Saturday, January 23, 2010

AFC Championship Preview: When the Colts have the Ball

When the Jets are on defense...

Stop the legend: The Indianapolis Colts revolve around one player: #18. Peyton Manning is the Colts' offense and has been for almost his entire career. Manning has been unreal this season, and his dedication to film study has been well-documented. Manning threw for 33 touchdowns to 16 interceptions all the while playing with little running game. In week 16 in the Jets-Colts matchup, Manning was 14 for 21 for 192 yards, and you got the feeling it could have been even better, but he just missed a couple other open receivers. If Manning plays like that in this one, it will be hard to keep their offense from moving the ball, so it will be imperative to limit their scoring.

Make it ugly: If the game gets sloppy, the game is going exactly how the Jets want it. Chances are, Manning will move the ball against the Jets' defense. He won't be confused by any blitz the Jets throw at him. If the Jets could sack Manning and knock him down, he could get annoyed. He was clearly peeved at a few of his linemen and runningbacks for letting defenders hit him last game. The pressure is clearly on the Colts in this game, and if the Jets can somehow get to Manning, the whole team will feel it, as Rex Ryan said about San Diego. With Indianapolis, that statement applies even more to Manning than it did to Philip Rivers. However, there are reasons Manning has only been sacked 10 times all season: he has a quick release, his offensive line pass blocks well, and he'd rather throw the ball away than take a hit. Chances are, Manning will have time to throw, and if that's the case, he'll move the ball. Then the Jets must keep the Colts' score down, make their score ugly. In the first game, the Jets blocked an extra point and then stuffed the Colts on a two-point conversion, turning 17 points into 15 points. If they can do things like that, they can keep the score down and keep the pressure on Manning and the Colts, which is exactly what happened in San Diego.

Make the Colts one-dimensional: The Colts' running game has been almost non-existent this year. The Jets' gameplan on defense is the exact opposite is in on offense: don't let Indianapolis get good yardage on 1st and 2nd down, so they can get off the field on 3rd down. Also, remember, the Colts' two touchdowns last game were on the ground, not through the air. The Jets need to force the Colts to throw against the league's top-ranked pass defense. The Colts run the ball just enough to force the Jets to respect it a little. If the Jets can completely neutralize it, like they did last week against San Diego, it will make the Colts easier to defend against. Indy didn't run the ball well in the first matchup, but they had big plays when they needed them.

Fundamentals! Tackle the ballcarrier. Cover the receivers. Don't give the Colts extra chances by failing to take care of business. The Jets have been great at both these aspects all season, but the Colts are a whole different animal. Dallas Clark is not easy to bring down, as Donald Strickland found out in the first game. Strickland and others have to make tackles the first chances they get. And while coverage shouldn't be a big problem for Darrelle Revis, whoever is guarding Dallas Clark will have his hands full all game, whether it's Eric Smith, Kerry Rhodes, or Dwight Lowery. Also, Austin Collie burned Lito Sheppard a number of times in the first matchup. With Revis battling Reggie Wayne most of the game, Collie and Pierre Garcon will probably be Manning's primary targets at receiver. Manning is a legend at finding the open receiver, whoever it is, so it's up to the Jets to give him as little a window as possible.

Help out the offense: Unfortunately, for the Jets to win, not only is the defense burdened to prevent the opposition from scoring, but it must help out the offense as well. The Jets need to make a big play or two to win this game on both sides of the ball. Against Indianapolis in the first matchup, Brad Smith had a return touchdown. Last week, Jim Leonhard's interception set up the Jets in the red zone to take the lead. This offense needs help, and the defense needs to do something: force a fumble, intercept the ball, score a touchdown, do something to help the offense. All season, the problem with this football team was that the three units do not complement each other. That appears to have finally changed come playoff time, and now the defense will have its tallest task of the season.

Bottom line: Indianapolis is a pretty one-dimensional offense, but Peyton Manning is so good it hasn't mattered. His Colts are 15-0 when they've played all game, so this won't be easy. The Jets have the best pass defense in the league, and Manning is probably the best quarterback. This is strength vs strength, but I have to give a slight edge to Manning in passing offense vs passing defense. However, the Jets should be better in the redzone than they were last game against the run. Manning had 15 points in almost 2.5 quarters last game between these two teams. That'll probably be around what this offense will get in this one. Expect between 17 and 27 points from the Colts. Don't expect Matt Stover to miss two field goals this week, so don't be surprised if the Colts get above 20. Will that be enough for the Jets to win? Stay tuned for my prediction!