8:20 PM EST, NFL Network – Line: Jets -1.5, Over/Under: 40.5
After a Monday Night clash of unbeatens, we get to visit the opposite side of the football spectrum, as the Denver Broncos and New York Jets look to finally break through in this battle of winless teams from MetLife Stadium in the Meadowlands. A trendy pick by many to take the next step, the Broncos (0-3, 4th in AFC West) have found themselves stuck in neutral in the early stages of the season for the second year in a row, winless through the first three games of the schedule. Last season, Denver slumped out of the gates en route to an 0-4 start, though they eventually managed to turn things around, winning five of their final eight outings to secure a 7-9 finish in Vic Fangio’s first season as Head Coach. That turnaround was largely instigated by promoting Rookie Quarterback, Drew Lock (60.5%, 236 YDS, 5.85 NY/A, 1 TD, 0 INT, 53.4 QBR), from the Bench in place of the aging Joe Flacco, with the young gunslinger quickly acquainting himself with his supporting cast; the rook went 4-1 as the Starter, with the Offense averaging 21.4 points on 289.2 total yards, which believe it or not was an improvement over their performance under Flacco. To his credit, Lock completed 64.1% of his attempts for an average of 204.0 yards per game with seven touchdowns in comparison to just three interceptions. Younger and more athletic, he brought a dimension of mobility that didn’t exist with his predecessor, which also became very important given the struggles of the Offensive Line. Buying more time with his legs also meant more opportunities to stretch the Defense downfield (6.17 net yards per attempt opposed to Flacco’s 5.65), while also proving capable in the clutch, leading a pair of game-winning drives.
Ever since winning Super Bowl L, the overriding theme for Denver has been their persistent (and often failed) pursuit of a Franchise Quarterback, with Hall of Famer/General Manager/Vice President of Football operations, John Elway, cycling through signal-callers like toilet paper during a pandemic. Everyone from Trevor Siemian to Paxton Lynch to Brock Osweiler to Case Keenum to the aforementioned Flacco have lined up under Center for the Broncos, with the club ultimately sliding into mediocrity over the past four years with a 27-37 (.421) record during that span. This of course brings up back to Lock, whom Elway snagged with the 42nd Overall Pick in the 2019 NFL Draft. Few teams were as active in bolstering their Quarterback’s supporting cast over the Offseason, with the Front Office adding the likes of former Pro-Bowl Tailback, Melvin Gordon (42 CAR, 174 YDS, 4.1 Y/C, 1 TD), in Free Agency, and promising Receivers, Jerry Jeudy (13 REC, 173 YDS, 13.3 Y/R, 0 TD) and K.J. Hamler (6 REC, 78 YDS, 13.0 Y/R, 0 TD), in the 2020 Draft. Furthermore, veteran play-caller and noted Quarterback developer, Pat Shurmur, was brought on board as Offensive Coordinator. Even without a normal Offseason of preparation, the Broncos Offense looked read to take flight, right? Well, unfortunately that hasn’t been the case for a variety of reasons for the denizens of Mile High, for just about everything that could have gone wrong for Denver has done just that thus far. After one uninspiring performance in the Season Opener against the Tennessee Titans, Lock was strained the rotator cuff in his throwing shoulder following being slammed to the ground early the following week at the Pittsburgh Steelers, placing him on the shelf for the next three to five weeks. However, he wasn’t the only Bronco to bite the proverbial dust, as promising Wideout, Courtland Sutton (3 REC, 66 YDS, 22.0 Y/R, 0 TD), who tore his ACL in the same contest, effectively ending his campaign altogether. And just like that, this once promising Offense has been laid low by significant injuries to their two most prominent figures, with few solutions available to Fangio, Shurmur, and the rest of the Coaching Staff. Oh and by the way, the Defense has suffered it’s own share of debilitating injuries. Former Defensive Player of the Year, Von Miller, was lost for the season after suffering an ankle injury shortly before the Opener, while former Pro-Bowl Cornerback, A.J. Bouye, and Defensive Lineman, Jurrell Casey (14 TKL, 1 TFL, 2 QBH, 0.0 SK, 3 PD), both landed on Injured Reserve with a separated shoulder ailing the former and torn elbow ligaments knocking out the latter. Both players were acquired in the Offseason in an attempt to bolster what had already been a strong unit, though their collective absence will certainly keep this unit at a disadvantage moving forward. The Pass Defense in particular has been getting shredded, with Denver yielding 277.7 yards through the air (29th Overall) on 6.6 net yards per attempt (16th Overall), with seven touchdowns (23rd Overall) in comparison to just one interception (25th Overall).
