New York Jets 2021 opponent report: Denver Broncos

Week 3 sees the New York Jets made a trip to the Rockies to battle the Denver Broncos, who are also facing a lengthy playoff drought.

The Opponent: Denver Broncos
The Dates: Week 3, September 26, 4:05 p.m. ET, CBS
The Series: Denver leads 21-16-1 (last meeting: 2020, 37-28 DEN)

Much like Elaine Benes’ heartbreaking revelation that she was turning into her incompetent friend George Costanza, the Denver Broncos may be coming to a similar epiphany of depression: they’re slowly transforming into the New York Jets.

Denver’s extended Super Bowl hangover…they haven’t reached the NFL postseason since their triumph over Carolina in Super Bowl 50…is only at five years compared to the Jets’ five-plus decades. That postseason drought, however, is tied for second-worst in the league (Arizona and Cincinnati are likewise shamed) behind only the Jets’ decade-long disappearance. What’s particularly troubling in Denver is the fact that their post-Super Bowl rut has stationed them at the bottom of the NFL’s standings. An active streak of four straight losing seasons is their longest such since a nine-year tally mostly accumulated during their AFL days. The 23 wins gained in that span best only four other teams.

The Broncos are a franchise in flux, cursed with both a quarterback controversy and a dominant thrower stationed in a divisional rival’s camp (Patrick Mahomes in Kansas City) with no end to his reign in sight. Head coach Vic Fangio is entering his third season, the proverbial make-or-break campaign, with only a dozen wins under his belt. A once-proud defense is struggling to regain its footing.

Their matchup against the Jets is the conclusion of an intriguing September slate. The Broncos have a prime opportunity to start 3-0 as a Week 2 matchup in Jacksonville is sandwiched by showdowns against the reeling New York franchises. Gang Green’s visit will serve as their 2021 home opener.

Denver and New York will square off for the second straight season. A Thursday night get-together, won by Denver in a 37-28 final, was overshadowed by late extracurriculars said to be exacerbated by ousted defensive coordinator Gregg Williams.

Mandatory Credit: Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

The Skinny on the Broncos

Quarterbacks old and new have taken center stage in Denver’s endeavors of the new decade. Life after Peyton Manning proved to be too much for franchise legend John Elway, who stepped out of the general manager role over this offseason, passing the affair over to George Paton, formerly of the Minnesota Vikings’ front office.

Paton raised the heat on incumbent franchise thrower Drew Lock by acquiring brief Jet Teddy Bridgewater for a day three pick. Bridgewater is by far one of the most inspiring stories in recent NFL memory: last season saw him return to the brotherhood of NFL starting quarterbacks in Carolina after suffering a devastating non-contact injury in Vikings camp in 2016. Paton is very familiar with Bridgewater’s work, as he was the assistant general manager when Minnesota made him a first-round pick in 2014.

Lock is in a precarious position as he, like Fangio, enters his third season in the Rockies with a lot to prove. He tied for the league lead in interception with Carson Wentz (15) last season and is threatening to become the latest failed franchise project in the post-Manning era (joining washouts like Brock Osweiler, Paxton Lynch, and Trevor Siemian). The Missouri alum ended the year on a strong note, posting a 92.1 passer rating over his last four games, but the upcoming preseason slate will be crucial for him to prove can still be a long-term solution for an NFL franchise.

The ultimate shame about Denver’s quarterback issues is that they have a strong, skilled arsenal to work with. Courtland Sutton missed all but two games in 2020 due to a torn ACL, but the Broncos enjoyed promising showings from Tim Patrick, Jerry Jeudy, and tight end Noah Fant. Elsewhere in the backfield, the team lost Phillip Lindsay to Houston but is set to welcome back accomplished veteran Melvin Gordon.

