Last week, it was Branden Oliver. This week, Ronnie Hillman. Against the Chargers, the Jets’ previously vaunted run defense turned Branden Oliver, who’d come into the game with 34 rushing yards on the season, into a 100-yard back. Being that Oliver repeated the feat in Sunday's game against the Raiders, if I were 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh, I’d be looking for another big game from Hillman when San Francisco travels to Denver next week.
Hillman, the diminutive third-year RB who started for the Broncos in place of an injured Montee Ball, carved out 100 hard-earned yards against the Jets in Denver’s 31-17 win at MetLife Stadium, with many of them coming on up-the-middle bursts that made New York’s front line look vulnerable. Even when Hillman, who ran for just 66 total yards in the Broncos’ first five games, was spelled by the even less heralded Juwan Thompson (like Oliver, an undrafted rookie), the visiting team had similar success with its inside running.
Hillman and Thompson’s combined output—138 rushing yards—outdid Jets RBs Chris Ivory and Chris Johnson by 122 yards. That’s not a misprint. But neither is this: somehow, some way, with no running game to speak of; Geno Smith, following a game plan that basically prohibited him from throwing the ball more than 10 yards; and Peyton Manning being Peyton Manning (at least in the two-minute drill he so artfully led near the end of the first half); the Jets were still in the game until the bitter end.
Peyton Manning may still be Peyton Manning, but he didn’t play like, well, Peyton Manning. Constantly harassed by the likes of Muhammad Wilkerson, Sheldon Richardson and, of course, Leger Douzable (again, no misprint), the Broncos QB was rarely able to get set before throws. The entire Denver team seemed similarly unsettled. By the end of the day, they’d racked up more than 100 yards in penalties, and escaped with a 31-17 win that was sealed with two drive-ending plays by Broncos CB Aqib Talib in the game’s last few minutes.
The second of Talib’s big plays was an interception of Smith that was run back for a Denver TD. The fact that the Jets QB’s first really awful pass of the game came with just 20 seconds left on the game clock was encouraging, as were the 16 times he connected with WR Eric Decker and TE Jace Amaro.
The Jets were clearly stronger with the semi-healthy Decker back in the lineup, and Amaro may not be the equal of Denver’s Julius Thomas, but he showed considerable promise, and should get better with a game plan that asks him to play more like a downfield receiver than a scatback required to earn most of his yards after the catch.
A record of 1-5 may be an unsightly mark, but, all in all, the game was a step forward for Smith and the Jets.