The nature of the football schedule is such that it calls for stories when there’s not necessarily any to be told. Seven days is the standard buffer between a team’s games, and with the exception of compulsive injury-list mongering, to write or speak of the gridiron on, say, Wednesday, might call for a fair measure of cliche recycling in lieu of, you know, news.
Hence, each season brings with it that familiar preview angle for a handful of matchups, that of the proverbial trap game. The particulars of this pesky cliche can vary, but the overarching principle says that a superior team will be lulled into a false sense of security against an inferior foe, to the extent that the lesser squad will put a scare into David or otherwise slay the giant.
The Jets, for their part, were supposed to have been confronted with one of these games against the lowly Bills in Week 4, but they averted such a fate without incident, dispatching inept Buffalo rather handily. It was an overwhelming mismatch in the Jets’ favor, with respect to both sheer talent and coaching competence.
The truth, I suspect, about the trap game is not necessarily that it doesn’t exist, but rather that it’s a matter of how we gauge which matchups fall under this flimsy, tattered umbrella and which don’t, and for what reasons. Just as we’ve come to realize that wins and losses aren’t a very accurate indicator of a pitcher’s performance, there’s plenty more than what meets the eye on the gridiron, and so we might fairly conclude that the trap game is less about a team’s psyche—a nebulous thing if ever there were one—and more about some subtleties that’ll play out between the lines.
In short: Some “bad” teams are simply more apt to give “good” ones a harder time of it than others, and in the NFL, where the margin of victories can be excruciatingly minute, that can be all the difference between a win and a loss — whether we want to call it a trap game or something else entirely.
Specifically, the Jets are very much at risk of being given fits this week against the thoroughly mediocre and decimated-by-injuries Broncos. Should Gang Green incur a defeat, we might erroneously retrofit a conclusion that they were insufficiently prepared or lackadaisical in their approach or looking ahead to Week 7’s bye, any of which could conceivably be true, but more likely, it will have transpired on account of the Broncos’ sole forte coinciding with the Jets’ lone glaring weakness.
Ah, yes. What ESPN and its bad-beer sponsor call the cold, hard facts.
There’s little positive that can be said of Josh McDaniels as a talent evaluator or all-around head coach (now one season and a half into his tenure), but I can’t begrudge him his just due as an offensive guru and play caller. At various junctures of his coaching career, the 18-1 Patriots had a record-setting offense, Matt Cassel looked like a useful NFL quarterback, and, most recently, Kyle Orton and a rag-tag receiving corps comprised of castaways and no-names like Brandon Lloyd and Jabar Gaffney have been quite formidable.
Not to sound any alarms among my fellow followers of the Jetsies, but if there’s any facet of their game that leaves much to be desired, it’s their pass defense. In this space, I’ve beaten the Darrelle Revis dead horse beyond the point of dental identification, but suffice it to say the defensive secondary is thin without its All-Pro cornerback. And if the Jets have even the remotest respect for big-picture thinking, they’ll have to rest Revis, their best player on either side of the ball, so that his barking hamstring can heal, once and for all. A half-speed Revis is of no use, as the immortal Greg Lewis—let alone a living body in Percy Harvin—proved last week.
All of this is to say that the Jets shouldn’t be surprised if they’re giving up sizable chunks of yardage through the air on Sunday.
I’m not arguing that the Jets should lose, nor is it even a prediction that they will. It’s merely to highlight that the Broncos have a pulse and a very viable means by which to attack the Jets. Otherwise, the matchups all seem to favor Gang Green. The Broncos can’t run the ball against anyone, and they shouldn’t be able to do so against the Jets’ stout run defense. Denver has really struggled to stop the run, which bodes especially well for the ground-and-pound Jets behind LaDainian Tomlinson and Shonn Greene. The Broncos’ pass defense is no bargain, either, even with one of the best corners in the league in Champ Bailey.
There are those other hard-to-quantify variables at play here, as well, like the unpleasantness of having to adjust to playing a mile above sea level and the aforementioned approaching bye week. Tack on the fact that the Jets will have had one fewer day to prepare for the game after playing on Monday night—not to mention lost time due to travel—and it’s not unfair to think the schedule has cost them some preparation time.
If I’m lamenting a Jets loss in the space on Monday morning, let’s at least concede that we acknowledged it as a very real possibility before kickoff. The point-spread has held firm at three points throughout the week, so I don’t suspect anyone would peg a Denver victory as Upset of the Century, but there is a palpable confidence among my Jets brethren that this is a game New York ought to win. We’re dreaming of a 5-1 start to the season heading into the by week, with the prospect of (hopefully) healthy Revis and Calvin Pace coming back shortly thereafter to gear up for a Super Bowl run.
But first, the Jets have to beat the Broncos, and that probably won’t come easily.