rookie Eddie Royal (listed as “questionable” with toe injury) will receive plenty of votes for Rookie of the Year. With the Jets struggling against the pass, Denver will force Cutler to throw early and often and force Jets quarterback Brett Favre to beat them with his own rocket arm.
The Jets can look to attack the Broncos with their dynamic pass rush, but simply reaching Cutler has been a challenge for opposing defenses this season. Cutler has been sacked a league-low seven times this season, as the tackle duo of rookie Ryan Clady and first-year starter Ryan Harris has arguably been the league’s best. According to Stats Inc., Clady and Harris are two of three 11-game starters at tackle who have yet to allow a sack this season.
If the Jets pass rush is unable to attack Cutler, this game will likely come down to the Jets’ elite offense against a banged up Broncos defense. All-Pro cornerback Champ Bailey has been slowed down by a groin injury and is listed as questionable for Sunday, while linebacker DJ Williams is doubtful with a knee injury. The Broncos’ defense has ranked near the bottom of the NFL (380.4 yards allowed/game, 29th in NFL) and is fresh off an embarassing 31-10 loss to the Raiders. With Favre and running back Thomas Jones clicking on all cylinders in recent weeks, points will surely be scored come Sunday.
Cutler and his elite receiving core will attack a struggling Jets secondary and put up points, but this game will come down to Denver’s ability to stop the Jets’ offense. After flawless performances in wins over the Patriots and Titans, Favre will continue his hot streak Sunday. Even if Bailey returns for the Broncos, it’s hard to see where the Broncos will limit Favre….Jets 37, Broncos 28