Numbers matter. Yes, the game is played out on the field — not on paper — but a quick look at the statistical profile of a team can show tendencies, strengths and weaknesses that shine some light on what can be expected when the teams take the field. This series is an examination of how the Broncos can gain an advantage against their opponent from a statistical perspective.
Here are the numbers that matter in this Week 5 matchup against the Jets.
6.7 and 4.7
The Broncos are at their best when they can run the ball effectively. Through four games, Denver is second in yards per carry (5.6) and third in yards per game (148.2) running the football. The rookie duo of Royce Freeman and Phillip Lindsay has wasted no time establishing itself, and the line has opened up plenty of holes.
The recipe for success may seem simple, but it won't come easy in the Big Apple. The Jets have a stout run defense led by 2015 first-round defensive lineman Leonard Williams, who is a difficult matchup in the middle. The Jets are allowing just 3.8 yards per carry this season, good for seventh-best in the NFL. Still, there should be a big play or two to be had: The Jets have given up five runs of at least 20 yards, tied with the Lions for most in the NFL.
The key will be keeping the ground game going for a full 60 minutes. In first halves this season, the Broncos are averaging a terrific 6.7 yards per carry. In the second half, that number falls to a less impressive 4.7. Meanwhile, the Jets excel in stopping the run in the second half: opponents only run at a clip of 3.3 yards per carry. In the first half, though, opponents average 4.5 yards, and in the first quarter, that number goes up to 5.3. If the Broncos can establish early run dominance like they have — and like the Jets have allowed opponents to do — that will be a major plus on the road. But perhaps of equal importance, the Broncos must improve running the ball in the second half to maintain offensive balance throughout all four quarters, something they haven't done over the past two games.
"Some of that is if you're doing something really well vs. somebody, they're going to try to make some adjustments, so you've got to be ready to adjust to keep that game of chess going," right tackle Jared Veldheer said Wednesday. "From an offensive line's perspective, you're not going to get the same front the whole game. ... I think the big thing is we keep going and we keep being aggressive."
97.9 and 68.0
Like most young quarterbacks, rookie quarterback Sam Darnold is at his best when his team is leading. That was the case in Week 1, when the Jets routed the Detroit Lions 48-17. Darnold finished that game 16 of 21 for 198 yards, two touchdowns and one interception. Darnold, the third-overall pick in this year's NFL Draft, has a quarterback rating of 97.9 when his team is ahead.
It's when his team is trailing that Darnold struggles. In those scenarios, the Southern California product has a 68.0 quarterback rating and has thrown three of his five interceptions. He has also taken eight sacks while trailing; he has taken none while leading.
If that's not enough reason for the Broncos to put a special emphasis on starting fast, consider this: The Jets ideally want to run the ball and then turn to Darnold for simple, short throws. But when the Jets are trailing, they run the ball for just 2.6 yards per carry, far worse than their 4.0 average when leading or tied. Taking away the running game is the best way to take advantage of the young quarterback.
The Broncos are tied for 12th in the NFL with 10 sacks, but six of those came on opening weekend against the Seahawks. In the three games since, Denver's feared pass rush has only registered four sacks, which is tied for 27th in the NFL.
The Broncos' issue hasn't been applying pressure — they registered 19 pressures and nine hits on Patrick Mahomes on Monday night — but rather, it's been finishing plays. During the Jets' three-game losing streak, Darnold has been sacked eight times, tied for 11th-most in the league, and he went down three times last weekend against the Jaguars.
"We could not get him on the ground," said Head Coach Vance Joseph of Mahomes on Tuesday. "I was really surprised by that part. We have great rushers, we have guys who can run, we have guys who are great tacklers and finishers. We could not get him on the ground at all. He escaped us probably seven or eight times and he's in the grasp, but he escaped."
The Broncos haven't forced a single turnover over the past three games and currently rank tied for 26th with a negative-three turnover differential. Of the 16 teams with a negative turnover differential, only three — New Orleans, Cincinnati and Jacksonville — are above .500.
On the other side of the equation, eight of the 13 teams with a positive turnover margin are above .500. The Jets, however, are one exception; despite a plus-two turnover differential, they are 1-3. The Broncos have turned it over too often and, with the exception of Week 1, failed to force other teams into turnovers. Bucking that trend on Sunday could set the Broncos up for victory on the road.