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Broncos vs. Jets Week 5: Top 5 players to watch

JACKSONVILLE, FL - SEPTEMBER 30: Members of the New York Jets walk onto the field before their game against the Jacksonville Jaguars at TIAA Bank Field on September 30, 2018 in Jacksonville, Florida. (Photo by Scott Halleran/Getty Images)
JACKSONVILLE, FL - SEPTEMBER 30: Members of the New York Jets walk onto the field before their game against the Jacksonville Jaguars at TIAA Bank Field on September 30, 2018 in Jacksonville, Florida. (Photo by Scott Halleran/Getty Images)
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JACKSONVILLE, FL – SEPTEMBER 30: Members of the New York Jets walk onto the field before their game against the Jacksonville Jaguars at TIAA Bank Field on September 30, 2018 in Jacksonville, Florida. (Photo by Scott Halleran/Getty Images)
JACKSONVILLE, FL – SEPTEMBER 30: Members of the New York Jets walk onto the field before their game against the Jacksonville Jaguars at TIAA Bank Field on September 30, 2018 in Jacksonville, Florida. (Photo by Scott Halleran/Getty Images)

The New York Jets enter a three-game homestand that will either make or break the 2018 season. Can the Jets snap their losing streak against the Denver Broncos? Here are the top five players to watch.

The first quarter of the 2018 NFL season was not very kind to the New York Jets. The Jets lost three of four, with their only win coming in the season opener in Detroit. That win seems like four months ago, not four weeks. After a ten-day layoff from playing three games in ten days, the Jets were embarrassed against the Jacksonville Jaguars in Jacksonville. The Jaguars won 31-12 but it should have been a lot more with the lackluster performance the Jets displayed.

Now, the Jets enter maybe the most critical part of their schedule with three home games in a row, starting with the Denver Broncos on Sunday. The Jets have a chance to right the ship and come out of this homestand 4-3 with new-found confidence. However, if they falter at home, Todd Bowles who is on the hot seat could be let go for an interim coach and this season be a lost one.

In Week 5, the Jets host a Broncos team that lost a close home Monday night contest to the undefeated Kansas City Chiefs. The Broncos started the season 2-0 but have dropped two in a row against the Baltimore Ravens and Chiefs.

It’s wrong to think a Week 5 game is a must-win game, but that is the case for both of these teams. One team will snap their losing streak while the other is facing a lost season. Desperation and frustration from the first quarter of the season should make for a good game. Here are the top five Jets players to watch against the Broncos.

JACKSONVILLE, FL – SEPTEMBER 30: Sam Darnold #14 of the New York Jets runs with the ball against the Jacksonville Jaguars during the first half at TIAA Bank Field on September 30, 2018 in Jacksonville, Florida. (Photo by Sam Greenwood/Getty Images)
JACKSONVILLE, FL – SEPTEMBER 30: Sam Darnold #14 of the New York Jets runs with the ball against the Jacksonville Jaguars during the first half at TIAA Bank Field on September 30, 2018 in Jacksonville, Florida. (Photo by Sam Greenwood/Getty Images)

5. Quarterback Sam Darnold

The life of a rookie quarterback in the NFL is filled with plenty of highs and lows. For Sam Darnold, the first quarter of the season was filled with more lows.

Darnold had a solid season opener but has struggled the past three weeks. It has been a mix of poor protection from his offensive line and costly interceptions. Darnold’s stat line so far reads 868 yards, four touchdowns, five interceptions, and a 57.5 completion percentage. There will be better days for Darnold but as of right now, he is just trying to figure things out as a starting NFL quarterback.

Darnold has only thrown for over 200 yards once this season, 334 yards in a Week 2 loss to the Miami Dolphins at MetLife Stadium. The Broncos have allowed every quarterback they have faced this season to throw for at least 250 yards or more. The Broncos 20th ranked pass defense (270 ypg) should allow opportunities for Darnold to hit on a few chunk plays.

