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2020 vision: Looking ahead to Denver's Week 4 matchup vs. the New York Jets

Take a trip back through Broncos history with photos from the Broncos' and Associated Press' archives.

The Broncos' regular-season opener isn't for another few months, but over the next few weeks, DenverBroncos.com will take an early look at each game on the Broncos' 2020 schedule. We don't know how injuries could impact each contest, but we'll present the pressing storylines, matchups, questions and more.

It's never too early to start talking football.

We continue with Denver's Week 4 game on "Thursday Night Football" against the New York Jets.

Storylines to monitor:

Playing on a short week is never easy — especially when you have to fly across the country to do so. This game will test the Broncos both mentally and physically, but it's also one that the Broncos may need to win if they're going to challenge for a playoff spot in 2020. The Jets are one of just two teams the Broncos face in the first five weeks of the season that finished last year with a losing record. The other, Tampa Bay, added Tom Brady in free agency and figures to be a tough matchup. 

The Jets, though, will be no pushover. The team finished the season 6-2 and went 7-6 with 2018 third-overall pick Sam Darnold under center. The Jets spent the offseason supplementing their offense to support their young quarterback and already boast a near-dominant defense. Sound a bit familiar?

Former Broncos center Conner McGovern was among the Jets' free-agent additions, and he'll play his first game against his former team. 

New York also has a handful of defensive stars, as Jamal Adams leads the secondary and linebacker C.J. Mosley returns from injury to solidify the middle of the defense. Drew Lock will face his third top 10 defense in four weeks, as the Patriots, Steelers and Jets were all among the league's best in 2019. The pressure may fall on Lock, too. The Jets ranked second in rushing defense a season ago.

From a coaching angle, former Broncos assistant Adam Gase will coach his second game against the Broncos. He and the Dolphins — where he coached from 2016-18 — earned a 35-9 win over Denver in 2017.

Player to watch:

RB Le'Veon Bell

The Jets rushed for 323 yards the last time they played the Broncos — more on that in a moment — so I'll be watching whether Denver's defense can handle the two-time first-team All-Pro running back.

Bell hasn't had a 1,000-yard rushing season since 2017 — he held out for all of 2018 before signing with the Jets ahead of the 2019 season — but he's still a talented player. Last year, he rushed for 789 yards and two touchdowns and added 461 receiving yards. The Jets have new weapons in receivers Breshad Perriman and Denzel Mims, but the Broncos' first focus should be to ensure that Bell doesn't get going. That won't be easy on a short week, especially given the physicality required to stop the run. 

The good news? Denver's run defense in 2019 was among the league's best after Mike Purcell and Alexander Johnson entered the starting lineup in Week 5. That coincided with Kareem Jackson's return from injury — and the Broncos' defense looked like a new unit. After struggling against the run in a Week 4 loss to Jacksonville, the Broncos allowed the seventh-fewest rushing yards per game over the season's final 12 games.

The question mark:

How do the Broncos handle the short week?

The Broncos' three-game stretch from Week 3 to Week 5 is arguably the toughest part of their schedule. They're home against a much-improved Buccaneers team, travel across the country to New York on a short week and then will have to head back to the east coast to play the Patriots in Week 5.

There's a notion that Thursday games tend to favor the home team, as that organization doesn't have to travel on an already short week. That advantage, though, is more pronounced late in the season. Road teams actually held a 5-4 advantage in "Thursday Night Football" through nine weeks last year. Over the season's final stretch, the home team won all five "Thursday Night Football" games. The home team also won two of three Saturday games. A season earlier, the difference in success between road teams early in the year vs. late in the year was similarly pronounced.

It seems like a safe explanation to assume that when teams are fresher, they're more likely to handle the demands of a short week. Are the Broncos up to that in Week 4?

One promising sign: The Broncos are 5-1 in their last six road "Thursday Night Football" matchups.

An opposing view:

Eric Allen, a senior writer for NewYorkJets.com, on how he views the early-season matchup:

"[The Jets] come home — [on a] short week — to prepare for a Broncos team that has as good of a pass rush as anybody in the National Football League, and the Jets could have as many as four or five new starters along that offensive line. I think that just looking from afar with getting their quarterback more pieces in the draft, yeah it definitely catches your eye when a guy like Jerry Jeudy comes off the board and your next pick is KJ Hamler. They're going all in. They're giving Drew Lock more of an opportunity. But you know what Denver's going to bring to the table defensively. This is going to be a team that can get after the quarterback. They can pose problems if you're not ready to go on a short week. It's going to be a fascinating game. It's going to also be intriguing to see how these teams deal with the first three weeks on their schedule. On paper, it's better to be at home on a short week. But you don't know how a team's going to respond to it."

For more from Allen on the Jets and the Week 4 matchup at MetLife Stadium, https://www.denverbroncos.com/news/it-s-going-to-be-a-fascinating-game-jets-senior-writer-eric-allen-weighs-in-on-t" target="_blank" >click here.

The last meeting:

Denver's last trip to MetLife Stadium didn't go so well.

The Broncos jumped out to a 7-0 first-quarter lead in a Week 5 game against the Jets and rookie Sam Darnold in 2018, but not much went right after that.

The Jets scored touchdowns of 77, 76 and 35 yards during the second quarter to take a 21-10 lead into halftime. New York rushed for 323 yards, and Isaiah Crowell carried the ball 15 times for 219 yards and a score. Darnold also added three touchdowns, though he was just 10-of-22 for 198 yards.

Demaryius Thomas scored a late touchdown to give the Broncos another score, but the team fell 34-16 and dropped to 2-3 on the season.

Courtland Sutton should have decent memories of the matchup. He scored his first career touchdown to give the Broncos their early lead.

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