With training camp on the horizon and September not too far off in the distance, NewYorkJets.com is examining each of the Green & White's opponent matchups in 2020. Next in the series, we discuss with DenverBroncos.com lead writer Aric DiLalla the Jets' first primetime game of the year, Thursday night at home vs. the Broncos in Week 4.
Both longtime AFC opponents would welcome showstopping performances by their young quarterbacks under the MetLife lights. For the Jets, of course, that's Sam Darnold, entering his third season as the starter — he chalked up his first home victory over the Broncos, 34-16, in 2018 and went 6-2 over last season's final half. Meanwhile, Denver last year went 4-1 over its last five games with second-round rookie Drew Lock faring well in his NFL baptism.
"With Drew, the talent is there," DiLalla told Eric Allen and Ethan Greenberg in an Official Jets Podcast. "Some of the concerns about him, the accuracy, throwing off his back foot, being consistent, those things were prevalent to some degree in the preseason, much less so by the time he came back at the end of the season after being on IR for eight weeks.
"I think his work ethic helped him when he was finally able to get in there and also proved to his teammates that he can be the guy. That more than anything is important because your teammates have to believe in you at the quarterback position for this whole thing to work, and they definitely believe in Drew."
The QB depth charts, for one. Old hand Joe Flacco, Denver's starter for the first eight games (2-6 before his neck injury), is now behind Darnold. Lock is backed by third-year journeyman Jeff Driskel. But more important, Lock is surrounded by a revamped WR corps as 15th overall pick pick Jerry Jeudy and Round 2 selection KJ Hamler join third-year wideout Courtland Sutton (72 catches, 1,112 yards, 6 TDs in 2019), plus second-year TE Noah Fant (40-562-3).
Then a very good defense got better with OLB Von Miller joined by DL Jurrell Casey (traded from the Titans) and rejoined by OLB Bradley Chubb, who missed all but four games last year with a torn ACL.
"Let's start with what Chubb and Von were before Casey got there," DiLalla said, referencing 2018. "Chubb had 12 sacks and Von had 14½ and they were really impressive. ... Then you bring in Casey, who's had at least five sacks every season for seven or eight years, made five straight Pro Bowls, his positional versatility. ... I think the pressure up front should help the back end."
Matchups to Watch
One pivotal matchup in this game will be the Jets' rebuilt OL vs. the Broncos' fortified rush. If the Jets can protect Darnold, he'll have a chance to find the likes of Jamison Crowder and new WRs Breshad Perriman and rookie Denzel Mims against a corner position that lost Chris Harris to the Chargers and acquired A.J. Bouye from the Jaguars to head up a green CB depth chart.
"Corner is where I have questions," DiLalla said. "You've got Bouye, who in 2017 was really good but was playing alongside Jalen Ramsey. Now he's the unquestioned No. 1 in Denver. Bryce Callahan, who came over from Chicago last year in free agency, reaggravated a foot injury and never saw the field. Also at the position is a bunch of young drafted guys. We've got a real good safety group, the edge rushers are great, so you don't want that piece at corner to be the one thing that makes this fall apart. That's why I'd look at a veteran to maybe solidify the group."
Also key will be the Jets' No. 2-ranked run defense vs. the talented RB duo of Phillip Lindsay (1,011 rush yards, 35 receptions) and Melvin Gordon (UFA from Chargers, Freeman (612 rush yards, 42 receptions in 12 games).
Why It's Important
For both sides, it's the final game of a challenging first quarter of the season. The Jets' first three are at Buffalo, home for San Francisco and at Indianapolis. For Denver: vs. Tennessee, at Pittsburgh, vs. Tampa Bay and Tom Brady, then on the 1,600 -mile road trip to MetLife on TNF. DiLalla observed, "The Jets are a team Broncos fans might've said, hey, that's a game we should win before the schedule comes out." Orange Crush fans may well be confident, even though both teams went 7-9 last year and had good offseasons.
But as DiLalla said, the Broncos are far from looking past the Jets. "It's potentially the hardest way it could've been set up, being on a short week across the country," he said. "So that one's not going to be easy at all, either. The Broncos are going to be tested early. They've just got to survive this first stretch of games."