New York Jets, Denver Broncos, Zach Wilson, QB, Bradley Chubb, Sacks
Zach Wilson, Bradley Chubb, New York Jets, Denver Broncos, Getty Images

The Denver Broncos have an elite defense, but the New York Jets can beat it by exposing its few holes

One of the best NFL traditions in 2022 thus far: Those glorious moments when we come together as a nation to complain about an ugly Denver Broncos game.

Denver has already played four nationally-televised games this season, and in those four games, the average scoring total was 27.5 – or 13.8 points per team. Neither the Broncos nor their opponents hit the 20-point mark in any of those four games. These games have featured twice as many turnovers (12) as touchdowns (6).

Obviously, much of the chagrin regarding the Broncos’ lack of primetime appeal is due to their ghastly offense. Led by a rapidly-declining Russell Wilson, Denver is ranked 32nd with 15.2 points per game.

But it takes two to tango. Broncos games have been so ugly because the Denver defense is making the opposing offense look just as bad as the Denver offense.

The Broncos’ defense is playing an elite level. Denver ranks fourth-best in scoring defense (16.5 points allowed per game) and second-best in defensive DVOA.

Many New York Jets fans are viewing this week’s trip to Denver as an easily winnable game because of the Broncos’ grotesque offense, but they are overlooking how much of a challenge this Denver defense will be for New York’s offense.

The Jets just had a really tough time moving the football (season-low 278 yards) against a Green Bay Packers defense that is not playing nearly as well as Denver’s. Green Bay is 15th in points allowed and 24th in defensive DVOA. Denver is a completely different test. If the Jets offense plays as well as it did last week, the Broncos will punish them for it much more than the Packers did.

Jets offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur needs to scheme up the perfect plan if New York’s offense is going to have a shot at putting together a victory-caliber performance this week.

Denver’s defense is thriving right now, but it does have a few particular holes that the Jets can exploit. These holes need to be the centerpiece of LaFleur’s gameplan.

If I were LaFleur, here are a few keys I would emphasize in this week’s gameplan, each centered around exposing one of the Broncos’ rare defensive flaws.

Focus on running the ball out of 11 personnel rather than 12 personnel

In their win over Green Bay, the Jets drastically increased their usage of 12 personnel (1 RB/2 TE/2 WR), using it on a season-high 34% of the offensive plays after peaking at 21% over their first five games. New York focused on two-tight end packages to establish a physical, run-first mentality, which is what they’ve always wanted to do since signing C.J. Uzomah and Tyler Conklin in free agency.

The approached worked well, helping the Jets rush for a season-high 179 yards.

I’m glad the Jets found a new approach that worked for them last week. But I want them to switch things up for Denver.

The Broncos are much better at stopping the pass (1st in pass defense DVOA) than stopping the run (18th in rush defense DVOA), so I do want the Jets to maintain their ground-and-pound mentality this week. However, I want them to do it in a different way.

Denver is tremendous at stopping the run against 12 personnel. It’s against 11 personnel (1 RB/1 TE/3 WR) where the Broncos have major issues in the run game.

According to NFL Next Gen Stats, the Broncos are allowing only 2.7 yards per carry against 12 personnel this season, which ranks third-best in the NFL. Against 11 personnel, the Broncos are allowing 5.8 yards per carry, which ranks fourth-worst.

If you’re worried that YPC is not providing enough context, these rankings hold up when looking at EPA (Expected Points Added) per carry. Denver allows the second-fewest EPA/carry against 12 personnel (-0.44) and the sixth-most EPA/carry against 11 personnel (+0.12).

The Jets must lean into this. Yes, 12 personnel worked fairly well for them last week, but different opponents require different gameplans. This Broncos team calls for the Jets to decrease their 12 personnel usage and build their offense around 11 personnel concepts.

Interestingly enough, the Jets are actually much better at rushing out of 11 personnel than out of 12 personnel. New York ranks 22nd in YPC out of 12 personnel (3.6) and 11th in YPC out of 11 personnel (5.4). The Jets are 26th in EPA/carry out of 12 personnel (-0.19) and sixth in EPA/carry out of 11 personnel (+0.12).