Defensively, the team is set to welcome back franchise face Von Miller, who returns from a devastating peroneal tendon injury that kept him out of the 2020 season entirely.  Bradley Chubb rose to the occasion in Miller’s absence, earning his first Pro Bowl nomination and approval on his fifth-year option. The Jets felt Chubb’s wrath firsthand, as Sam Darnold was victimized for 2.5 sacks in the aforementioned Thursday night get-together.

New York Giants, Patrick Surtain
Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

What’s New in Denver?

The Broncos had an early draft pick to work with, choosing to use the ninth overall pick on Alabama defender Patrick Surtain II. His arrival was part of an expensive renovation project in the Denver secondary, as the Broncos bestowed over $65 million in guaranteed money to Justin Simmons, Kyle Fuller, Kareem Jackson, and Ronald Darby.

At $61 million over four seasons, Simmons (Pro Football Focus’ top-ranked safety in 2021 and earner of 16 interceptions since his 2016 entry) is now the highest-paid safety in football. Once Fuller was let go from Chicago, reuniting with Fangio, his former defensive coordinator with the Bears, was a de facto no-brainer. Fuller was added on a one-year deal worth nearly $10 million, it’s clear that Denver expects a lot of him in this prove-it year.

After Surtain’s selection, the Broncos also added Javonte Williams in the second round. The North Carolina alum shared the Tar Heels’ rushing duties with fellow rookie and current Jet Michael Carter. With Gordon in the latter part of his two-year deal, Denver could begin a transition plan that would make Williams their ground man of the future.

How to Beat Them

-Corral the QB

The Jets’ pass rush has a brilliant opportunity to show how far they’ve come from the depths of the 2020 season. That nationally televised loss against the Broncos let America know just how far the Jets had fallen. They failed to take down Denver third-stringer Brett Rypien at any point during the night, letting up a whopping 37 points and 359 yards of offense.

Listing pressure on the quarterback as a key to victory is a football cliche, perhaps the football equivalent of “pucks deep“. But when you’re facing a team that’s dealing with uncertainty in the most important role in football, dealing with a battle that could well extend into the regular season, the pressure becomes more important than ever. The Jets spent this offseason further bolstering a pass rush that was one of the rare silver linings of a 2020 season. If there’s any unit on their current depth chart that can be considered “elite”, that’s it.

Week 3 could also be a breakout for the New York pass rush because of Denver’s issues on the offensive line. Ja’Wuan James opted out of the 2020 season and was later released after suffering a torn Achilles in May. Another former Bear, Bobby Massie, is expected to take over. Division III standout Quinn Meinerz should also raise a little heat on incumbent center Lloyd Cushenberry. Granted an opportunity to build long-term momentum, the Jets must take advantage.

-Neutralize the Weaponry

Denver has stockpiled several offensive weapons that the quarterback, be it Bridgewater, Lock, or someone from the 2022 draft class, could work wonders with. The Jets found out about the group’s potential the hard way last fall: going up against Rypien, an undrafted second-year man making his first NFL start, Patrick tallied 113 yards on six clutch receptions, while Jeudy literally stole his first NFL touchdown from Pierre Desir.

The showdown against Denver will be one of the Jets’ biggest challenges in the early going, especially with Sutton’s potential return to the lineup. But with so many areas to improve after the horrors of 2020, it was almost a guarantee that one or more areas of the roster were going to be neglected. That turned out to be the secondary, which is set to see Bless Austin and Bryce Hall headlined at cornerback. Projected top strong safety Ashtyn Davis is already out for Week 1, while rookies and undrafted journeymen are expected to receive major snaps.

This visit against Denver presents a major opportunity for Robert Saleh and Jeff Ulbrich to show their impact. Whether the Jets capitalize remains, as always, the question.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

Chicago Bears: Top 5 things to be excited about for the 2021 season

Ladies and gentlemen, after what seems like an eternity we have arrived. The offseason is entering rookie training camps, and OTA’s are around the corner. After what I can call an absolute home run of a draft, the Chicago Bears have created a ton of buzz about the 2021 season. Statistically, however, the Bears have the 3rd toughest schedule, according to CBS Sports, with a collective opponent 2020 win rate of .550. The schedule appears to be designed with rookie quarterback Justin Fields in mind, as those crafty heads up at NFL HQ slated a majority of the Bears primetime match-ups towards the latter half of the season. You know, just in case Head Coach Matt Nagy pulls the plug on the Dalton experience and throws Fields into the mix.

