NFL Preview - Denver (3-1) at N.Y. Jets (1-4)
By Lyle Fitzsimmons, Contributing NFL Editor
(SportsNetwork.com) - Rex Ryan is finally conceding what everyone else takes as gospel.
Unless the sixth-year coach instantly finds a way to reverse course on the New York Jets' early-season death spiral, there's an outstanding chance he'll not be referred to as a "seventh-year coach."
The Jets have lost four straight for the first time in Ryan's tenure - including a disheartening 31-0 encounter last week in San Diego - and they return home this week with a starting quarterback having to answer questions about why he missed a team meeting the night before the game.
Oh, and did we mention Peyton Manning is stopping by for a visit.
"(If) we don't get this thing on the right track, I don't think for a minute I'll be here," Ryan said this week, during an appearance on ESPN's New York radio station. "I know I won't. But I believe this team will right itself and we'll find a way."
Given recent events, it's getting increasingly difficult to imagine what such a way would look like.
The aforementioned Geno Smith was already hearing it from the media after cursing a fan following a Week 4 home loss to Detroit, and he compounded matters on the coast by claiming a misunderstanding of time-zone conversions led to him attending a movie, rather than a pre-game meeting.
Nonetheless, he started the game against the Chargers and was widely panned by critics after completing four of 12 passes for 27 yards and an interception. Back-up quarterback Michael Vick came in for the second half but was no revelation while completing eight of 19 for 47 yards.
He was also sacked twice, and the Jets managed just 151 total yards.
Ryan is standing by his starter and declared Smith would retain the No. 1 role against Denver.
"Was this thing just an aberration?" he said. "I believe it was."
For what it's worth, New York could be buoyed by the return of wide receiver Eric Decker, who missed last week's game with a hamstring injury. It'd be his first meeting with his former Broncos teammates since leaving to sign a five- year, $36.25 million with the Jets in March.
Decker has 14 catches in four games with New York. In two seasons with Manning in Denver, he caught 172 passes in 32 games - an average of more than five catches per game.
"I wouldn't say it's exactly the same," he said. "You learn, I think, through the tough times, what people are all about, the character of this team and each individual. There's definitely no quit in this team, and every game we've battled and had a chance besides last week."
The last time the Broncos played in New Jersey, they struggled a bit, too.
That was in Super Bowl XLVIII in February, when Manning, Decker and the rest of the team took the third-worst scoreboard beating in title game history courtesy of the Seattle Seahawks.
Manning completed 34-of-49 passes, but was intercepted twice and threw just one touchdown in the finale of a season which had seen him establish records for both yardage (5,477) and scoring passes (55).
Against the Jets, another stumble seems far less probable.
The 12 passing touchdowns New York has allowed are tied for second-most in the league and the passer rating compiled by opposing quarterbacks - 107.5 - is third-highest among 32 teams. Additionally, the Jets have intercepted just one pass in five games, part of a three-way tie for the league's low.
On the other hand, Manning is up to his usual antics, firing 12 TD passes to three interceptions in four games while completing 66.5 percent of his passes for a 109.0 rating and 1,293 yards. He passed the career threshold of 500 aerial touchdowns last week against Arizona and is five away from tying Brett Favre's all-time mark of 508.
Incidentally, he's thrown five TDs in a game eight times - twice last season.
But he's playing it diplomatically in preparation, citing the Jets' still- lofty statistics when it comes to sacks (17, tied for most in the league) and total defense (320.8 yards per game, sixth in the league).
"This is a stout defense. Tough against the run, causes you a lot of pass protection issues, No. 1 in sacks, a lot of three-and-outs," he said. "It's difficult for an offense because they give you a lot of different looks. It's a challenge for us in the passing game and the run game, handling just their physical talent and handling just the different looks they give, as well."
Denver admittedly has been slowed in the run game and enters the weekend ranked 29th in the league with a per-game average of 79.5 yards. The Broncos let Knowshon Moreno go to Miami in the offseason and were set to replace him with Montee Ball, but Ball had been averaging just 3.1 yards per carry before suffering a groin injury last week that'll keep him out against the Jets.
Ronnie Hillman stepped in after the injury and ran 17 times for 66 yards.
"We're still looking for that balance every single week," Manning said. "It's a great opportunity for Ronnie. He's played at different times for different amounts, but when you're the starting back there's a different hat that you wear. So we're counting on him. He has a burst that is pretty unique."
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
No Doubting Thomas
The Jets were burned repeatedly by San Diego tight end Antonio Gates last week, including twice on touchdown passes from Philip Rivers. The matchup with Denver's Julius Thomas is hardly any easier, giving Thomas' 6-foot-5, 250- pound frame. New York safety Calvin Pryor will need to establish physicality early to prevent Thomas from developing an easy pitch-and-catch rhythm with Manning.
More than one expert has suggested the big receiving numbers Decker used to warrant his big contract were more the result of a Manning-led system than the wideout's special talents. Presuming he's matched with Denver cornerback Aqib Talib this week, Decker gets a chance to make a dissenting case. If he can be effective, it'll create opportunities for other receivers. If not, QB Smith will struggle mightily.
Each year, there's a game on the schedule that makes people cringe. The Broncos had one in Week 6 last season, when they were 5-0 and hosting 0-5 Jacksonville. Manning threw for two TDs and Denver coasted by 16. Given talent and turmoil, it's impossible to imagine a scenario - short of a Manning kidnapping -- where the Jets win here, too. If he wants the 508 record in Jersey, he'll probably get it.
Sports Network predicted outcome: Broncos 38, Jets 10
10/12 07:39:12 ET