Breaking Down the Jets vs the Colts
When Rex Ryan took the Jets job last January he made an off the cuff remark about meeting President Obama one day. Everyone laughed at him when he made that comment, but a little over one year later and Ryan has the Jets just two wins away from meeting the President. The team that stands in their way this week is the 15-2 Indianapolis Colts, a team that has been blamed for allowing these very Jets an easy path to get into the playoffs.
Jets Offense vs. Colts Defense
Last week the nation finally took notice that the Indianapolis Colts actually field a good defense as they completely shut down the Baltimore Ravens offense, holding the Ravens to a measly three points, to win their first playoff game since Super Bowl .XLI three years ago. The name of the game for this team is speed. The defense was built to play on the fast dome surface and schemed to keep teams from being able to engage in a high scoring back and forth type of affair like was seen between the Green Bay Packers and Arizona Cardinals in the Wildcard round. The defense is built around their two star defensive ends Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis. The two have the ability to get off the line fast and eat up the QB as soon as he gets the football. Freeney can be an absolute monster utilizing his speed to run around or spin around even the best Left Tackles in the game. It is almost like picking your poison with these two players when it comes to choosing what side to place a Tight End. They are also kept very fresh as they are rotated out of the game on obvious run downs. While the team is soft up the middle of the line the speed of their linebackers often allows them to quickly fill the gaps and trip up runners. They are not the hard hitters like a David Harris that causes big tackles for loss, but they are fast and they keep runners from getting to the second level. MLB Gary Brackett is the leader of the defense and does all of the dirty work that the team seems to feed off of. Brackett is solid in every phase of the game and knows how to be in the right place at the right time. Clint Sessions is a good tackler covering the weak side while Phillip Wheeler is the weakest of the three starters. The Colts rely on the pass rush to stop the opponents’ passing attack. The rush forces QB’s into making quick decisions which allows the Colts secondary the freedom to simply make sure a play does not break deep. S Antoine Bethea is the best player in the secondary and the one player the Colts have who plays just about every down. He does a good job of recognizing the run as well as choosing the proper player to help with in coverage. The remainder of the secondary sees many faces cycled in and out of the games. Nobody resembles a shutdown corner and they give up a tremendous amount of passes underneath, but do a great job of closing on the receivers and not allowing a big gain. They play the “bend but don’t break” philosophy to perfection.
There is no doubt that the Jets offense is gaining confidence. They have completely bought in to Ryan’s “Ground and Pound” philosophy and have been able to physically and mentally wear down their opponents by the end of the game. Much of the credit has to go to the Jets offensive linemen. This is a very grueling style of play, especially in this day and age of football where so many players are simply brought up to pass protect 75% of the time, and the Jets players have done nothing but get stronger each and every week. It’s not just the stars either. TE Ben Hartsock and T Wayne Hunter are all playing crucial roles in the Jets jumbo style packages where they just line up to smack the defense in the mouth. This is a very different style of opponent for these players and the lineman will have to get to their spots quickly and get their hands on the speedy linebackers of the Colts. If the Jets can win this battle they have a good chance to win the game as an undersized defense will crumble over time against a physical front. The Jets will need Alan Faneca to get to his spots very quickly this week and their tight ends, including Dustin Keller, to be able to find the guy who is closing that side down. A very important role may be played this week by FB Tony Richardson. Richardson is going to lead Thomas Jones and Shonn Greene into the line and he will be making first contact with the speedy Colt defenders. Richardson is an excellent blocker and gives the Jets some versatility in how they have Faneca and C Nick Mangold out pulling. QB Mark Sanchez is showing improvement in the way he handles the offense and he made some pinpoint throws against the Chargers last week. He made a few bad decisions, but did more than enough to keep the Chargers a bit off balance. The Jets receivers are doing a good job running the timing slants and hitch routes, which should be open against this defense. If the Jets are able to get at least two of the three targets- Braylon Edwards, Jerricho Cotchery, and Dustin Keller--- involved this week they will be able to keep the defense on their heels enough to have them think twice before committing to the run.