With all this being said, this season is shaping up to define the direction of the franchise for the next 3-4 years. I don’t foresee the Bears marching into Sofi Stadium in early February, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t a plethora of people and developments to watch this season. From returning talents like James Daniel and Eddie Goldman to the continuing development of Darnell Mooney and David Montgomery. This season is sure to excite any fan. Here are the top 5 things to be excited about as a Bears fan heading into the 2021 NFL season. 

#5: The boys are back in town – Linemen win games

When burgeoning talent DT Eddie Goldman announced his decision to opt-out of the 2020 NFL season, it felt like being hit by a truck. I imagine that’s what opposing Centers and Guards felt as he tore through offensive lines with ease in 2019. I understand the decision though the game is just that – a game. Personal health and family safety will always be more important. I can only hope Goldman picks up where he left off, completing a key tandem with Akiem Hicks anchoring our rush defense.

Another returner this season is pro-bowl OL utilityman, James Daniel. This one gets me excited. After suffering a season-ending pectoral injury in week 5, Bers fans saw a carousel of line-men attempting to stabilize the front 5. Surprising breakout performances by former practice squad members Alex bars and Sam Mustipher indicate the front three interior linemen positions have both depth and talent on the roster. Daniels’ return also signals a much-needed return to stability. 

Bears GM Ryan Pace clearly made improving the Offensive Line a top priority in the off-season. Bringing in Elijah Wilkinson in Free Agency, re-signing Germain Ifedi, and trading up in the second round to steal Oklahoma State stud Teven Jenkins, while selecting Missouri big man Larry Borom in the 6th. Charles Leno and Bobbie Massie will not be returning to Chicago this season. Honestly, I’m not all that upset about it.

Jenkins will most likely get the starting nod at the left tackle spot. This leaves the Right tackle spot an area for competition. Offensive life coach Juan Castillo told reporters that “Larry Borom will compete with Germain Ifedi at RT, but Ifedi will line up at RT to start the season.” That leaves the rest of us wondering if Daniels lines up at center as he did in 2019, or at guard allowing Sam Mustipher to continue his hot play. Regardless of the endless possibilities on the interior offensive line, it looks stacked. David Montgomery and Tarik Cohen (also returning from injury) are sure to eat up the run game with James Daniel’s return to the line.

#4: This is Desai’s world, we’re just living in it 

There’s a new defensive sheriff in town, and his name is Sean Desai. A branch off the ole’ Vic Fangio tree, Sean Desai is a defensive secondary scheme savant. I love Chuck Pagano, an amazing man with an amazing story. But his secondary schemes did not play well to the secondary talent acquired under the Fangio years. After the 2018 Bears Defense dominated the league, the 2019 & 2020 Bears rewarded fans with a step back in just about every metric.

Under Desai, I strongly think the Bears defense is in store for a return to form. Desai is not only an actual professor, holding a Ph.D. from Temple University and teaching classes at Lake Forrest College, but he also schools offenses with his secondary schemes. Doc Desai’s ability to educate and communicate with players lead to his glowing review from DB Prince Amukamara. As Chicago Bears reporter with the Chicago Tribune, Brad Biggs reports, “Amukamara credits Desai for the first pick-six of his career.”

Look, I still believe Eddie Jackson is a top 5 safety in the NFL. I hope he lives up to his reputation this year under a defense that will be built on the backs of the Bears secondary. Losing Kyle Fuller may throw a wrench in Desai’s plan, but young products like Jaylon Johnson and Kendel Vildor will continue to establish themselves as dominant forces. In a schedule that features quarterbacks such as Tom Brady, Matt Stafford, Baker Mayfield, Kyler Murray, Lamar Jackson, Russell Willson, and more. A staunch pass defense will be a necessity if the Bears hope to see success. 

