Breaking Down the Jets vs the Colts
After a bitter loss the Jets need to quickly regroup and get ready to face arguably the best team in the NFL, the Indianapolis Colts, needing a win to keep their slim playoff hopes alive.
Jets Defense vs. Colts Offense
It seems as if every era of football has one or two of these once in a lifetime Quarterbacks that are the centerpiece of the league. In Peyton Manning you have the standardbearer of the era. When Manning’s career is over he will likely hold every passing record and the most honors anyone has ever received at the position. Manning has become the standard by which all other Qb’s are judged in today’s NFL. Without Manning the Colts team is not much. He has made the careers of wide receivers. He has made the careers of running backs. He has solidified the careers of coaches. Since entering the league Manning has posted double digit winning seasons 10 times in his 12 year career, and has won at least 12 games every year since 2003. He has 7 division crowns and 1 Super Bowl Trophy. Now Manning has a chance for the perfect 16-0 season. He is an amazing talent that controls the pocket, seemingly finds the proper target every time, and delivers the ball perfectly. There is no QB better in the league right now than Manning. The offense has virtually no running game this season as Joseph Addai has struggled to break through the line and the team relies on the passing game more than ever before. WR Reggie Wayne and TE Dallas Clark are Manning’s two favorite targets. Wayne is a tremendous player who is arguably the best in the NFL in terms of being a complete player. He can attack all areas of the field. Clark is the most productive tight end this year and has become Manning’s favorite target. Clark is deadly down the seams when he recognizes the zone coverage. Pierre Garcon emerged out of nowhere to become a big play threat while Austin Collie has become something of a pet project for Manning and has developed into a very good possession receiver for the team. The offensive line for the team is well disciplined and does an excellent job in holding their positions while Manning calls the offense at the line. Of course the big question this week is how much the starters actually play for the Colts, who have already clinched everything. Garcon is already limited and may see no time at receiver. Wayne has been battling foot injuries and would likely be a candidate to have his minutes reduced. The big one is how long Manning will press to play. In the past Manning could potentially play as little as one series in a game like this one. He seems to be lobbying to play more, but that could mean playing as if this is the third preseason game where he gets one drive in the 3rd quarter and then sits it out.
For the third time this season the Jets defense let the team down when they needed a crucial stop which finally prompted the coach to admit that this is not a great defense by his standards. It was hard to really blame them as they only allowed 10 points last week, but Ryan challenged his defense to carry the team to the playoffs and they just could not seal the deal missing countless turnover opportunities and blowing a few key coverages on the final drive of the game. Both Mike DeVito and Sione Pouha had solid all around games and the Jets are going to have to evaluate where they see both players next season. Will they be rotational guys or can they do more than that for a second season in a row? With Kris Jenkins injury history and the age of Shaun Ellis and Marques Douglas there are positions open for these two to eventually start at if they keep up the strong play. David Harris is proving to be the teams best linebacker and Calvin Pace may be the most dangerous linebacker, but the Jets need to find a consistent pass rusher to add to this group next year. That hurt them in the loss to Atlanta as the Falcons did a great job exploiting the Jets secondary overload blitzes. Darrelle Revis had another strong game and Lito Sheppard played well again, but Jim Leonhard, Kerry Rhodes, and Donald Strickland all had negative plays that stood out. None of the three are guaranteed to retain their roles next year and have to play better these final two games of the season.
On paper this should be a real measuring stick matchup for the defense provided Manning and all the starters play the game. Other than a playoff game in 2007, Ryan has had a hard time figuring Manning and the Colts offense out, but he is equipped with a secondary player in Revis that gives him a much better opportunity to try to win the game. Revis, who was moved alot last week, will likely be moved around even more this week due to the extensive amount of weapons the Colts have in the passing game. It will need to be a guessing game between Revis and Manning and to where he goes and what type of defense he is playing. Rhodes should get the primary assignment on Clark, but the Jets have to be physical with Clark and knock him at the line before passing him off to the safety. When Clark gets a clean release he is unstoppable and Manning is going to find him on the seam route 90% of the time. Sheppard and Strickland are both going to have to have good games covering players like Wayne, Collie, and Garcon. Each brings a different skillset to the table and each defender is going to have to be prepared for the glaring differences in play. The one thing the Jets players must do is intercept the ball if Manning makes a mistake. The Jets blew countless opportunities versus Atlanta and Manning won’t give those same kind of gimmies. For as good as Manning is he has thrown 15 picks on the year and 10 have come in the last six weeks. He is human and he is making mistakes this year, and you must take advantage when it happens. Manning is very hard to pressure because of how well he moves in the pocket and how well the line blocks for him. The Jets will not be able to use their substitution packages they normally like to use and are going to have to rely much moreso on the starters than usual to make plays. The Colts are not going to run the ball and will likely not even try except in short yardage spots. While they have to be aware of Addai out of the backfield he Jets will have to do a great job disguising their blitzes and their Lbs and DE Ellis all must bring their best physical abilities to this game to get to Manning. Being a half a step slow will not work. Most importantly the defense has to be ready to play 60 minutes. They can not play 58 minutes and expect to win. They cant expect to play for 29:30 in the first half and then watch Manning score in 30 seconds to end the 2nd quarter. Manning has an amazing nine games this season where he has led the offense to points with less than 2 minutes remaining in the half, seven of which were touchdowns. Those are the momentum killers that change the outcome of games and a big reason why the Colts are 14-0. If the Jets allow that to happen the game will likely end in defeat.
