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'It's going to be a fascinating game': Jets senior writer Eric Allen weighs in on Thursday night showdown with Broncos

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As the Broncos approach the season, we're chatting with reporters who cover each of the team's opponents. We continue with Eric Allen, a senior reporter for

For a look at all angles of the Broncos' Week 4 "Thursday Night Football" matchup against the Jets, click here.

Aric DiLalla: What are the expectations for Sam Darnold in Year 2 of head coach Adam Gase's system, and how can Darnold take a step forward in his third overall season?

Eric Allen: "What the Jets did this offseason [is GM] Joe Douglas said, 'I am going to embrace Sam Darnold.' That goes back to when he was hired last June as Jets GM and he actually told Darnold's parents, 'I'm going to do everything I can to help your son succeed.' That means protecting him and also adding some dynamic weapons on the outside.

"Number one, the expectation for Sam Darnold this offseason was we have to help him up front. And Joe Douglas did that in free agency, particularly on the interior offensive line. They got a former Bronco in Connor McGovern — the guy started 31 games the last two years for the Broncos. [They signed] Greg Van Roten, most recently with the Carolina Panthers, who Pro Football Focus graded out as the best blocker for the Panthers last year. They resigned Alex Lewis, a guy Douglas actually traded for last year. And then he attacked the outside with George Fant, a versatile swing tackle with the Seahawks who played both on the left and the right side.

"That was all in free agency, and then with the No. 11-overall selection, Douglas took the offensive lineman perhaps with the top overall ceiling in this draft class in Mekhi Becton, a monster of a man from Louisville, 6-7, 364 pounds. [Douglas] came back in the fourth round and took Cameron Clark out of Charlotte. I would say that the No. 1 priority for the Jets this offseason was fixing that offensive line, and Joe Douglas went to work in terms of numbers.

"Then on the outside what he did was Robbie Anderson signed with his former college coach Matt Rhule in Carolina, and Douglas quickly countered with the signing of Breshad Perriman, a former Tampa Bay Buccaneer. [Perriman is] actually a former first-round pick of the Balitmore Ravens in 2015 that Douglas helped scout when he was there in Baltimore. … In the second round, the Jets grabbed Denzel Mims out of Baylor, the only player in college football who had at least eight touchdown catches each of the past three seasons. The thing that stands out about both of those guys is their size-speed combination. Both stand more than 6-foot-2, but they're sub 4.4[-second 40-yard dash] guys. Douglas wanted to have more speed. They lost Robbie Anderson, you picked up two guys are sub-4.4 guys.

"You asked me about Darnold, and this is a long-winded answer, but what the Jets wanted to do was give him time and give him more weapons. I think Douglas did that by addressing the offensive line and then we talked about the wide receiver position. You could even go to the running back position, where unquestionably Le'Veon Bell's the guy, but they also added La'Mical Perine out of Florida and then Frank Gore, the third all-time leading rusher in the National Football League.

"… This is the first time in his professional career that [Darnold will] be in the same system, so he's eager about that. … In Year 3, he has the system comfortability — and across the board last year, his numbers were better, whether you're talking completion percentage, yards, touchdowns, interceptions. The Jets were 7-6 when he started last year. This was the Spring of Sam, per se, because the Jets want to give him a better opportunity to succeed, addressing the offensive line and then maybe some of the guys around him as well."

AD:*Of those new additions, who do you think will make the biggest impact offensively?*

EA: "I'll take the bait. Give me Mekhi Becton. We don't know if he's going to line up at left tackle or right tackle and most recently at Louisville he was playing on the left side, but Joe Douglas has been clear about it and Adam Gase has been clear about it: Our best five lineman are going to play on the field. Well, you've got to expect the No. 11-overall selection in the 2020 Draft's going to be out there on the field. You asked me about Darnold before. Well, Becton was a tremendous run blocker at the collegiate level. I think we should think in terms of offensively, yes, some of these pieces are going to help Sam Darnold, but they're also going to help Le'Veon Bell. The Jets had a difficult time running the football last year, and I think Becton immediately makes your skill position players better, whether that be Sam Darnold or Le'Veon Bell.

"Bell, while his numbers don't say it, he had a very good season last year. It's just Sam Darnold missed three games early with mononucleosis. Defensive game plans were, 'We're going to load the box. We're taking away [No.] 26. And then if you're going to try to beat us deep with an unexperienced quarterback, go for it.'

"I think the guy that stands out right of the top is Becton. Not to put pressure on the rookie, but he adds so much potential — not only to help you immediately but down the line. Maybe he's the guy that's blocking for Sam Darnold for 10 years."

