What must the New York Jets do to ensure the Denver Broncos’ offense stays cold?
The New York Jets‘ defense has a favorable matchup against the Denver Broncos’ offense today. Denver is ranked 32nd in the NFL with 15.2 points per game and will be without starting quarterback Russell Wilson. New York’s defense is allowing only 15.7 points per game over its past three contests while yielding under 300 yards in each of those games.
How can the Jets ensure that Denver’s offense does not have its breakout game this afternoon?
Here are two primary keys to the gameplan for Jets defensive coordinator Jeff Ulbrich.
Don’t stack the box and don’t blitz. Drop defenders into coverage and rely on your defensive line to win without help.
The Jets do not need to get overaggressive to enforce their will on this Denver offense. I believe the best strategy would be to just sit back and let their front-seven go to work.
Denver’s ghastly passing attack gets most of the publicity, but the Broncos’ run game is actually even worse than their pass game. The Broncos’ offense ranks 24th in passing DVOA and 27th in rushing DVOA.
The rushing struggles are the product of a weak run-blocking offensive line. Denver’s running backs have gained 532 rushing yards this season, and of those, 393 came after contact (73.9%). They are gaining only 1.08 yards before contact per rush attempt.
Last week, the Jets provided excellent run defense against a Green Bay offensive line that is much better than Denver’s. New York allowed Aaron Jones and A.J. Dillon to gain only 1.16 yards before contact per rush attempt on their way to just 61 total rushing yards on 19 carries (3.2 per carry). That’s a far cry from the 4.9 average that Jones and Dillon own as a duo this season (5.1 if you exclude the Jets game).
It’s worth noting that the Broncos and Packers utilize similar run schemes, so New York’s success in Green Bay should be transferable to this week. Broncos head coach Nathaniel Hackett was the Packers’ offensive coordinator from 2019 to 2021.
The bottom line is that the Jets should have enough of a talent advantage over Denver’s offensive line to stop the run without stacking the box. Denver is averaging -0.21 EPA (Expected Points Added) per carry this season when the defense has fewer than eight defenders in the box. That is the worst mark in the NFL. In other words, no team is less effective at rushing against light boxes.
All signs point to the Jets being capable of stuffing Denver’s run game without extra resources near the line of scrimmage. This can allow them to allocate more resources in coverage, creating extra traffic to increase the odds of Brett Rypien turning the ball over.
This strategy carries over to the passing game. New York can apply a mountain of pressure on Rypien without blitzing. The four-man rush should get the job done.
Denver is allowing a pressure rate of 26.6% when facing fewer than five rushers, which is slightly worse than the 2022 NFL average of 25.5% and ranks 16th-highest in the league. Relative to league average, they fare better at protecting against the blitz. They are allowing a pressure rate of 32.0% against five-plus rushers, which ranks 12th-lowest and is better than the league average of 34.1%.
Things got worse for Denver in Week 6, when they played their first game without top-notch left tackle Garett Bolles. Their allowed pressure rate against fewer than five rushers climbed to 30.0%.
The Broncos are also far more effective at throwing the ball against the blitz. Denver is second-best with a fantastic average of 9.8 yards per pass attempt against five-plus rushers. Against fewer than five rushers, they rank 22nd with 6.6 yards per pass attempt.
Of course, these numbers were accumulated with Russell Wilson at quarterback, so things could be much different with Rypien, but passing statistics are often a product of the entire offense rather than just the quarterback himself. These splits are stark enough to believe that they represent Denver’s offense as a whole.
New York is perfectly constructed to exploit those splits. Recently, the Jets have been creating an overwhelming amount of pressure, and they have been doing it without blitzing.
From Weeks 4-6, the Jets generated a pressure rate of 33.0% when sending fewer than five rushers, which ranked fifth-best in the NFL over that span. That pressure led to some great results. The Jets allowed 5.7 yards per pass attempt (3rd-best) and a 58.0 passer rating (1st) when sending fewer than five rushers. They also snagged a league-leading five interceptions in these situations.
There’s no need to change up the formula this week. Sit back and let your red-hot defensive line do its thing.
Take away Courtland Sutton’s mismatches by shadowing him with Sauce Gardner
Sauce Gardner has not been asked to do much shadowing this year. He usually stays on the left side of the field for the majority of the game.
This week is the perfect time to unleash “Shadow Sauce”.
The lone standout of the Broncos’ passing game is wide receiver Courtland Sutton, who is enjoying a strong year despite the issues around him. Sutton is averaging 5.2 receptions for 71.8 yards. He is the centerpiece of Denver’s aerial attack, owning 14 more receptions and 141 more receiving yards than any other Bronco.
A big-bodied weapon at 6-foot-4 and 216 pounds, Sutton is an elite-level threat in contested-catch situations. He is tied for fourth in the NFL with seven contested catches this season.
Sutton could cause problems for the Jets’ smaller cornerbacks: D.J. Reed (5-foot-9, 193lb) and Michael Carter II (5-foot-10, 184lb). He would have much more trouble in contested-catch situations against the lengthy Gardner (6-foot-3, 200lb).
Here is a breakdown of Sutton’s success this season when matched up against a cornerback, based on their height:
- Targeted vs. a <6’0 CB: 6 catches on 7 targets (86%) for 72 yards (10.3 per target), 1 TD, and 4 first downs (71% conversion rate)
- Targeted vs. a 6’0 or 6’1 CB: 16 catches on 23 targets (70%) for 221 yards (9.6 per target) and 9 first downs (39% conversion rate)
- Targeted vs. a 6’2+ CB: 1 catch on 4 targets (25%) for 5 yards (1.3 per target) and 1 first down (25% conversion rate)
The smaller the corner, the more successful Sutton is. He is getting whatever he wants against sub-six-foot corners. Against 6-foot-0 or 6-foot-1 corners, he’s still great, although not unstoppable. Meanwhile, against the two cornerbacks he’s faced that are at least 6-foot-2 (Tariq Woolen and Michael Davis), Sutton has been locked up.
Denver will likely enjoy some success if they can isolate Sutton against Reed or Carter II. This is why I think the Jets should counter by shadowing Sutton with Gardner as much as possible. Don’t let Denver dictate the matchups. You have a unicorn of a talent in Gardner who can erase these types of mismatches. Maximize the luxury at your disposal.
Gardner has allowed a passer rating of just 19.5 in single coverage this season. He’s locking opponents down when left on an island.
Make Sutton try to survive on Sauce Island.