Friday, January 7, 2011

Jets Start Where Things Finished Last Season

The sixth seeded Jets are now matched up with the third seeded Colts in the AFC Wildcard round. The game will be played Saturday night at 8 pm. The Jets’ surprising playoff run ended in Indianapolis last year against a heavily favored Colts team in the AFC Championship game. It is only fitting that the Jets would start this year where they left off last season.

The Colts are not the same team that they were last season. For the first time in eight seasons, they finished with less than 12 wins. Peyton Manning finished with his lowest quarterback rating since 2002. The Colts needed to finish with a four game win streak to make the playoffs, and did not have a convincing win in that stretch. Of their 10 wins, only one came against a playoff team (Chiefs). That’s not to say the Colts won’t be a very dangerous playoff team. Peyton Manning is still a scary quarterback to play against, but his team has had its fair share of injuries. All-pro tight end Dallas Clark was placed on injured reserve after six games. Wide receiver Austin Collie missed seven games and was knocked out of others with head injuries and is currently on injured reserve as well. Starting running back Joseph Addai missed eight games, but has returned in the last two weeks to help spark an improving Colts rushing attack. Statistically, their defense has not changed much from last season, but they dropped from eighth to 23rd overall in points against.

Last year’s playoff matchup was very close for the first three quarters. The Jets held a 17-13 lead at the half, but gave up 17 unanswered points in the second half to lose 30-17. Mark Sanchez played very well and had to make up for a slacking ground game that could not produce after Shonn Greene left the game with an injury. This year’s Jets offense is improved from last season and should be able to put up more points on the Colts’ defense. Sanchez has been inconsistent at times, but has shown the ability to win games, rather than lose them. The ground game is not what it was last season, but is still putting up close to 150 rushing yards per game.

The Jets showed in their games against the Steelers and Bears that they could run their offense efficiently against some of the best defenses in the league. Sanchez, Greene, and LaDainian Tomlinson will be well rested going into Saturday night’s game and should be able to put up a good amount of points against the Colts. The defense has been the Jets’ weak point lately and may struggle to stop one of the league’s best quarterbacks. The Jets must find a way to get pressure on Manning if they want any shot of stopping him. Manning specializes in quick passes, so the Jets will need to get in his face early and quickly. 

This brings up an interesting point. Peyton Manning has only been sacked 16 times this season. This is tied for the least amount of times sacked in the NFL this season. Peyton Manning and the Colts were struggling for much of the season even with sacks not being an issue. So why must the Jets worry so much about pressuring Manning? Sure it would definitely help, but he obviously found ways to mess up without being under pressure. Food for thought. I think the Jets can definitely find a way to stop the Colts and win the game without getting in his face too often.

Another option that has been discussed this week is how to cover the Colts' wide receivers. Everyone would expect Darrelle Revis to shadow Reggie Wayne and Antonio Cromartie to take on Pierre Garcon, but there is another strategy being thrown around that may not be the best option, but is definitely interesting. Some experts are saying the Jets should put Revis on Garcon and have Cromartie and a safety (probably Pool) double Wayne. I'd be more confident in shutting down Wayne with Revis on him, but this could create more opportunities for interceptions. No matter what, Peyton will try to get the ball to his favorite target, Wayne. With double coverage on him, chances are if Manning misses by even a little bit, someone could be there to take the ball away. I do not expect the Jets to use this strategy, at least not for the entire game, but they could throw it out there to change things up and attempt to confuse Manning, which is difficult enough as it is. 

Saturday night’s game will be a much closer game than last season’s AFC Championship game, but it would not be surprising if it turns into a high scoring shootout.

P.S. Let’s not forget what happened the last time the Jets and Colts faced off in the AFC Wildcard Round:

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