Despite the increased usage of 12 personnel, the Jets actually had their best rushing success against the Packers when they had 11 personnel on the field, rushing for 78 yards on eight carries (9.8 YPC). In particular, they were dominant when running to the outside with 11 personnel, as seen on these two plays:

Wide receiver Corey Davis is the key to the Jets’ success in these scenarios. Davis is such a good blocker that he essentially serves as a second tight on these outside run plays. That gives the Jets a huge advantage. The defense puts lighter personnel on the field (likely subbing a LB for a CB) in response to the offense removing a TE for a WR, but with Davis leading the way on the outside, the Jets don’t lose much blocking talent (if any).

New York loves aligning Davis in tight splits and having him pin the edge defender inside, opening up the outside lane. You can see him do it in each of the above plays.

When the Broncos gave up a season-high 26 points to the Raiders’ offense in Week 4, Las Vegas crushed Denver with run plays out of 11 personnel. The Raiders gained 98 yards on 14 rush attempts out of 11 personnel (7.0 YPC).

See here as the Raiders beat the Broncos in a similar fashion to how the Jets beat the Packers in the plays above: by having a WR pin the edge defender. The pre-snap jet motion is also a nice touch that the Raiders use here, which the Jets also like to utilize.

If I’m Mike LaFleur, I’m taking a huge chunk of Uzomah’s snaps and splitting them amongst Garrett Wilson and Elijah Moore. These two wide receivers have been the victims of New York’s increased 12 personnel usage, while Uzomah has been the main beneficiary.

Corey Davis continues to be a mainstay (never going below 74% of the snaps this year), but Wilson (44%) and Moore (58%) stooped to season lows last week while Uzomah (78%) soared to a season-high. There will be games when this approach makes sense, such as last week, but the Broncos game is not one of them.

The Jets used 11 personnel only 38% of the time last week. In Denver, they need to be closer to where they were over the first four games of the year, when they used it 74% of the time.

Play to Denver’s weaknesses. The Broncos are much worse at defending the run than defending the pass, and they are much worse at defending the run against lighter personnel than against heavier personnel. Build around that.

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Hunt down the outside linebackers in coverage

As a 3-4 defense, the Broncos’ edge defenders are outside linebackers with more experience dropping into coverage (in comparison to a 4-3 defense like the Jets’ unit, which employs burlier defensive ends who rarely drop). So, the Broncos often get creative and drop their edge defenders into coverage.

Zach Wilson needs to be ready to attack Denver’s outside linebackers whenever they drop out. The Broncos’ outside linebackers are not nearly effective enough in coverage to warrant being dropped as often as they are.

Denver’s edge defenders have combined for 104 coverage snaps this season, an average of 17.3 per game. On those plays, they have allowed 11 completions on 12 targets for 140 yards – a brutal average of 11.7 yards per target.

Star pass rusher Bradley Chubb is the main culprit, yielding 87 yards on four targets. See here as Chubb (No. 55, lined up over TE on the offense’s left side) drops into coverage, ditches his zone to pursue the QB, and gives up the easiest 38-yard touchdown in NFL history.

Even if you take that play out, Chubb still allowed 49 yards on his other three targets, an average of 16.3 yards per target. He’s ripe for the picking.

Denver has a stellar group of defensive backs, so the Jets have to hunt down favorable matchups elsewhere. The outside linebacker unit might be their best bet.

LaFleur must dial up concepts that put the outside linebackers in conflict. Wilson must emphasize throwing in the outside linebackers’ direction whenever he sees them drop.

Make the Broncos tackle

Despite their overall defensive success, the Broncos are tied for the NFL lead with 41 missed tackles, per Pro Football Reference. They’re an aggressive group that flies around and makes a ton of plays, but they pay for it with a hefty sum of whiffs.

The Jets need to create opportunities for their best playmakers to exploit the Broncos’ tackling woes.

New York could hardly be better equipped to expose an opposing defense’s poor tackling. The Jets’ roster is stockpiled with tackle-breaking maestros.

Garrett Wilson ranks third-best out of 90 qualified wide receivers with 0.333 missed tackles forced per reception (8 on 24). Elijah Moore ranks sixth-best with a mark of 0.313 (5 on 16).

Out of the backfield, Breece Hall ranks third-best out of 28 qualified running backs with 0.421 missed tackles forced per reception (8 on 19). Michael Carter is 17th with a mark of 0.222 (4 on 18) but he was elite in 2021 with a mark of 0.417 (15 on 36).

