Folks, this week's edition of Thursday Night Football is ... well, let's be honest: it's underwhelming. The Jets and the Broncos are nobody's idea of contenders even when healthy, and neither of these teams is healthy at the moment. Still, it is our duty to give you the facts and figures, the details about how and when and where to watch, and what to look out for if you decide that's what you want to do with your life. So, that's what we're going to do.
How to watch
When the Broncos have the ball
Now on their third-string quarterback, it's difficult to know what to make of the Broncos. An undrafted free agent and the nephew of former Washington quarterback Mark Rypien, Brett Rypien started for four years at Boise State, completing 64 percent of his passes at an average of 8.4 yards per attempt, with 90 touchdowns and 29 interceptions. Against Power 5 opponents, those figures dipped to 61 percent, 7.5 per attempt, and 11 touchdowns and eight picks.
He completed 8 of 9 passes for 53 yards and an interception in his NFL debut last week after relieving Jeff Driskel of his duties in the midst of a disastrous performance. Almost all of Rypien's throws were of the extremely-close-to-the-line-of-scrimmage variety, which is not particularly surprising for a third QB unexpectedly rushed into action for the first time. It's tough to say whether that's just Rypien's style or we should expect something different, but it's worth noting that offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur does favor short, quick passes anyway, and both Driskel and Drew Lock tend to throw shorter passes as well.
Rypien will enter this game working at a deficit in his skill position corps, with No. 1 receiver Courtland Sutton out for the year. He does still have Noah Fant, who looks like a potential second-year breakout at tight end. And he's got Jerry Jeudy, who is quickly climbing the list of best route runners in the league and looks like a surefire stud if he can get his drop issues under control at some point. Against New York's leaky secondary (the Jets rank 31st in Football Outsiders' pass defense DVOA and are getting torn to shreds by No. 1 and 2 wideouts, as well as tight ends), he may even be able to move the ball a bit.
Given his inexperience, though, it seems likely that Denver will want to lean on its rushing attack. But that may be unwise. Not only do the Jets actually rank third in rush defense DVOA, but Melvin Gordon has been predictably underwhelming after signing a two-year, $16 million contract to join Denver this offseason.
Gordon's averaging a paltry 4.1 yards per carry, which is actually a tick better than his career average in five seasons with the Chargers. His success rate on running plays sits at just 33.3 percent, per Pro Football Focus and TruMedia, tying him with Jets running back Frank Gore for 36th out of 44 qualifying players with at least 20 carries. The Broncos would be far better off featuring Phillip Lindsay, if he's able to return from injury.
When the Jets have the ball
As horrendous as the Jets defense is, the offense is somehow even more of an embarrassment. Adam Gase's group ranks 32nd in the league in yards, points, first downs, and percentage of drives that end in a touchdown or field goal. They're a blistering-hot 31st in Football Outsiders' offensive DVOA, sporting the league's 29th-ranked rushing attack and 30th-ranked pass offense.
Joe Douglas' makeover of the offensive line has not worked out, to say the least, with New York ranking 26th in Football Outsiders' Adjusted Line Yards per carry and seeing 17 percent of rush attempts stopped at or behind the line of scrimmage. Pressure is arguably just as much a quarterback stat as it is an indicator of offensive line play, but it's notable that Sam Darnold is seeing defenders in his face on more than 40 percent of his drop backs, one of the highest rates in the league. The only lineman playing at anything resembling an NFL starter level are Chuma Edoga (who has only appeared in one game) and first-round pick Mekhi Becton. Everyone else has been -- charitably -- a disaster.
Gang Green's passing-game "weapons" are practically non-existent, what with Le'Veon Bell, Breshad Perriman, Jamison Crowder, and Denzel Mims sidelined and Chris Herndon for some reason reduced to in-line blocking more often than not. Darnold is working with Braxton Berrios and Chris Hogan as his top perimeter options at the moment. Yes, really. In the National Football League, in two thousand and twenty. And he might not even have Hogan on Thursday night, as the journeyman wideout is listed as questionable for the game.
Darnold has been put in position to fail by the organization, and he has indeed failed. He ranks dead last in the league in first downs per pass attempt and EPA per pass attempt, 32nd (out of 33 qualifiers) in third-down conversion rate and QBR, 29th in DVOA, and 27th in touchdown rate. He does not appear to be getting any better at anything.
It's difficult to imagine anyone succeeding in the circumstances in which Darnold has been placed, though that doesn't necessarily excuse his not doing so anyway. The best quarterbacks can transcend their situation and make something out of nothing. Darnold, clearly, is not among that group of players. That's no great sin, of course. There are plenty of quarterbacks who are plenty good and nonetheless can't necessarily overcome horrendous surroundings. It's entirely possible that Darnold is one of those players, but we're unlikely to find out anytime soon -- at least unless and until he gets a shot somewhere else, because the Adam Gase-led Jets are going nowhere fast.
It is honestly hurting my brain to even think about writing any more about this team's offense. It's almost unfair to the players. It's barely worth breaking down the matchup with the actual Denver defense. I simply cannot see this version of the Jets finding much in the way of success against anybody.
Prediction: Broncos 20, Jets 13