“We’re way too talented to be 0-3… We’re way too talented to be losing these games… Thank God we’ve got this quick turnaround so we can get this nasty taste out of our mouths.”Tim Patrick, Denver Broncos Wide Receiver
When we last saw them, Denver’s injury-ravaged Offense was on full display in a 28-10 loss at home to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, in a matchup that saw what was in all likelihood Tom Brady’s final trip to Mile High. A proverbial house of horrors throughout the venerable career of the six-time Super Bowl Champion, you wouldn’t know by watching Sunday’s affair; the 43-yaer old completed 25-of-38 passes for 297 yards and three touchdowns, lading an attack that still hasn’t quite figured it out. However, what they have figured out was more than enough to outpace the home side, who behind the arm of journeyman, Jeff Driskel (54.7%, 432 YDS, 4.45 NY/A, 3 TD, 2 INT, 29.9 QBR), could muster a scant 226 total yards on thirteen third downs, with the running game producing just forty-five yards on fourteen carries, and the unit as a whole failing to remain on the field in converting only 5-of-15 their attempts on third and fourth down. If the Broncos’ brass was still on the fence about Driskel, then they likely fell off it following Sunday’s performance, with the 27-year old completing just 17-of-30 attempts for 176 yards a touchdown and an interception, while taking five sacks for a loss of forty-five yards. After completing his second consecutive winless September, Fangio was adamant that Driskel would remain the Starter moving forward, particularly on a short week, though it should be noted that Elway added Blake Bortles early last week for depth.
Meanwhile, as bad as the Broncos have got it, they can take solace in the fact that they’re not the Jets (0-3, 4th in AFC East), who once again appear to be spiraling headfirst into yet another woeful campaign that will in all likelihood result in more widespread change in the Offseason. Even though they somehow managed to finish the previous season with a respectable 7-9 record, absolutely nobody had anything that could remotely be considered as high expectations for New York. Think about it folks: in a season in which the division was truly wide-open for the first time in two decades, a team with the continuity of a returning Quarterback/Head Coach tandem wasn’t billed to contend. That’s the general consensus on Sam Darnold (61.5%, 562 YDS, 5.16 NY/A, 3 TD, 4 INT, 23.9 QBR) and Adam Gase, who have inspired absolutely zero good will and faith from their rabid fan base. So what the hell is wrong with Gang Green, you ask? Well, we highly doubt that there is enough space within this column to do their plethora of issues justice. Adam Gase has been an unmitigated disaster since arriving last season, employing unimaginative and uninspiring strategies and tactics, while serving as a weekly punchline for the merciless New York media. The player who he was hired to develop, the aforementioned Darnold, has done nothing but regress under his watch, looking like a broken shell of the promising prospect that the club traded up to select third overall in the 2018 NFL Draft. Furthermore, there remains an inexplicable dearth of talent across the roster, particularly along the Offensive Line, the Receiving Corps, and the Pass-Rush, which have been longstanding issues for the franchise. Ladies and gentlemen, this team is the product of an extensive rebuild going horribly wrong, with an even longer rebuild required to solve their issues.
