New York Jets at Indianapolis Colts
January 8, 2011, 8:00 PM, NBC
Lucas Oil Stadium
After a year of waiting, it's finally put up or shut up time for Rex Ryan's Jets. The offseason was dedicated to finding enough players defensively to beat the Colts, and now, against a beat up Colts squad, the Jets have their chance. Rex Ryan is 0-9 lifetime against Peyton Manning, but with no Dallas Clark, no Austin Collie, and a defense missing several starters, they won't have a better chance to pick off the Colts than now. Being on the road is an obstacle, but unlike last year, the Jets probably have a better team than the Colts, and it's up to proving that on the field. This game here may be the biggest game in Rex Ryan and Brian Schottenheimer's coaching career because unlike last year, the Jets have the personnel to win this game.
When the Jets have the ball...
The Colts' run defense has been maligned all season, but three straight strong performances to close out the season give them some confidence heading into the playoffs. However, in each of those games, they faced one-dimensional running offenses, so they stacked the box and dared them to throw. Jacksonville, Oakland, and Tennessee were all able to throw the ball fairly well, but not well enough to win. Against the Jets, expect the Colts to do more of the same, daring Mark Sanchez to beat them. Sanchez's shoulder sounds like it's okay, but he's a hit-or-miss quarterback. However, he has much better weapons on the outside than any of those teams.
The key is for the Jets to come out and back the Colts defense off a little. Look for the Colts to stack the box again, opening up the passing game on early downs for Sanchez. Schottenheimer needs to trust him to throw the ball on first down. Doing so could allow the Jets to move the ball down the field in chunks and open up the running game for later.
When the Jets do run the ball, Shonn Greene needs to be a big factor. In last year's game, Greene was running very well, starting to gash the Colts defense. His physical running style needs to pound the Colts in the second half. LaDainian Tomlinson can be sprinkled in, particularly on passing downs, but Greene is the better back right now. Now is the time to unleash him.
The biggest strength the Colts have on defense is a set of dynamic pass rushing ends in Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis. D'Brickashaw Ferguson will likely matchup against Freeney, a key matchup to match all day between an elite pass rusher and an elite pass blocker. Mathis will go against either Wayne Hunter or Damien Woody. Either player can be beat off the edge occasionally by Mathis's speed. Look for a lot of plays with Hunter or Robert Turner eligible at tight end, particularly on passing downs, to help in pass protection. With Santonio Holmes, Braylon Edwards, Dustin Keller, Jerricho Cotchery, and a runningback all rotating in and out, there will be enough weapons on the field where the Jets should be able to move the ball. Not to mention the wildcard factor of Brad Smith, who will get a few chances under center as well as handle kick returns in this game. He's a threat any time he has the ball in his hands.
This Colts' defense is hanging on by smoke and mirrors right now. As long as the Jets don't fall into a predictable pattern, they should be able to move the ball. The Colts will play bend-but-not-break defense, but near the endzone, they stiffen up a bit. The Jets need to fight through that and stick the ball in the endzone. They have the personnel to do it. And with Peyton Manning on the other sideline, the Jets need all the points they can get. This is a big game for Brian Schottenheimer, as the Colts' defense can absolutely be beaten, especially if he calls a game that keeps the Colts backpedaling and Sanchez in a rhythm.
When the Colts have the ball...
As always, Peyton Manning runs the Colts' offense. Manning threw more passes than any other quarterback in the NFL, and he had one of the shakier seasons of his career. But his stats look strikingly similar to last year's, even without Dallas Clark and Austin Collie for significant chunks of the season.
This is the game where the loss of those two players will be as big a factor as ever. The best way to beat the Jets is by exposing the linebackers and extra defensive backs in coverage, and to do that, you use tight ends and slot receivers. Clark and Collie may be the best at those particular roles in the NFL at this point. Jacob Tamme is a nice young player, and Blair White works hard, but they aren't nearly as good as the men they are replacing.
However, while Clark and Collie remain out, Joseph Addai is back. Addai ran for 80 yards in last year's AFC Championship, and added a 21 yard touchdown in the regular season battle. He's also the best weapon the Colts have in the passing game out of the backfield. Putting a linebacker on him is a mismatch in the Colts' favor, and Manning can exploit that.
On the outside, the Jets' cornerbacks match up well with the Colts' primary receivers. Darrelle Revis has been great once again this year, only this time around, teams aren't even challenging him. Last year, the man Revis primarily covered, Reggie Wayne, was not a big factor, as Manning exploited Dwight Lowery, Lito Sheppard, and Drew Coleman. Wayne will again see Revis opposite him, meaning Pierre Garcon vs Antonio Cromartie will be a huge matchup. Garcon posted 11 catches for 151 yards and a touchdown in last year's AFC Championship game, but the Jets didn't have Cromartie, a tall, fast athlete who has had a good career against Manning. Both Garcon and Cromartie are inconsistent players. That might be the matchup to watch, as both can make unbelievable plays, and both can suffer mental lapses. One of those players will likely make an impact play to help win the game for his team, so watch out for those two.
The good news for the Jets is that Colts OT Ryan Diem is unlikely to play with a back injury. The Jets have struggled all season to get a consistent pass rush, but with Diem out, that's a big hole at right tackle that will be filled by a rookie free agent. If Jason Taylor and the Jets' edge rushers can generate pressure and force Manning out of rhythm all game, the Jets will almost certainly win this game. More likely, they will get spurts of a pass rush, but Manning will make his fair share of plays.
The Jets are a better team than the Colts at every position except quarterback and pure pass rusher. New York runs the ball better, stops the run better, and stops the pass better than Indianapolis, the keys will be just how dominant Manning and the Colts' passing game can be, and whether or not the Jets can convert yards into points. But when all is said and done, the Jets have more ways to make big plays on all three facets of the game: offense, defense, and special teams. Manning has to be in peak form to win this game and probably put up 30 points or more. It's certainly possible, but he has to outplay Sanchez by a lot, and the Jets will put their fair share of points on the board.
Jets 30, Colts 24