EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. --In the first half of the 2014 season, Sunday's clash with the New York Jets is the only game the Broncos have against a team that did not post a winning record last year.
But to take the Jets lightly is to make an error that could be fatal. Last year, they went 6-2 at home, with wins over the New England Patriots and the New Orleans Saints, two of the three strongest teams on their schedule last year.
In the last two years, the Jets have been outscored by five points at home -- and 140 points on the road. That's a per-game difference of minus-13.55 points between home and road -- well greater than the Broncos' 8.33-point differential between home (plus-15.55) and road (plus-7.22). Only the Saints and Bengals have a greater home/road disparity than the Jets the last two seasons. (The league average is plus-6.46 points.)
"There's a big difference going on the road than playing at home," said quarterback Peyton Manning, "and this (MetLife Stadium) is a tough place to play."
1. NEUTRALIZE THE PASS RUSH.
The Jets get outstanding interior pressure with 3-4 defensive lineman Muhammad Wilkerson and Sheldon Richardson, who have three sacks apiece and a combined 31 quarterback hits through five games. Their challenge will be stiff against the quick-to-deliver Manning, but on the occasions where Manning holds the football a bit longer for a late-opening receiver downfield, Denver's offensive line must keep Wilkerson and Richardson from being their usual disruptive selves.
2. STIFLE THE JETS' RUNNING GAME.
This incorporates containing running backs Chris Ivory and Chris Johnson and quarterback Geno Smith, who has gained first downs on nine of his 22 non-kneeldown runs this year. Denver might have to keep a spy on Smith to contain him, and must watch for end-arounds and option plays from an offense that seems certain to throw every gambit possible at the Broncos' defense.
The Jets want to use their ground game to dictate the pace and limit Denver's possessions, so neutralizing it and getting the ball back to Manning will be crucial.
3. AVOID SELF-INFLICTED WOUNDS.
In Week 2, the Packers gave the Jets a lifeline on the first play when Aaron Rodgers fumbled a snap, setting up a Smith touchdown run five plays later. With the confidence that came with taking a 7-0 lead 1:59 into the game, the Jets soared to a 21-3 lead before the homesteading Packers rallied for a 31-24 win.
In MetLife Stadium, a similar slow start for a Jets foe might not yield the same result, and their strongest home wins last year illustrate how New York can pounce on errors.
Against the Patriots, New York safety Antonio Allen intercepted a Tom Brady pass and returned it 23 yards for a touchdown; against the Saints, two interceptions of Drew Brees led to 10 points that were the difference in a 26-20 Jets win.
The Jets defense generates pressure to force mistakes. It will be crucial for the Broncos to instead take what the Jets concede, rather than forcing it. Forcing Denver mistakes could represent the Jets' best chance to snap their four-game losing streak, and the Broncos must be on guard to not give them any extra opportunities.