The New York Jets know what to expect from Tim Tebow and the Denver Broncos – an option-style offense that relies almost exclusively on running the ball.
The trick is to stop this unconventional strategy and get a win, something only one opponent has managed to accomplish since Tebow took over at quarterback last month.
Coming off a disappointing loss that put a dent in their chances of winning the AFC East, the Jets look to bounce back Thursday night against Tebow and the Broncos, who are suddenly in the thick of the AFC West race.
Most sports books monitored by SportsOptions have installed the Jets as 6 1/2-point road favorites, with the total set at 40.
New York (5-4) squandered an opportunity to take control of the East on Sunday night against New England, losing 37-16 to snap a three-game winning streak.
The Jets’ sloppy performance included a muffed punt and a missed 24-yard field goal. Mark Sanchez, who had two interceptions and was sacked five times, called an ill-advised timeout that led to a Patriots touchdown just before halftime. Coach Rex Ryan told NBC at the half the timeout was the “stupidest play in NFL history.”
The loss dropped the Jets one game back of New England, but New York must finish ahead of the Patriots to win the division because it was swept in the season series.
“There’s plenty of football left to play,” center Nick Mangold said. “We’re excited about the opportunity to get out there Thursday night and, you know, right the wrongs.”
New York’s defense might not get the opportunity to correct any mistakes it made against the spread offense of Tom Brady and the Patriots, because it is unlikely to see anything similar compared to what it will get from Tebow and the Broncos (4-5).
In Sunday’s 17-10 win over Kansas City, Denver rushed 55 times – its most since 1978 – and finished with 244 yards on the ground. The Broncos ran eight straight times on their opening possession and Tebow attempted only eight passes for the game, completing two. One of his completions, however, was a 56-yard touchdown pass to a wide open Eric Decker in the fourth quarter that put Denver up 17-7.
Facing this style of offense is going to be a stark difference for New York. Against New England, the Jets faced an opponent season-high 39 pass attempts. They limited the pass-first Patriots to an opponent season-low 60 yards on 28 carries but still rank 15th in the NFL against the run, allowing an average of 116.0 yards.
In their three games since Week 8, the Broncos are averaging an NFL-best 246.0 rushing yards.
“I think it’s just one more thing for people to prepare for,” Tebow said of Denver’s unique offense. “It’s not like we went out there and did a lot (Sunday) but it’s something you have to scheme for, you have to prepare for and you have to be sound.”
The Broncos have won three of four games since coach John Fox named Tebow the starter, totaling 134 rushes and 57 pass attempts in those victories. They have moved into a three-way tie for second place in the West, trailing first-place Oakland by one game.
“It’s just a mindset. It’s a low-risk offense. It’s not an indictment on Tim Tebow or whoever our quarterback is,” Fox said. “It’s just whatever is working for us. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. We tried to possess the ball and keep our defense fresh.”
Fox may make some changes in the backfield, but it likely won’t have an effect on how the offense is run.
Backup tailback Knowshon Moreno suffered a season-ending torn ACL on Sunday, and second-year running back Jeremiah Johnson has been promoted from the practice squad.
Willis McGahee, who leads the Broncos with 640 rushing yards, also left Sunday’s game with a hamstring injury, but Fox expects him to play.
With Moreno and McGahee sidelined Sunday, third-string tailback Lance Ball suddenly became the primary back and the Chiefs still couldn’t stop the run. Ball finished with career highs of 30 attempts for 96 yards while Tebow had 43 yards and a TD on nine carries.
The Jets’ offense also revolves around the running game, albeit not to the same extent as the Broncos.
New York is averaging 125.5 rushing yards in its last four games, with Shonn Greene averaging 80.8. The Jets could be without LaDainian Tomlinson, however, after he left Sunday’s game with a left knee injury in the fourth quarter.
In the last meeting between these teams Oct. 17, 2010, Tomlinson ran for his second touchdown of the game with 1:13 remaining to give the Jets a 24-20 victory. While Sanchez threw for 198 yards and a TD with two interceptions, Tebow was used strictly as a runner with six carries for 23 yards.