ENGLEWOOD, Colo -- A week ago the Denver Broncos believed wide receiver Demaryius Thomas had shaken himself loose from an early season struggle. They could see his work in practice, see the explosiveness, the trademark catch-and-run efforts.
Then last Sunday, in a 41-20 victory against the Arizona Cardinals, everyone saw the proof. Thomas had a career-best 226 yards on his eight receptions to go with two touchdowns. Now, with another week of practices in the books, both the Broncos and Thomas believe that was just a good start.
"I am not going to say it’s easier," Thomas said. "It’s a little different to finally go out and make plays and to do what I think I can do, go out and make plays for my team, big plays. The first three weeks I wasn’t doing that, so it was in the back of my mind and I was still beating myself up, and now after the bye week just go out and play and forget whatever happened that play and don’t worry about it."
If this season’s form holds true, there is potential for Thomas, or perhaps Emmanuel Sanders, Wes Welker or Julius Thomas, to put up some double-take numbers this week as well. New York Jets head coach Rex Ryan likes to roll the dice on defense, he likes to be aggressive and take some chances to get to the opposing quarterback.
Though the Jets are playing more zone coverages than they have in the past when Ryan had cornerbacks like Darrelle Revis or Antonio Cromartie, the Jets still load the line of scrimmage and gamble that they can get to the quarterback before the quarterback can find any room to throw downfield.
However, these Jets (1-4) have had mixed results with all of that thus far. They are tied for the league lead in sacks (17), but they have also surrendered some big receiving days along the way. The Packers' Jordy Nelson (209 yards), the Bears' Alshon Jeffery (105 yards) and the Lions' Golden Tate (116 yards) all topped the 100-yard mark in Jets losses over the past four weeks.
And opposing tight ends have caught five touchdown passes in the Jets’ four losses combined, including two by the Chargers’ Antonio Gates last Sunday. And the Broncos array of playmakers might present the Jets with a far more difficult task sideline-to-sideline, because Demaryius Thomas, despite some uncharacteristic drops in the first three games, is still tied for seventh in the league in yards per catch (17.5), Sanders is tied for ninth in catches (32), and Julius Thomas leads the NFL in touchdown receptions (seven).
It’s something Ryan covered this week when he said: "This (Demaryius) Thomas kid might be as good a receiver as there is in the league, and by the way you’ve got the best slot receiver in Welker ... The good news is this (Julius) Thomas kid has only got 19 touchdowns since last season. Really a group that’s struggling. It’s a joke, they’re loaded offensively."
Demaryius Thomas is the linchpin, however. The Cardinals tried to play him, ironically with the former Jet Cromartie, in man coverage. And after what Demaryius Thomas did to the Cardinals, any other defense would be hard-pressed to try it again without the best of the best at cornerback, because the Broncos see their Alpha receiver locked in, ready for more.
"You could tell he was kind of tired of not feeling like he was playing like himself," said Broncos offensive coordinator Adam Gase. "(I) think he just shut everything out and just played ball."
"When he’s doing what he can do, that’s tough for any defense," Sanders said. "We have a lot of guys who can make plays with one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time. So when (Demaryius) has it going, people can’t cover him with one guy, or if they do it’s a long day."