#3: From cubs into Bears – Offensive Prospects 

The 2021 Chicago Bears roster is full of 2nd and 3rd years players poised to become household names.

David Montgomery went on a tear ending the season, with over 100 yards in three out of six games. Finishing the 2020 season with just a hair over 1000 yards, I am confident we will see another 1k yard season in 2021. I’m putting my money around 1400. Expect Monty to continue his elite ability to break open-field tackles. His vision is one of the best in the league and I can’t wait to see him put defenses on notice. 

Darnell Mooney What another mid-round steal for Ryan Pace. This kid is fast, has elite hands, and is first among rookie WR’s in broken tackles according to PFF. Any rookie that buys a Juggs machine with his first paycheck then proceeds on to drop only one pass after being targeted 98 times in a season is good in my book.  His speed and route running abilities will be a feature of this offense as Justin Fields establishes himself as QB1. Mooney has a knack for burning nickel corners and getting behind safeties. Fields has a knack at throwing incredibly accurate deep balls. Let’s hope Jalen Ramsey can keep up this time. 

Anthony Miller — This one is a controversial take, a bit spicy if you will. Miller has every tool needed to be an elite slot in the NFL. He just hasn’t taken the next step. With his career on the line, I think he has every reason to do it this year. There’s valid concern around Miller’s maturity. After his late-game ejection against the Saints, many called for the Bears to ship him off during the season. I think it was a wise decision by the front office to keep Miller on staff. As wide receiver coach Mike Furrey stated, “There’s a small increment in improvement so he’s done great, he’s been in our rooms, no issues.” Drafting speedy slot Dazz Newsome also sends a blunt message to Anthony Miller, saying “we have a replacement, let us know when we need to put him in.”

#2: The Packers? What is going on over there? 

How does it feel to have talent surrounding a big question mark under center? That’s what being a Bears fan has felt like for the past three decades. Aaron Rodgers doesn’t want to play in Green Bay, and I don’t blame him. The team is refusing to let him walk, and I don’t blame them. Regardless of what happens, I have to admit this has all been extremely amusing. If Blake Bortles becomes QB1 for the Green Bay Packers, this will be one fun show to watch.  

#1.5: Getting to see live football again

My first live Chicago Bears game was in the 2015 preseason against the Kansas City Chiefs. We got blown out. But seeing Cutler, Jefferies, and Howard live was amazing. It’ll feel even more amazing to see Justin Fields and this talented unit out on the field again. There’s nothing quite like being at a Football game. I can’t wait to go back. 

#1: Fiel- I mean the Rookies. 

Pace’s trade with the New York Giants to move up to pick #11 and snag Justin Fields was the shot of adrenaline the Bears fanbase needed. After two consecutive years of letdowns, it seems like the Front Office has finally started listening to the fans. This was Ryan Pace’s best draft as GM. No contest. Pace was able to steal early-round talent late in the draft with picks like Khalil Herbert, Thomas Graham Jr., and Dazz Newsome. He filled needs in the Offensive Line with Maulers like Teven Jenkins and Larry Borom.

I’m stoked to see Justin Fields on Soldier Field. Also, these UDFA’s are fantastic as well. Charles Snowden, an early-round talent, went undrafted. The 6’7”, 240 lb monster of a man is listed early as a defensive lineman. To all the rookies, if you ever end up reading this. Take a breath. Welcome to the greatest city on Earth. Congratulations, and get ready to play some Bears football. 

Altogether, buckle up Bears fans. Though we may not win a ton of games, this team is poised to turn heads. I haven’t been this excited about a season since, well, honestly I can’t remember! 

New York Jets: Breaking down 3 confirmed head coaching candidates (part 2)

In the first part of the New York Jets’ confirmed coaching target breakdowns, I highlighted some of the top offensive coordinators reportedly being targeted for the job. This time, here are the three rumored defensive coordinator candidates and what they bring to the table.