Though it’s still considered early in the season, there are a number of prime candidates to become the first Head Coach to be relieved of his duties, and quite frankly the aforementioned Gase should be at the top of the list. The fan base never wanted him to begin with (and have recently protested for his firing last week), the media has poked fun at him, and General Manager, Joe Douglas, didn’t hire him, but at the end of the day the biggest sin committed by the 42-year old has been his inability to properly develop his young Quarterback. Given the help the support (or lack thereof) that he’s received, it’s really not surprising that Darnold has regressed the way that he has in his third season as the Starter, which is typically when most young Quarterbacks make the leap to the next level. However, it’s been an utter failure to launch for the former USC standout, who has thus far posted career-worsts in a slew of categories including passing yards (187.3) yards per attempt (5.9), net yards per attempt (5.16), yards per completion (9.5), touchdown percentage (3.1%), interception percentage (4.2%), passer rating (70.7), and QBR (23.9). At this stage of his development, his mechanics are still sloppy and his decision-making leaves much to be desired, while his confidence appears to be shot in the same vein that David Carr’s was back in the early 2000s when he was getting battered on a weekly occurrence. With that said, where is his help going to come from? The club paid a pretty penny for former Pro-Bowl Tailback, Le’Veon Bell (6 CAR, 14 YDS, 2.3 Y/C, 0 TD), who has been nothing short of a BUST following his sitting out the entirety of 2018 due to a contract stalemate, with the ageless Frank Gore (42 CAR, 144 YDS, 3.4 Y/C, 0 TD), leading a toothless rushing attack (88.3) at the age of thirty-seven. The Receiving Corps lacks weapons altogether, even more so after the departure of vertical threat, Robby Anderson, who left in Free Agency. Jamison Crowder (7 REC, 115 YDS, 16.4 Y/R, 1 TD) and Breshad Perriman (5 REC, 29 YDS, 5.8 Y/R, 0 TD) are hardly the answer here, and now both players are dealing with various injuries, with the former sidelined with a nagging hamstring and the latter a high ankle sprain. Douglas used his first two picks in the draft on massive Left Tackle, Mekih Becton (11th Overall), and athletic Receiver, Denzel Mims (59th Overall), though neither have really been able to make much of an impact at this point. So is it any surprise that this all adds up to one of the worst Offenses in the league thus far? Through three weeks, New York ranks dead-last in points (12.3) and total yards (275.6), along with next-to-last in passing yards (187.3), third down percentage (32.4%), and red zone percentage (33.3%).
“It’s frustrating… I’m frustrated for our guys, our coaches. I mean, we’re the only ones that can fix it. We have to do it. We have to figure out a way to clean up all the things that aren’t going right for us.”Adam Gase, New York Jets Head Coach
When we last saw them, the Jets were busy getting pummeled by the Indianapolis Colts in a 36-7 loss that really looks worse the longer you dwell on it. After tying the game up at 7-7 towards the end of the First Quarter, the visitors relinquished twenty-nine unanswered points over the final three frames of action. Offensively, they could never get much of anything going, amassing a miserable 260 total yards on fifteen first downs, converting on just 3-of-13 third and fourth downs. For his part, Gase went out of his way to call a balanced game with an emphasis on the run, which ultimately netted a respectable 109 yards on twenty-nine carries. However, Darold was REALLY BAD in this one, folks, completing 17-of-29 passes for 168 yards, a touchdown and THREE interceptions, the first of which came on the fifth play of the affair, which the hosts promptly returned for a score to open their ledger. That recklessness played a huge role in their struggles in the Second Half; New York owned time of possession through the first two quarters and had totaled 188 yards of Offense against one of the league’s stingier Defenses, but could only muster seventy-two yards over the final thirty minutes of play. Granted, this was a unit that was already without the aforementioned Crowder and Perriman alongside Right Tackle, George Fant coming into the afternoon, but they also lost Becton in the first half to a shoulder injury, which has left his availability for tonight’s meeting with Denver up uncertain.