The Jets have to show some early life on offense, something they have been unable to do recently, if they want to win the game. In their last 9 games the Jets are only averaging about 3 points in the first quarter of games and have been absolutely brutal opening games on the road. In the Jets last 6 road games they have only scored a total of 9 first quarter points, with a minimal amount of first downs, something that needs to change this week to keep the Colts offense off the field. To that end the Jets really should consider starting the game with Greene at running back rather than Jones, who is the traditional starter. The Jets can not tolerate another week of Jones’ slow starts and Greene’s speed and size make him the far better matchup against the Colts than Jones anyway. Greene, especially on this surface, can not only outrun the defense but is going to be able to run over their safeties. He also has the speed to turn the corner, something Jones will not have this week. There is going to be alot of talk going into this game that the Colts proved last week that you could not run on them with limited weapons in the passing game. However, a prime reason the Colts were so good against the run was because the Ravens abandoned the run. They only ran 10 times with their backs in the first half of the game and then were forced to give up on the run when the team fell too far behind at the end of the first half in a coaching meltdown by John Harbaugh. The Jets have to make the Colts prove that they can stop the run for four quarters and not panic and get away from the plan.
The Jets must protect Sanchez in the pocket when he does throw the football. They had some terrible mental errors last game that saw Freeney come untouched twice against the franchise QB. That is the kind of play that leads to injury. The Jets will need to take advantage of the Freeney situational snaps that he usually is in for. Run when the Colts expect pass. Pass when he is out and they are playing run. Freeney is such a game changer that you have to gameplan to take him out of the game. Sanchez will need to keep the ball safe with short timing routes and easy roll outs that help him hit those sideline throws with minimal chance of interceptions. The team does not need Sanchez to throw for 250 yards, but they will need him to convert on a few third down plays and give the Jets a chance to hit one big offensive play. The Jets must also be extremely careful on offense to play the clock late in the first half unless they are down significantly. The Ravens were within striking distance last week similar to the Jets situation against the Chargers when they made the critical blunder of passing twice inside of two minutes and giving the Colts two timeouts and a short field to work with. That ended the game for the Ravens. The Jets players have to be smart enough to not let that happen to them.
Jets Defense vs. Colts Offense
It certainly will not get any easier for the Jets this week as they take on the best QB in the NFL, Peyton Manning. Manning is at this stage playing for immortality. He has put himself into the conversation of best QB of all time and one more title gives him a very compelling case in those arguments. The only thing Manning has left to prove in this game is that he can be a consistent winner in the playoffs. His playoff history has not exactly been noteworthy. His career playoff record is 8-8 with 4 of those wins coming in the Super Bowl run. Six times the Colts have been eliminated in their first postseason game including two of the last three playoff years. Even though Manning continues to play at a high level he knows that there is a window of opportunity that eventually closes on even the best players in the NFL. Manning is a true throwback to an era that will never return and most likely there will never be another player like Manning to ever play the position. He has the offense running completely opposite that of the Jets philosophy. Manning airs it out close to 40 times a game while running less than 20 a game. The two big weapons are WR Reggie Wayne and TE Dallas Clark. Wayne is a complete receiver with great hands and great route running ability. Clark exploit’s the middle of the field as well as anyone in the game and has the ability to make these beautiful one handed grabs in the end zone. Austin Collie plays the possession role for the team and Pierre Garcon, who missed the first matchup between the two teams, the deep threat. The run game is basically non-existent. The Colts offensive line does an excellent job of setting up a pocket for Manning and giving him time to find his target. They are well disciplined and are very good at picking up the blitz. Joseph Addai is the main ball carrier, but splits downs with Donald Brown. Neither is likely to do much on the ground, except in short yardage situations where the Colts do like to run. Both are good at sitting in the backfield on passing downs and picking up the blitzer.
This is a completely different style of passing team than the one the Jets just faced in San Diego. San Diego is all about size and raw athleticism, whereas the Colts are all about finesse. The Colts are as well polished a team as there has been in recent memory and do present a number of matchup problems for the Jets. In the previous game the Jets tried to attack Manning with their linebackers and safeties and simply never got there. This forced the Jets secondary to basically be locked in man coverage and the results were very shaky. CB Lito Sheppard was abused by Collie. Eric Smith had a tough time when matched up on Clark. Even Darrelle Revis was getting beaten by Wayne, the only time this season that Revis actually looked like he was not the better player when in coverage. Wayne did an excellent job of changing directions and always seemed to have Revis guessing wrong. Revis has likely gone to work on that tape and should have a far better feel for Wayne. If he can take Wayne away from Manning that will limit the Colt offensive attack. The Jets need to approach Clark somewhat different this week. They were letting him get clean off the line in the last game and that will have to change. He is excellent at reading zone coverages so more than likely Kerry Rhodes will have to play man up on Clark and it would not be surprising if the Jets bring extra DB’s into the game this week to aid Sheppard and Dwight Lowery during the game. The tough thing with covering the Colts is that all their receivers bring a different skillset to the table. The Jets like to switch coverages around, but switching from Garcon to Collie to Wayne to Clark is a mentally challenging task because they all do something different. It’s a far cry from last weeks gameplan of “cover deep, and aim for their hands as soon as they jump to catch the ball” against a team that all has virtually the same receiver at every position.The Jets are going to have to find a way to manufacture a pass rush and not allow Manning all day to find his targets. This is one of those games where the Jets desperately need LB’s Calvin Pace and David Harris to find a way to get to Manning. The Jets were dealt a blow when DE Shaun Ellis broke his hand on the first play of the Chargers game. While Ellis will be able to play most of the game since the Colts do not run much, he is going to have a tough time with his hand in a cast bringing Manning down. His natural pass rushing ability will probably have to be pushed aside for him to simply occupy the Colts linemen for Pace to get around.
