EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. --So much went wrong for the Broncos during Sunday's first half at MetLife Stadium.
Linebackers Danny Trevathan and Von Miller both left because of injuries, although Miller returned later after testing showed he did not suffer a concussion. Quarterback Peyton Manning was under siege, suffering two sacks and several other hurries that left him scrambling out of the pocket -- an unusual sight. A potential fumble recovery on a kickoff vanished because the officials changed the call after first signaling it was Denver's football. The Broncos did not convert any of their first five third-down attempts and racked up 60 yards on five penalties. The offense struggled and amassed just two first downs in a four-series stretch that produced just five net yards and resulted in four punts.
And yet they led the New York Jets 17-7 at halftime, which helped provide enough cushion to withstand a second-half rally before finishing with a 31-17 win.
Even with a ragged performance, the Broncos found enough, and the areas identified as the three keys to the game proved vidal.
- NEUTRALIZE THE PASS RUSH.**
This required some adjustment after Manning was sacked twice in the first half and flushed out of the pocket on other occasions. He dodged pass rushers with quick steps and decisive moves from the pocket, and prevented the Jets from getting a clean, and potentially damaging, shot on him.
Jets defensive linemen Muhammad Wilkerson and Sheldon Richardson came into the game with a combined 31 quarterback hits and six sacks, but finished with two and one, respectively, all to Wilkerson. An improved run game that saw Ronnie Hillman and Juwan Thompson combine for 4.3 yards per carry helped keep the Jets offense, and allowed the Broncos to eventually find effective balance, although an inability to convert a third-and-1 in the fourth quarter via a Hillman run will be scrutinized.
The Broncos began to emphasize two-tight end sets to compensate. They made heavy use of formations that included backup tackle Paul Cornick as an eligible tight end. The Broncos made regular use of Cornick on two-tight end sets Sunday after utilizing him on just 10 snaps in Weeks 1-4. In the second half, they supplemented this with two-tight end sets incorporating Jacob Tamme and Virgil Green.
Check out the best shots from Sunday's game against the Jets.
- STIFLE THE JETS' RUNNING GAME.**
Aside from an 11-yard Geno Smith scramble in the fourth quarter, the Jets never found any consistency on the ground. The longest gain for any of their running backs was a mere five yards, as Chris Johnson, Chris Ivory and Bilal Powell lurched to just 20 yards on 13 carries. The goal was to eliminate the most effective aspect of the Jets offense, and force them to throw.
"Coming into this week, I was hoping they'd run the ball," said defensive tackle Terrance Knighton. "We wanted to make them one-dimensional."
The dominoes fell from there. In the second half, Johnson, Ivory and Powell carried the ball on five of 34 snaps. The only first down generated by the Jets' running game was on that Smith scramble. The Broncos could play the pass as they prefer: using their cornerbacks in man coverage, allowing their front four to attack and their linebackers to provide supplemental pressure when not dropping into coverage.
"When a team can't run the ball, it allows our back seven to break on certain passes and not have to worry about coming up to stop the run," said Knighton. "I think we did a good job of that as a whole group, because they were throwing screens and such, so as a group, I think we did a good job of getting them out of the run game."
3. AVOID SELF-INFLICTED WOUNDS.
Takeaways were the foundation of the Jets' home upsets of New England and New Orleans last year, and a first-play recovery of a fumbled snap at Green Bay in Week 2 helped the Jets race to a 21-3 lead before they faltered. The Broncos avoided this pitfall, choosing to concede sacks and low-percentage-but-low-turnover-risk passes rather than force connections. The closest they came to a giveaway was when Ronnie Hillman fumbled at the end of a 29-yard third-quarter gain, but Andre Caldwell salvaged the play with an alert recovery.
But the Broncos' performance was pockmarked by errors. Their 11 penalties matched a season-high tally set in Week 2, and the 101 yards in infractions was the most since they absorbed 103 yards in markoffs at Indianapolis on Oct. 20 of last year.
Wwe had a couple series where we didn't execute quite as well and had way too many penalties," said Manning. "I mean,the game's hard enough as it is and I don't know how many penalties we had, it felt like a lot. It's those first-and-20s, second-and-20s, those are tough to overcome so we have to fix that quickly.
"When we did execute, we moved the ball and scored touchdowns. But I thought there were too many series where we had just some mistakes that made it tough to move the ball against a good defense."