Matt Eberflus, Indianapolis Colts Defensive Coordinator

Matt Eberflus is a rising coaching candidate in the league, and for good reason. The well-traveled coach began his coaching career as a student assistant at Toledo in 1992, he then spent eight years coaching at Toledo, holding the positions of graduate assistant, recruiting coordinator, outside linebackers coach, and defensive backs coach. Due to his success at Toledo, Eberflus was named defensive coordinator of Missouri in 2001, where he coached until 2008. He then signed on for two seasons as the linebackers coach of the Browns before he entered into the most crucial years in his coaching development. From 2011 to 2015, Eberflus coached under Rod Marinelli, super bowl champion coach. Marinelli taught Eberflus the Tampa 2 style defense, which has proved to be his staying power since then. Marinelli mentored Eberflus and developed him into a disciple, which led to him ultimately landing his current gig.

Eberflus was initially brought on to the Colts staff by the short-lived coach, Josh McDaniels. When he decided to return to New England and Frank Reich was hired, the team looked to Marinelli for his advisement on someone who could instill the Tampa 2 defense in Indy, and he let them know that guy was already on the staff. So, Eberflus kept his job, and in the time since, he has become an esteemed coach. The Indy defense has become a top one in all of football, but the way Eberflus has gotten the most out of his players is the true shining piece of his resume. Darius Leonard was not supposed to be a star in this league, he was out for most of his rookie camp, and he was a little known second-rounder. Now, Leonard is one of the best linebackers in football. The team also acquired Deforest Buckner this offseason, and he has had a monster season in the defense.

Eberflus’ only indictment is that he may not be that CEO type coach rumored to be the target. Eberflus does not have experience as a head coach, and just like most coordinators, there is no hardcore proof he could have success. Still, Eberflus is well connected in the league and could likely build a good staff and be a good leader. Eberflus is a true wildcard candidate; depending on his staff, he could be a solid hire.

Brandon Staley, Los Angeles Rams Defensive Coordinator

A year ago, Brandon Staley was a rather unknown coach, now, he has a shot to be a head coach rather quickly. Staley has bounced around the college ranks, starting in 2006 at Northern Illinois. From there, Staley went to various schools including, St. Thomas, Hutchinson Community, and Tennessee. Then, Staley got his shot as a D3 defensive coordinator at John Carrol University. From there, he went to James Madison and back to John Carrol. Then, he drew the eye of Vic Fangio and had been on his staff in both Chicago and Denver before getting his shot as a defensive coordinator this season in Los Angeles.

Brandon Staley succeeded esteemed defensive coordinator Wade Phillips after his retirement last season. He inherited a defense with two of the best players in the NFL, Jalen Ramsey, and Aaron Donald. Donald brings a ferocious ability to get into the backfield unmatched by anyone in the league. Ramsey is one of the best lockdown corners in the game and didn’t have a single game this season where he allowed more than 20 yards. Despite that, the talent they had was present in both Phillip’s time and Staley’s. So, in analyzing their defensive jump from the middle of the league to first, that makes what Staley was able to do all the more impressive.

Staley has earned quite a reputation quickly. He has drawn comparisons to the man that hired him, Sean McVay, and been labeled as the defensive carbon copy. Staley would be the younger, more flashier hire than Eberflus, but both are unproven. Staley has not been in the league long, meaning his staff hires could leave something to be desired. Staley is a bold choice, but the Jets have gone the successful defensive coordinator route once in the past 8 years, and it didn’t bode well, will they make the same choice again?