Jets Offense vs. Colts Defense
Lost in all the Manning excitement is the fact that the Colts defense has transformed itself into a pretty good unit that keeps teams out of the end zone. The Colts defense ranks 5th in the NFL in points allowed and completely eliminate the big play. They do not give up big runs on the ground nor big pass plays through the air. They will give up yardage, but will make you work to keep the chains moving and force your into long drives to score points. The defense is led by the star defensive ends Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis. Both are terrific pass rushers especially on the fast track surface in Indianapolis. Neither is strong against the run, but the pace of the game often allows them to play pass first very often. Both are nursing injuries and it is almost a certainty that neither will play more than just a handful of snaps on Sunday. The defense is somewhat susceptible up the middle to the run game where the team is undersized and features players who are borderline starters. Gary Brackett is the teams top linebacker and does a good job keeping the ball from getting past him and into the next level. LB Clint Sessions has good speed and is a sure handed tackler. The Colts have gotten the job done in the secondary despite losing some key players during the course of the year. The performance of the secondary is more about scheme than about personnel. The pass defense is reliant on a pass rush to force a team into an errant throw. Safety Antoine Bethea is the most dangerous player in the secondary. He provides most of the help for the corners and is also a good player against the run. He does a good job covering his side of the field and reacts well to the QB. Bethea is the teams primary player who keeps plays from breaking deep. In recent weeks the passing defense has been somewhat exposed as teams are attacking more underneath and completing at a very high rate. The Colts right now are going to give up about 250 yards through the air whether it’s a close game or not.
It was another rough week for QB Mark Sanchez who returned from injury to throw three interceptions and only lead his team to 7 points despite incredible field position for most of the game. The Jets looked like they gave him the most responsibility he had since the Patriots game and Sanchez failed to deliver. He will have a great deal to think about during this offseason when he reviews just what went right and wrong in 2009. When Sanchez did throw the ball well he was able to connect with his two wideouts in Braylon Edwards and Jerricho Cotchery. Edwards, when he does not have the dropping issues, is one of the best in the NFL He should only improve with a full offseason with the Jets and he is going to be very important for the team to keep if he hits free agency next year. Without Edwards this offense would really be lacking and the criticism of Sanchez and the coaching staff even louder than it currently is. Thomas Jones and the running game come off a deflating effort. The team could never deal with the Falcons 9 and 10 men in the box fronts and ended up with one of the poorest showings of the season. They may have been affected by the flu that seemed to plagued C Nick Mangold who was ineffective. Mangold is the teams best offensive lineman and if he can not bring his “A game” the whole line suffers. The Jets best rushing play of the week may have been the Brad Smith option play. If teams can limit the Jets from having a big running play or two a game the offense is going to have a hard time.
The one thing the Jets must do this week is play with poise and restraint, something they did not do against Atlanta. They can not afford personal foul calls after plays or false starts before the snap. It is one thing for those mishaps to happen against the Falcons, but if you do that against the Colts the game could get out of hand. Is there really a set way to try to attack this team? Not really. Teams have tried to eat clock and keep the ball away and that has not worked. Teams have tried to attack down the field and score and that has not worked. The one thing that should work in the Jets favor this week, besides the fact that the Colts will likely be resting their top pass rusher, is that the Colts defense has been trending downward these last three weeks. Tennessee had ample opportunities to score points but opted to go for Tds and did not execute by the goal. Denver was constantly on the Colts side of the field but would turn it over at the most inopportune times. Indy’s defense looked like they did not even show up to take on MJD and David Garrard who gashed the defense to the tune of 31 points. The Jets will need to play safe smart football and execute far better in the red zone than they have all season long if they want to win. This is one of those games where the Jets need a balanced attack and balanced play calls. The Colts defense does not do one thing great, but they don’t really do anything poorly either and they are very opportunistic. The Jets have to work with Sanchez in designing a game plan that simplifies his reads in playing a possession type passing game, which is what the Colts have the most problems defending. That means using his running backs and specifically using Dustin Keller in the passing game. The Jets will need to use Edwards and Jerricho Cotchery on short timing routes and hope they can do something with the ball after they catch it. The Jets players must be prepared to out physical a much smaller defensive team. If the Jets can break some of their own run/pass tendencies this week they may be able to score enough points, which will need to be at least in the low 20s, to win.