The Jets have to make the game uncomfortable for Manning very early on. The one knock on Manning throughout his career has been his lack of playoff success. Games against the Colts are typically one or lost in the first half of play. When Manning feels the pressure of the situation and starts off poorly he presses. The Jets even witnessed that to a lesser extent when they faced him in week 16. Manning, who wanted to chase history and go for the 19-0 season, knew he had to get over 24 on the board before he left the game. He missed wide open targets all game and admitted he ay have been trying too hard rather than just playing the game. In these big games Manning seems to feel the pressure of the world when things do not go his way and the team starts to crumble. In the Colts six most recent losses the trend is glaring. Keep them at bay in the first half and the game is likely over. The Colts, in their recent playoff losses, average less than 5 points in the first half of play. In their wins they average 18 points in the first two quarters of play. Since 2002 the team is 3-6 in games where they have been held to less than 10 first half points, 1-4 in games where they have less than 7 first half points, and 0-4 in games where they have been shut out in the first quarter. If they score more than 10 points in that first half they are 5-0. That first half is what the game comes down to. The longer this Jets defense holds the Colts offense in the first half the more and more the game tilts towards the Jets favor. The other area the defense has to protect is the 2 minute drill of the Colts. It is deadly. This 2 minute drill is the reason why the Colts went 14-2. Manning has 10 games on the season where they are scoring points under two minutes to go in the first half, with 8 of those scores being touchdowns. The Ravens absolutely had the Colts right where they wanted them and then Manning scores at the two minute warning and inexplicably the Ravens allowed him to get the ball again. 14 points in two minutes and the game was over. The Jets can not let such a thing happen this week.
You can be certain that the Colts will be better prepared this time for the Brad Smith kickoff returns. The colts never expected to see a Pat McAfee kickoff taken out of the end zone, but the Jets saw the coverage team go to sleep in the first half and caught the coverage unit off guard when they ran it out. You can bet that will not happen again. Chad Simpson is the main return man and has the ability to get decent returns from time to time, but is by no means an elite returner. The Jets have caught some breaks with bad field goal kicking and will see if they can make it 3 for 3 when Matt Stover takes the field for Indianapolis. Stover does not have much of a leg but is very accurate and been a steady contributor in his many playoff appearances.
It was evident last week how much of a liability the Jets coaching staff has decided that their special teams are. Rather than kicking the ball off deep the Jets were trying to directionally kick the sidelines of squib the ball to an upback thinking it better to give the Chargers a short field than watching the coverage unit give up a big return. Maybe part of that was they felt that Darren Sproles was dangerous, despite the poor year, but they may do that again this week unless Jay Feely is confident that he can get a touchback every time. The team will need a more consistent performance from P Steve Weatherford. Weatherford made a beautiful kick that was downed inside the five yard line last week which saved his day from being bad. There were at least two occasions where the coaching staff took issue with him as he came off the field due to his poor play. You do not want to give the Colts good field position, especially if it comes late in a half.
There is a tremendous amount of pressure on Jim Caldwell this week. Caldwell was taken to task for not going for the 16-0 record when he pulled Manning from the game against the Jets in week 16. Now the team that he helped get into the playoffs is back in his building and standing in the way of a Colts trip to the Super Bowl. If the Colts lose to these Jets it will be a nightmare for the rookie head coach. While the outcome of the game was in question the Colts were winning at the time he pulled Manning and most felt they would have pulled it out. Beating NY will help vindicate that decision especially since the Jets knocked out the Chargers, a team that has had the Colts number for years.