Robert Saleh, San Francisco 49ers Defensive Coordinator

Robert Saleh is a football guy. The former college tight end began his coaching career in 2002 with Michigan State. He then coached at Central Michigan and Georgia before going to the pros. Then, in 2005, Saleh was hired as an intern with the Texans, and he climbed through the ranks to the position of assistant linebackers coach before heading to Seattle. In Seattle, Saleh got to learn under Pete Carroll and coach on a Super Bowl championship-winning staff. Saleh coached there until receiving a shot to coach the linebackers in Jacksonville, where they had a large amount of success in his time there. His success across the board drew enough attention from Kyle Shanahan to earn him the defensive coordinator job in 2017. Since then, Saleh has become a household name.

Last season, the San Francisco 49ers went to the Super Bowl behind one of the most talented defensive lines I have seen in the past decade. Their defense was ranked in the top tier of the league overall, and although they were unable to pull off a win in the big game, they still showed major growth in 2019. This set them up as one of the most heavily feared defenses heading into this season, but when Nick Bosa, Dee Ford, Richard Sherman, Javon Kinlaw, and Kwon Alexander are among the big names who missed multiple games, if not the entire season. The team was banged up but still managed to finish as a top defenses again, taking only a small step back.

Robert Saleh is that CEO type of coach Joe Douglas should target. Saleh is the middle ground of Staley and Eberflus. He has the connections of Eberflus and the youth of Staley. Saleh brings juice and energy to the defense. One rumored connection is with Mike McDaniel, a rising offensive mind in San Francisco, who some believe could follow him as an OC wherever he choses to go. He is so intense that he runs the stadium stairs in order to get mentally prepared before games. Saleh is a fantastic coach and near the top of my board for prospective coaches. Saleh is a hot commodity, though, and there is a hometown connection with the Lions that could prove to be too much for the Jets to overcome.

3 storylines to watch in Denver Broncos Vs New York Jets matchup

The New York Jets (0-3) will take on the Denver Broncos (0-3) in tonight’s game. The game was one I was eager to see prior to the season. I hoped the headlines would be all about Drew Lock vs Sam Darnold or about how the Jets improved defense would handle the Broncos young and talented offense. Instead, we have Brett Rypien at the helm of a banged-up Broncos team and the Jets fighting for any shred of respect they could salvage this season. Here are the things I am watching for in the battle of two of the worst AFC teams to this point.

Adam Gase’s Funeral?

After the Jets got embarrassed this past Sunday in Indianapolis, the heat beneath Adam Gase’s seat became flames. Rumors have swirled all week from Colin Cowherd, Chris Mortensen, and many other top insiders that this could be the end of the road for Gase if the team is blown out. The consensus is, the team needs to implode for Gase to be ousted. The Broncos would need to perform similarly to the 49ers in Week 2 for Gase to go. The odds are in Gase’s favor to still be the coach of this team come Friday morning, but the Jets are wearing all black tomorrow night, so maybe this could be Gase’s New York Jet funeral.

Brett Rypien’s First Career Start

Rypien starting tonight brings me back to the game the Jets played when Luke Falk stepped in on Thursday night last year. Rypien was a practice squad fixture until just a week ago, but after going 8/9 for 53 yards and a pick in the end zone, he will get a shot to run the offense, at least to start, tonight. Broncos coach Vic Fangio has said he will see a role where Jeff Driskel gets work as well. Last year the Jets preyed on weak QBs like Dwayne Haskins Jr., Matt Barkley, and Devlin Hodges. Although this Jets defense is a shell of what it was last year, Gregg Williams is still here, and he knows how to make young QBs uncomfortable. The Broncos have also allowed 13 sacks, which stands as the second-most in the league. The Jets could look to make this a really rough debut for the nephew of former NFL vet Mark Rypien.

Sam Darnold Needs To Rebound

The Jets offense floundered last weekend, but particularly so did Sam Darnold. With three interceptions, Sam Played one of his worst pro games. Tonight though, he gets a returning Jamison Crowder along with a budding connection with Braxton Berrios. Darnold needs to come out swinging tonight; Gase needs to let him run around and sling it. He needs to get rid of the receiver screens and take some shots downfield. They need to open up the playbook because win or loss, the most paramount issue is getting Darnold some momentum back.