Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Jets-Colts Preview

Can the Jets actually make the playoffs?

If you asked me at 4:15 on Sunday, I would have laughed at you. If you asked Rex Ryan, he would have laughed at you, as he admitted after Sunday's game that the Jets "were obviously out of the playoffs."

As it turns out, the only thing obvious is that the Jets will find a way to shoot themselves in the foot if the game means something and if it's close late. Need proof? The Jets are 0-5 in games decided by five points or less. Still, the team is still very much alive, and if the Dolphins and two of the Broncos, Ravens, and Jaguars lose.

But forget all the playoff scenarios. If other teams lose and help the Jets, that's great, but the team is past worrying about that. The number one key for the Jets has always been to take care of their own business and win, something they've proven time and time again they haven't been able to do.

And their first task couldn't be much more difficult. There's only one undefeated team in the NFL, and they play in Indianapolis. That is where the Jets are heading Sunday, facing a Colts team that has 10 days of rest after helping New York out by beating Jacksonville last Thursday.

On paper, the notion that Mark Sanchez can outduel Peyton Manning at this stage is laughable. But will Manning and his pals play? Even though the Colts are just two games away from going 16-0, for weeks, the signs have pointed to the Colts starting to rest players in week 16. They played hard last Thursday, and they might want to give the home crowd one last time to cheer before the playoffs.

Vegas has to think that the Colts will rest some starters because Indianapolis is only installed as a 5-point favorite at home. A 14-0 team playing against a team with a rookie quarterback that struggles in close games should be a bigger favorite.

So why are they such comparatively small underdogs? Part of it has to do with the Colts potentially resting their starters, but more of it has to do with the Jets' defense. As mentioned before, the Jets are 0-5 in games decided by 5 points or less, meaning that they have been in almost every game until the end.

That's because the Jets have the #1 defense against the pass, in total yards, and in points allowed. They haven't faced Manning and company, but they do match up well. Darrelle Revis will blanket Reggie Wayne all game and force Manning to go to Pierre Garcon, Austin Collie, and Dallas Clark. Clark is going to be a tough matchup, as he may be the premier pass-catching tight end in the NFL.

The secondary will be tested all game long, but they've been up to the task almost all season long, despite a consistent lack of pressure from the Jets' blitz-happy defense. It's hard to see how they get pressure on Manning, but the pass defense has been effective without it. Imagine what they can do if they got a pass rusher in the draft or free agency.

Running the ball, the Colts haven't done a whole lot all season. Joseph Addai is a JAG (just another guy), and rookie Donald Brown is banged up. The Jets are better against the pass than the run, but they've been good against the run all season, and as good as the Colts are offensively, there's a reason why Peyton Manning is going to be the MVP, and not Addai.

The biggest question will be how the Jets can score enough points to win. Braylon Edwards called the offense "embarrassing" and "irritating," questioning the offense's desire to get into the playoffs. Edwards is coming off one of his first 100-yard game as a Jet and has helped, but Mark Sanchez has been an enigma, and the red zone offense has been atrocious.

Despite that, the Jets actually match up pretty well against the Colts, and they might be able to run the football. Throughout the Colts' reign in the AFC, their main weakness has been run defense. They're in the middle of the pack of the team defense stats against the run. Still, the Jets might be able to control the clock, as the Colts have only allowed 3 20+ yard rushes all season, tied for the league's best.

Because of that, the Jets will need to grind out drives, not relying on the big play as they have for a lot of the season. This is also true in the passing game, as the Colts have allowed the least amount of 20+ yard pass plays in the league with 25 (Jets are 2nd with 27). With the Jets' only points last week coming on a 65-yard pass play, the Jets will surely need to find a new way to get on the board. Brian Schottenheimer, time to earn your money (and your reputation, and maybe your job).

One of the biggest questions surrounding this game is just how long the Colts will play their starters. It had been hinted at for weeks that the Colts would start to pull guys out week 16 and then treat week 17 like a preseason game. Nobody knows for sure, but the Colts signed a 3rd QB from their practice squad in former Buffalo Bulls (not Bills) QB Drew Willy. Most teams do carry three quarterbacks -- the Jets carry four -- but the timing is very interesting.

I expect the Colts to pretty much be playing their backups by the time the fourth quarter comes around. If I am Rex Ryan, I blitz the heck out of the Colts early and often, trying to get some hits on Peyton Manning, and trying to show Caldwell that keeping his quarterback in is risky. Manning will not want to let up an undefeated season go that easily, so as long as he is in the game, you can expect he's trying to put as many points on the board as he can.

The Jets' pass defense is number one in the NFL, but the pass rush really hasn't been that great all year. Sure, they hurry some throws, but the stellar play of the secondary and linebackers have been key in stopping opposing teams' quarterbacks. The Jets did hold Drew Brees down for most of the game.

Most of the previews I do talk about what team has the edge at what position. But this game is so hard to figure out in those terms because nobody knows for sure who will play. If the Colts play their starters throughout, it's hard to give the Jets the edge anywhere. If they don't, the Jets' defense should be able to harass a young quarterback, and the offense should be able to move the ball.

If/when Manning doesn't play, Curtis Painter will take the snaps under center. Painter hasn't gotten a snap all season in his rookie year, but an injury to Manning's regular backup Jim Sorgi has thrust Painter into semi-active duty.

So in the end, what wins out, the Jets' desperation or the Colts' pure talent and drive for a perfect season? Well, it's hard to say desperation is that big of a factor because they've blown many opportunities so far.

Call it a hunch, but I think the Jets come out hard and play as if they have nothing to lose. Rex Ryan and the coaches thought last week was a must-win, so this is like a reprieve, and against an undefeated football team, the pressure actually isn't primarily on the Jets.

The defense is always good, and the team does match up well with the Colts. Mark Sanchez just needs to be careful with the football against an aggressive Indy defense, and the Jets could upset the mighty Colts. Sound familiar?
Jets 16, Colts 7