The NFL season is a marathon, not a sprint, and although Darnold has stumbled out of the gates, he has a chance to regain his footing starting this week. In a NewYorkJets.com feature called In My Own Words, Darnold explained how he and the rest of the team can improve going forward. Here is what Darnold had to say:

We’re going to make adjustments when they need to be made and I’m very confident in our team. We’re headed in the right direction. Now, it’s time to execute and win some games. I can’t wait to play in front of the home crowd for three straight games. Jets fans are amazing. Our fans deserve it. They deserve wins.

Keeping emotions in check and executing the game plan will be key in the Jets turning their season around. Here is hoping that Darnold can put his words into action on the field with some wins.

Next: 4. Running Back Bilal Powell

JACKSONVILLE, FL – SEPTEMBER 30: Bilal Powell #29 of the New York Jets is tackled by Tashaun Gipson #39 and Malik Jackson #97 of the Jacksonville Jaguars during their game at TIAA Bank Field on September 30, 2018 in Jacksonville, Florida. (Photo by Scott Halleran/Getty Images)
JACKSONVILLE, FL – SEPTEMBER 30: Bilal Powell #29 of the New York Jets is tackled by Tashaun Gipson #39 and Malik Jackson #97 of the Jacksonville Jaguars during their game at TIAA Bank Field on September 30, 2018 in Jacksonville, Florida. (Photo by Scott Halleran/Getty Images)

4. Running Back Bilal Powell

Here is something the Jets should do against the Broncos early and often, GIVE BILAL POWELL THE FOOTBALL.

Powell and wide receiver Quincy Enunwa have been the most consistent playmakers for the Jets and they will be relied on heavily again this week. Powell is a great dual-threat back, running and catching the ball out of the backfield. Although his numbers were subpar against the Jaguars last week (eight rushes for 26 yards, four catches for the same yardage), Darnold is making an effort to get Powell involved in the offense as much as possible.

In Week 2, Powell caught Darnold’s lone touchdown pass against the Dolphins. Isaiah Crowell might get more of the short yardage/goal line carries but Powell has looked like the better back just from the eye test. If you look at the stats closely, they will just reinforce what your eyes are telling you.

Powell has more yards per rush attempt than Crowell (4.2-4.1), receiving yards per reception (10.5-4.8), yards per touch (5.5-4.1) and has a significant lead in scrimmage yards (270-195). Darnold missed Powell on a couple throws last week that could have changed the final outcome but those will come with more reps.

The Broncos have the eighth-ranked rushing defense so yards on the ground may be hard to come by, but the Jets need to scheme ways around it. Draws, sweeps, and screens are all ways the Jets can pick up yards on the ground. Utilizing Powell’s quickness will be a key factor too.

Next: 3. The Jets Offensive Line

JACKSONVILLE, FL – SEPTEMBER 30: Marcell Dareus #99 and Calais Campbell #93 of the Jacksonville Jaguars tackle Jason Myers #2 of the New York Jets for a safety during the game on September 30, 2018 in Jacksonville, Florida. (Photo by Sam Greenwood/Getty Images)
JACKSONVILLE, FL – SEPTEMBER 30: Marcell Dareus #99 and Calais Campbell #93 of the Jacksonville Jaguars tackle Jason Myers #2 of the New York Jets for a safety during the game on September 30, 2018 in Jacksonville, Florida. (Photo by Sam Greenwood/Getty Images)

3. The Jets Offensive Line

This group will be listed in this article every week until they start protecting Darnold and opening running lanes for Crowell and Powell. When they start actually blocking and doing their job, then they will be taken off this list.

Darnold’s passing yards have gone down every game since the season began because he has no time in the pocket. When Darnold has no time in the pocket, he is unable to make the right reads and find open receivers. Crowell had zero rushing yards and was stopped for a safety against the Jaguars while Powell only had 26 rushing yards. That is an embarrassing performance and has been a weekly thing to start the season.

This week, the Jets are tasked with pushing around the Broncos eighth-ranked run defense. The Kansas City Chiefs were able to break through the Broncos defense in Week 4, with Kareem Hunt rushing for 121 yards and a touchdown. Hunt was the first running back to rush for over 100 yards against the Broncos this season. However, the Jets don’t have anyone as talented as Kareem Hunt in their backfield. It will take a two-headed approach with Crowell and Powell to break through that run defense.

