ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — When Sean Payton chugged a few lattes and ripped Nathaniel Hackett’s coaching job last season in Denver as one of the worst ever, this Sunday set up as a cage match. Bring in Michael Buffer. Put the combatants in their corners and let them tap gloves and throw haymakers.
Then sports happened.
The Broncos are not good, strapped with a 1-3 record and winless in two home games.
The Jets are not well either, owning a 1-3 mark. Hope all but vanished when quarterback Aaron Rodgers, their modern-day Joe Namath, ruptured his Achilles on the fourth snap of the season.
The Jets hired Nathaniel Hackett to coach his good friend. With Rodgers gone, Hackett’s 2023 offense looks like his 2022 version.
In 15 games in Denver, Hackett’s offense ranked last in points (15.5), sacks allowed, third down conversions and red zone touchdown percentage. The Jets currently average 15.5 points – I am not making this up – and sit 24th in sacks, last on third down and 20th in red zone percentage.
Denver’s offense averages 25.0 points per game, but that significant progress has been undermined by the league’s worst defense. The Broncos have allowed 130 points over their past 10-plus quarters. The Broncos are 1.5-point favorite but lost the first two home games under similar circumstances.
My Denver7 keys to a Broncos victory:
Jets quarterback Zach Wilson played the best game of his career last week vs. the Chiefs, the training wheels taken off as he threw multiple back shoulder lasers. He has the arm befitting a first-round pick but has been a turnover machine. The Broncos must pressure him, creating tighter windows.
The Broncos defense showed life in the fourth quarter last week, switching to more man coverage. Staying with that is critical, especially with the anticipated return of free safety Justin Simmons – the lead communicator on defense – and inside linebacker Josey Jewell, who relays the plays from defensive boss Vance Joseph.
Don’t Run Away
The Broncos lack balance offensively. While Russell Wilson is playing well, the Broncos cannot rely on the pass to win.
The Jets defense has not lived up the hype this season, gouged on the ground for 148 yards per game, ranking 28th.
With Javonte Williams’ (quad) potentially limiting his workload, Jaleel McLaughlin remains critical. His speed and patience have brought back memories of Phillip Lindsay’s Pro Bowl rookie season. McLaughlin needs to get at least 10 carries, while Samaje Perine serves as the third-down back.
Wilson doesn’t need to throw 35 times. What does an ideal game look like? He completes 22 of 28 passes for 225 yards and a couple of scores with 30 yards rushing.
Wilson has played his best football in Denver over the past month. That must continue Sunday with the caveat of committing no turnovers against a ball-hawk defense featuring cornerback Sauce Gardner.
No Free Hall Pass
Breece Hall is a bolt of lightning. If he’s not the fastest running back in the league, he remains in the conversation. And that’s after ACL surgery. Hall carried four times for 72 yards last season vs. Denver before blowing out his knee.
After posting 127 yards in the opener, he has logged only 83 over the past three games. He will no longer be on a pitch count. The Broncos must contain him to create difficult third downs for Wilson.
Keep it simple
The Broncos defense cannot ignore the fundamentals. Or the stakes.
Denver must win this game to remain relevant. Playing soft zone coverage and missing tackles will not work.
It’s time to be more aggressive with man coverage – keep Pat Surtain II on star receiver Garrett Wilson as much as possible -- and hit with authority to cause a fumble. Or two.
Get Mims involved
All Marvin Mims Jr. does is make plays. This must be the week he plays more, right? If he’s not at 30 snaps, it seems like a lost opportunity. No player on the team has been more explosive. Let him get a few more chances and see if he can crank out two big plays.
Clean Special Teams
The Broncos’ special teams have, for the most part, been solid. Last week featured missteps on a fumbled kick by Mims and a low net average from punter Riley Dixon. But kicker Wil Lutz won the game with a 51-yarder. In a toss-up game, the Broncos need clean special teams.
Troy’s prediction: Broncos 25, Jets 22