The last time Ryan came to this stadium he was at a very low point. His team blew a crucial game against Atlanta and their playoff hopes looked bleak. Now he comes in with one of the hottest teams in the NFL and he has captured the entire New York market with his enthusiasm and attitude. The big question is how well will Ryan adjust in this game. While the score was low in their last meeting the Colts offense completely controlled his defense. A few bad passes are what kept the Jets in the game that day. The one thing Ryan does extremely well is adjust to teams. His mid game adjustments are excellent and his rematch track record is solid.
Ryan will need to approach this week very carefully to make certain his players are rested. Ryan has to try to learn from what had the Giants and Steelers make the Super Bowl in 2005 and 2007, rather than see the failures of teams like the 2005 Panthers and 2008 Eagles who both gave up a ton of points early before they even realized there was a game. Ryan has to have his team avoid the slow start. If they fall behind early it is going to be very hard to comeback on this team. He also has to drill it into his players heads that a fast start by the Jets will make Manning press, and Manning is his own worst enemy when that happens Ryan understands how big this game is for him, his team, and this franchise. Earlier in the year I wrote that beating the Patriots would give Ryan a year of goodwill with the fans as he rebuilt the team. A trip to the Super Bowl will give him a long term free pass with the city.
This is a special day for the fans of the team. It has been years of bitter disappointments for this franchise. The shutout in the mud. Gastineau’s personal foul against Bernie Kosar. The Fake Spike Game. Vinny’s Achilles. Doug Brien’s missed field goals. The 2008 collapse. Finally the Jets had something good happen to them this year. The Jets looked like a team going nowhere after they fell to 4-6 against the New England Patriots and this would be another disappointment, but someway and somehow they managed to get into the AFC Championship game. The Jets have made believers out of everyone and everyone in New York and the surrounding area has jumped on for the ride. The last three weeks of the journey are something that the fans will likely never forget regardless of the outcome of this game. 1998 holds a special place in the heart of most fans, even though the team lost the game, and this is going to be held onto the same way by the fans of the team.
If the Jets can get the early game jitters quickly out of their system they can win this football game. The Colts were not this juggernaut that steamrolled teams into oblivion. They played alot of close football games that they were able to make plays late in to win the game. The Jets have to keep the score close, similar to how they kept it close last week, in order to keep the offensive gameplan intact. If the Jets have to stray from the plan and have Sanchez match Manning score for score the odds are heavily stacked against the Jets.
People should not read too much into what happened in that first meeting. While the Jets will make some adjustments based on the coverage problems they had, this is a much more confident unit on both sides of the ball this week. The defense is playing near mistake free football, something they were not doing when the two teams last met. The offense has done nothing but gain confidence and when they played the Colts their offense was at an all time low after being held to 7 points against the Falcons. Things are different this week and most importantly the players believe they are different. They don’t think there is a QB in the world that can beat them. They just made life hell on the 2nd best QB in the NFL last week. The offensive line doesn’t think there is a team in the NFL that they can not just wear down by the second half.
With every good quarter of play this teams confidence grows. When they went into the locker room down 7-0 last week they had all the confidence in the world because they knew the momentum shifted. The Chargers could do nothing offensively and the Jets offense was starting to move the ball. It was only a matter of time before one of the units set up a big play to win the game and that is exactly what happened. Every time the Jets keep the Colts out of the end zone their spirits will keep getting higher and higher. They believe in the coach and most importantly they believe in each other. This is finally the team that Ryan envisioned when he took this job. Ryan has to get his team to take the heart out of a Colts team that has seen their share of playoff losses as a home favorite. Force them to doubt themselves the way they made the Chargers begin to doubt themselves in the 3rd quarter of last weeks game. Once doubt creeps into the mind of the Colts they will face the uphill battle.
So many franchises in every sport seem to have a turning point in their history that usually comes down to a key player or coach. In New England it was Tom Brady taking over for Drew Bledsoe. In San Francisco a young Bill Walsh and Joe Montana started a 15 year run as the model franchise. The New York Giants went from being a comedy of errors to being considered a cornerstone of the league when they promoted Bill Parcells to head coach. Maybe this is our turning point. Unlike 1998, where you had a veteran QB with a coach that you knew would only be here another year or two, this is a team with the young QB and the young coach who wants to be here for the next decade. This could be a real turning point in the future of the franchise.
Jet fans have waited so long for that crowning moment that it will make it all the more special if it happens. We believe this really is the year. The team and coach believe it. Come Sunday afternoon the Colts and the world will believe it too. Lets Go Jets!
Jets 20 Colts 13