AD:*The Jets ranked in the top 10 in overall defense last season. What are the keys for that unit, and is linebacker C.J. Mosley expected to be healthy going into 2020 following a shortened first year in New York?*

EA: "That's the expectation. We haven't talked to him yet, but he appeared on an ESPN podcast and said he hasn't done too much cutting yet, but he feels like he's going to be ready to go for training camp. He was a one-man wrecking crew in the only game he was healthy last year after coming over from the Baltimore Ravens. He had a pick-six, a fumble recovery, two passes defensed against the Buffalo Bills. He was the best player on the field. And then he made a great pass defense and he hurt his groin and he was never the same. You mentioned the Jets were one of the best defenses in the league statistically. They were seventh-overall in terms of yards allowed, second against the run. And you're adding C.J. Mosley to the mix, and he's one of the finer inside linebackers in this league. I think people forget about that. And then you resign Brian Poole, who was a very valuable player for you at the nickel position last year. Jordan Jenkins led this team in sacks. … Douglas went offense with his first two picks, then came back with defense the next two and [took] Ashtyn Davis, a highly athletic player from California who provides depth behind Jamal Adams and Marcus Maye. You have one of the finer safety combinations in football. You add Ashtyn Davis to the mix, and he can come down and be the big nickel at times if you need him to. And then Jabari Zuniga from Florida, he's a guy that played all over the defensive line for the Gators and he was productive when he was on the field. The Jets think they found great value there. Zuniga [is] not short on confidence. He thinks he's going to be the steal of the draft.

"With that being said, the Jets do have a lot of pieces defensively and they have two pretty big dogs if you think about Jamal Adams who had 6.5 sacks last year in only 14 games played. You can make the argument that he is the top safety in all of football. Then you're bringing in C.J. Mosley, who had almost three quarters last year where he was healthy. [He] tried to give it a run against the New England Patriots on Monday Night Football, but he wasn't himself. Defensively, I would say expectations rightly so are high.

"The position to watch for the Jets is going to be the cornerback position and who's lining up outside the numbers. You know Bryan Poole is back, like I mentioned. Pierre Desir came over here from the Indianapolis Colts. Bless Austin got some starting experience as a rookie last year, you traded for Quincy Wilson on draft weekend. So, we'll see how it all works out outside the numbers."

AD: The Jets have the second-toughest schedule in the league this season. What are realistic expectations? Are the playoffs being talked about out there?

EA: "The beauty of the schedule is that everybody in the AFC East has to play the AFC West and the NFC West, so that kind of balances things a little bit. From a fan perspective, the Jets haven't made the playoffs [since] 2010. This is a fan base that is eager to get back in the postseason. Joe Douglas said in our docuseries, 'One Jets Drive,' if you're not aiming to win a Super Bowl or compete to be a playoff team, you shouldn't be in this business. The National Football League, as you know, is expanding its playoff format, so it'll be seven teams out of the AFC.

"It is a changing landscape in the AFC East. I think to a man, the guys who have been [here], most guys will say, 'Yeah, it will look different with Tom Brady in Tampa.' But they know the Patriots are going to be ready to play. That's one of the most disciplined teams in the National Football League, and they've dominated the AFC East for two decades. I think they've won 17 of the last 19 AFC East titles. It's just been a remarkable run. But it does have the feel of being more wide open than in a long time.

"I think the players right now are kind of focused on the virtual offseason program. They haven't even stepped foot on the field together yet. I don't think there's a lot of playoff talk at One Jets Drive. I think these guys are just trying to get in their offseason work and then during the pandemic get their workouts in. Guys are excited about the team and the way they finished up last year — a 6-2 run down the stretch — and then also some of these offseason pieces added. But I don't think the Jets are getting ahead of themselves by any means."

AD:*I see a lot of similarities between the Broncos and Jets: Both teams have young quarterbacks, both made an effort this offseason to add lots of weapons around those guys, both have really good defenses — and last year, both teams started slow before they had good runs to end their respective seasons. I know we're several months away here, but how do you view this Thursday night game in New York?*

EA: "It's a great question. I think probably fan-wise — just fans — they're probably overlooking the Broncos. This is an interesting ball club. You mentioned finished strong down the stretch last year, has a lot of good pieces. Adam Gase, a former Denver Broncos assistant coach, of course, he's looking forward to this matchup because he said the last time he participated in 'Thursday Night Football' [at home] goes back to his Broncos days.

Why I say fans may be overlooking this game is because the Jets have a gauntlet to start the season, just to be honest with you, on paper. You go to Buffalo, who a lot of people think is the most talented team in the AFC East — that's Week 1. You come home to play one of the most physical units in the National Football League who held a 10-point lead over the Kansas City Chiefs in the NFL title game last year. That's the San Francisco 49ers, and that's your home opener. Then you go to Indianapolis, who should be getting a shot in the arm with the arrival of Philip Rivers. You play them in a dome.

"Then you come home — short week — to prepare for a Broncos team who 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.

"I do see what you're saying there. The teams do have some similarities here. They play tough defensive football, have young quarterbacks that they're high on internally. I think the Jets are very, very high on Sam Darnold. And then they have some pieces around them. It's going to be a fun one, there's no doubt about that. [For] 'Thursday Night Football,' I think the Jets love the fact that they're going to be home for that one, because they don't have to go out to Colorado for that matchup."

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