Dial up screens for these guys. It gives them a chance to do what they do best and it forces the Broncos to rely on one of the few things they struggle with.

Denver is extremely talented in coverage. If the Jets just keep dropping back and asking their receivers to win against Denver’s defensive backs, we are going to hear plenty of “IN-COM-PLETE” chants from the Broncos crowd (if they don’t leave early like they did against Indy).

New York needs to shift the focus of the passing game away from Denver’s coverage and toward Denver’s tackling. If they can do that successfully, the passing-game advantage will shift in their favor.

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Michael Nania is one of the best analytical New York Jets minds in the world, combining his statistical expertise with game film to add proper context to the data. Nania scrapes every corner, ensuring you know all there is to know about everyone from the QB to the long snapper. Nania's Numbers, Nania's QB Grades, and Nania's All-22 give fans a deeper and more well-rounded dive into the Jets than anyone else can offer. Email: michael.nania[at] - Twitter: @Michael_Nania
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11 months ago

Great insights and data Mike.
This is a serious question: will our staff know that Denver is more vulnerable against the run out of 11 sets, than 12 sets? Is there someone on staff telling LaFleur this info?

In looking at the film clips it seems like our 11 sets are very tight. In our clips you can see all our WR’s in the frame, in the Raider’s clip you see one (one comes into the clip in motion). If the intent is to spread out the D, why be so tight? I understand that some of the plays, as you mention are to pin the outside defender and tighter splits make this easier.
Great insights and data Mike.
This is a serious question: will our staff know that Denver is more vulnerable against the run out of 11 sets, than 12 sets? Is there someone on staff telling LaFleur this info?

In looking at the film clips it seems like our 11 sets are very tight. In our clips you can see all our WR’s in the frame, in the Raider’s clip you see one (one comes into the frame in motion). If the intent is to spread out the D, why be so tight? I understand that some of the plays, as you mention are to pin the outside defender and tighter splits make this easier.

Last edited 11 months ago by mlesko73
Richard Hausig
Richard Hausig
11 months ago

This is a very tough game, huge home field advantage and our history there is dubious.

I agree Michael, I can’t speak to the different sets the way you can but I think the formula is pretty straight forward. Run the ball. But opposing defenses know that so they are going to have to use the passing game to set up the running game. Using more 11 makes sense because the defense has to respect the pass a little more, 12 allows the D to come to pack the box closer.

We haven’t seen a lot of quick slants, go routes or back shoulder throws, all of which help keep the defense from getting up real close to the line of scrimmage. I assume because #2 struggles with those throws? How else do you explain not using G Wilson on quick slants? We’ve seen him run deeper slants and score, I think if they could get him the ball at the second level he will make big plays. Im looking for that this week. Hit a couple of those, throw a few 3-step drop deep balls and keep them from crowding the line of scrimmage and then run, run run. And run off tackle! They haven’t done a lot of that but with the current OT combo they can wide and that suits Hall with his vision and one cut ability.

Don’t underestimate the Broncos here. We have been taking advantage of our breaks but we’ve gotten a ton of them. Injured QBs, a historic last 2 minute collapse and GB may not be as good as everyone thought. All credit to the players and coaches, they have really taken the reins here and things are turning around now. We still have a long way to go and there will be some bumps in the road for this very young team. Win or lose its now interesting and fun to root for our Jets.

Matt Galemmo
Matt Galemmo
11 months ago
Reply to  Richard Hausig

We haven’t seen a lot of quick slants”

This is a partial explanation–check out the third video. Davis is the only one winning on that route.

Jonathan Richter
Jonathan Richter
11 months ago
Reply to  Richard Hausig

Only thing I disagree with is “our history there is dubious.” These are NOT the SOJ!

Matt Galemmo
Matt Galemmo
11 months ago

What about passing (over the middle) out of 12 personnel? Don’t the jets’ TEs and RBs match up well against base coverage?

Last edited 11 months ago by Matt Galemmo
Richard Hausig
Richard Hausig
11 months ago
Reply to  Matt Galemmo

I just said the same about the middle but think they should attack with WR slants and quick throws. We haven’t thrown many slants, I think both Wilson and Moore can turn those into big plays and back the defense up if we can get them the ball in the short middle.