The Colts have a solid special teams squad led by Punter Pat McAfee. McAfee is a solid punter, but does an excellent job on kickoffs, especially in the dome. His leg has more or less eliminated teams from big returns at home. Chad Simpson is a decent kick returner who broke one for a 93 yard score against the Jaguars last week. Veteran Matt Stover handles field goals. Stover does not have much of a leg and is terribly inaccurate outside of 40, but rarely is used due to Manning’s ability to drive the team into the end zone.
For at least the second time this year you could point your finger at special teams for a loss. James Dearth had problems snapping. Kellen Clemens had problems holding. Jay Feely had problems kicking. The weather did not help the situation, but the Jets are too often leaving points because of poor special teams play. This is basic NFL 101, but the Jets are failing the course badly this season. On the bright side it does look as if the Jets have found a return man in Brad Smith. Whether he gets a chance to return anything this week is a different story.
Jim Caldwell has been facing questions for the last two weeks about how he is going to prepare for the stretch run while the team is undefeated. Caldwell seems to have made it known that the priority is the Super Bowl and that certain players are on a snap count, but once a game starts those plans could change. On paper this is the final challenge for the Colts and if they get through this game they may be able to win game 16 even by just playing the starters a series or two. His decisions about pulling players this week will have a major impact on the outcome of the game.
Ryan may have hit rock bottom last week when he believed the Jets were eliminated from the playoffs and finally admitted that they were not as good as he hoped they would be defensively. He got some nice news when told that they were still in the hunt and he is now re-focusing his team on the remainder of the season. Ryan will have two very important jobs this week. Because of the style offense the Colts run, Ryan is going to have to be far more prepared than usual for his sub packages. If he continues to use his current method of substituting players late and running onto the field to signal guys off his team is going to get penalized multiple times for 12 men calls. Secondly he has to keep the team from fracturing apart if things start slowly. Edwards came out, questioned the teams heart, and called his offensive unit an embarrassment. That is a shot at both the players and the coaching staff. Whether Edwards was right to do so or not is a question for another day, but Ryan has to realize that this is what certain players on the team are feeling. Win or lose he can not let his team break apart and then expect to come back strong in 2010. Ryan has to be a leader this week and keep the guys motivated to succeed.
As a fan there are two ways to look at this game. One way is that you want to see the Jets take their best shot at the best team in the NFL and win a straight contest. You would rather lose to a real team than beat up a team playing as if it is a preseason game. The second way of thinking is that you want to keep your playoffs hopes alive no matter what and want to see Manning pulled from the game for Curtis Painter as soon as possible. I think for many the choice will not be made until 4:00 PM on Sunday after the afternoon slate of games finishes and the playoff picture becomes far clearer. If a couple of key teams lose winning in any manner possible becomes the most important thing. If those key teams win, then the Jets will likely gain much more by playing against the real Colts for a full 60 minutes.
If the Jets can keep their QB under control this is a team they should match up well against. The Jets can control the ball and have enough physical players to man up against an undersized defense. They have the best corner in the game to eliminate someone from the passing game on any given play. The one matchup that badly favors the Colts is the Clark matchup. No Jet linebacker can cover Clark and the secondary miscommunications could make it hard to contain him even if you put Rhodes on him all day. Still for all of the Jets misfortunes this year they statistically play excellent away from home. With the exception of the first Dolphin game and a Patriot game where they gave up due to the QB play from Sanchez, the Jets have shut teams down away from home. Matt Schaub and Drew Brees had nightmarish games. The lower quality teams could not put anything up on the offense. This is the type of game where the Jets defense will come to play unless they see their offense just hand the game over.
From a game planning standpoint Ryan has to do two things. One is to get his offense to put together long drives early even if they do not result in anything more than a field goal. Once he gets enough plays on offense the Colts will likely pull their defensive ends from the game and once they go so goes much of their pass defense. But if the Jets start slow, it could take a full half to get enough plays in to eliminate them from the game. Secondly he has to find a way to pressure Manning. Manning has not had many games where he has been hit this season and in the past he does not react that well to being beat up. The way you pressure Manning will also force the hand of the coach in the decision to keep him in the game or not. If the Jets do not touch him, similar to how they rarely laid a hand last week on Ryan, there is almost no reason for Caldwell to take him out of the game.
Even if the Colts played at full strength the Jets would have a chance to win this game. The Colts probably remind people of the Patriots in the early part of the decade. They always make people think they can win, but at the end of the day they find a way to pull it out/ The Jets play good enough defense to somewhat shut down the Colts offensive machine and usually make plays away from home on offense. Could they finish a game in crunch time? Probably not, but it likely will not come down to that this week. Jets will play a close game for 3 quarters at which point Manning is going to be replaced. Once that happens the Jets will pull away and keep their playoff hopes alive for one more week.
Jets 24 Colts 16