Along with a good run defense, the Broncos possess one of the game’s elite pass rushers in Von Miller. Miller recorded a sack against the Jets last season and is in a good position to get another. Offensive tackle Brandon Shell needs to step up to the challenge and shut down Miller so Darnold can have time to stand in the pocket and fire.

It sounds like a broken record but if you can control the clock and the tempo, you control the game. The Jets desperately need to control the game’s tempo as they did in the season opener to have a good shot to win this game. A good running game is a quarterback’s best friend but up to this point, Darnold hasn’t been able to experience that. Everything the Jets do on offense will rest on the performance of the offensive line.

Next: 2. Defensive End Henry Anderson

2. Defensive End Henry Anderson

If you were to ask any Jets fan who would lead the team in sacks after four weeks, a lot of people wouldn’t have Henry Anderson. But after the first four weeks, Anderson is doing just that with 2.5 sacks and is constantly getting into the offensive backfield. The Jets need him to continue bringing pressure this week against the Broncos.

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Anderson recorded a sack last week against the Jaguars to go along with three tackles. The Jets line him up all over the defensive line and would be smart to line him up on the interior this week. Broncos quarterback Case Keenum is off to a shaky start this season; 988 yards, three touchdowns, and six interceptions; and has performed poorly in two key areas (throwing from inside the pocket and throwing on third down).

According to a couple of stats by ESPN NFL Matchup, Keenum is the worst rated passer when throwing inside the pocket with a 66.7 rating. When throwing on third down, Keenum is the fourth worst quarterback with a 66.1 rating.

What all this means is that if the Jets are able to keep Keenum inside the pocket and force him into third and long situations, they have a good chance at forcing some hurried throws. The Jets pass rush has been surprisingly above average this season and if they can get to Keenum, they could force some turnovers.

Anderson is leading the Jets pass rush right now and he will be counted on to make it a long day for Keenum. His defensive line mate Leonard Williams also recorded a sack last week and five tackles. Williams started looking like his dominant self at times last week and if he and Anderson can cause disruption, the Jets have a great chance to get a home win.

Next: 1. Safety Jamal Adams

JACKSONVILLE, FL – SEPTEMBER 30: Jamal Adams #33 of the New York Jets and Dede Westbrook #12 of the Jacksonville Jaguars discuss a play during their game at TIAA Bank Field on September 30, 2018 in Jacksonville, Florida. (Photo by Scott Halleran/Getty Images)
JACKSONVILLE, FL – SEPTEMBER 30: Jamal Adams #33 of the New York Jets and Dede Westbrook #12 of the Jacksonville Jaguars discuss a play during their game at TIAA Bank Field on September 30, 2018 in Jacksonville, Florida. (Photo by Scott Halleran/Getty Images)

1. Safety Jamal Adams

Jets safety Jamal Adams has been without a doubt the best defensive player on the team through the first month of the season. He has 31 combined tackles, three pass deflections, a forced fumble, and has been a major presence against the run and pass. Adams recorded 12 tackles against the Jaguars and applied pressure on the Jaguars offense throughout the game.

This week, Adams and the rest of the Jets defense will go up against a Broncos team that features a good receiving duo in Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders. The Broncos also feature the third-ranked rushing offense (148.2 ypg) with a rookie duo of Phillip Lindsay and Royce Freeman. The Broncos will lean heavily on the rookie running game with Keenum struggling throwing the football.

The Jets defense was a disaster against the Jaguars, giving up 503 total yards and allowed Blake Bortles to look like an All-Pro quarterback. Bortles threw for 388 yards and two touchdowns. Something needs to change quickly for the Jets to turn the season around and this week, Adams took it upon himself to call for a players-only meeting on Friday. According to an article by Zach Braziller of the New York Post, Adams stressed that the defense just needs to get better and on the same page. Here is what Adams had to say in detail:

We just need to get better,” Adams said Thursday. “I’m taking it upon myself to set everybody up as a defense so we communicate better and be better on Sundays. It’s just time. It’s time to do a little bit extra.”

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Adams has always been doing a little extra since he was drafted by the Jets in 2017. His work ethic and attitude quickly elevated him as a team leader going into 2018. This is will be the first big test for Adam’s leadership ability and he is hoping the Jets can turn the season around starting this week.

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