Pigs are flying. The team that "didn't even deserve to be here" has now found themselves one win away from punching a ticket to Miami.
The storylines leading up to Sunday's matchup with the Colts are nothing short of disappointing-- as the Jets look to beat the team that they conquered 41 years ago to attain their sole Super Bowl victory. The Colts look to get revenge on the team that ruined their undefeated season. Meanwhile, one of the two rookie coaches involved in this game will be only the fifth rookie head coach in NFL history to take their respective team to the Super Bowl.
This matchup pits the Jets #1 passing defense against MVP Peyton Manning's prolific spread-based passing attack. On the other side of the ball, we have the classic matchup of speed vs power, as the power run-game of the Jets will try to punch the under-sized yet extremely athletic defense of the Colts in the mouth and out-muscle them in the trenches.
Smash-Mouth football teams went 3-0 in the WildCard round two weeks ago. Last week was a different story, as the Jets are now the only remaining team of those three that has made it to Championship Week. Join me after the jump as we breakdown this game in its entirety and discuss the keys to a J-E-T-S victory.
Matchup of the Game: The GangGreen Defense who blitzed 60% of the time in the Bengals/Bolts games VS. Peyton Manning who has completed 68% of his passes when blitzes are thrown at him.
- Statline: Jets are 10-0 this season in games in which they have had a positive turnover margin
Keys to Victory:
DE---- FENSE (and no Cover-2 please... that's too easy for Peyton)
The Jets did a great job of defending against SD's vertical passing attack last week. They will need to do more of the same on Sunday, as Indy employs a offensive scheme that is very similar to theirs. GangGreen will once again be playing a lot of nickel package which will try to prevent Peyton from spreading the field and finding a seam to thread the ball into. They will also look to mix in some Cover-1 with Rhodes as the last line of defense which allows Jim Leonhard/Eric Smith to cheat up and take away the underneath stuff.
The Ravens shot themselves in the foot as they played a lot of Cover-2 last week, which played right into Peyton's strengths. He loves the vertical passing game, but at the same time if you give him the underneath stuff you're actually making it easier on him --- he will pick apart the zone and dip-and-dunk you to death with short passes. And he did. The Jets will try to keep Peyton off-balanced (easier said then done) by disguising their blitzes/coverage. At the same time, Peyton's ability to read a defense is god-like, and he will try to sniff out when and where it's coming from.
Punch Them in the Mouth/Run North to South:
Saying the Jets are committed to the run-game is an understatement:
They have rushed 38.2 times/game this season, and a ridiculous 45.7/game with a 3:1 run-to-pass ratio in their last three games.
The Jets will look to punch this under-sized Indy defensive front in the mouth and wear them down by the 4th quarter with their run-game inside the tackles. The colts are a speedy, smothering, penetrating defense, but the tandem of Shonn Greene and Thomas Jones is excellent at breaking tackles and arm-tackles mean nothing to them. If the Jets can have success running in between the tackles and break a big run or two, they will be very much in this game.
The speed and athleticism this Colts defense has off the edge is phenomenal. If we try to get cute and use too much TigerCat formation, bootlegs, or end-arounds, they will make us pay with tackles for big losses. We cannot afford wasted plays, and we certainly can not afford "Third and Long" situations with more then 10 yards to go.
Protect the Sanchize:
The Jets Pro-Bowl OL has been exceptional in run-blocking but also great in pass protection. They rank 8th in the NFL giving up only 1.7 sacks/game, but more importantly, have given up only 1 sack in the last three games combined . The Colts will look to bring a lot of pressure off the edge to rattle Sanchez, while the Jets will try to counter via using a lot of three-step drops allowing Sanchez to get the ball out of his hands quickly.
A packed Lucas Oil Stadium in a playoff atmosphere will be one of the toughest environments the rookie has been thrown into all season. It's going to be LOUD. The duo of pass-rushing DE's Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis certainly will not help things for him -- as they have combined for a league-high 23 sacks this season. In the last matchup between the two, Freeney played only 12 snaps but still managed two sacks (although both of them came while in an empty backfield set.) Tackles D'Brickashaw Ferguson and Damien Woody will have their work cut out for them.
Woody was extremely limited in practice this week, as the veteran has sustained various minor injuries this year and received a much-needed rest. He has been excellent this season though, allowing only three sacks in the regular season from his position. He will be up against DE Robert Mathis, who has 9.5 sacks and five forced fumbles this season. Pro-Bowl OT D'Brickashaw Ferguson will be up against Dwight Freeney, which will be an excellent matchup of speed vs speed. Should be a fun one to watch.
The Jets pass protection needs to continue to be stout. They have to not only protect Sanchez, but give him a solid window to throw the ball through. The Jets cannot afford tipped passes leading to turnovers, because giving Peyton Manning a short field to work with is a recipe for disaster.
Sanchez Must Take The Check-Down When It's There:
Sanchez's vision has improved tremendously since after the NE game when Rex said he was going to work on the rookie's decision-making. He is making the safe throw rather than throwing into coverage, by utilizing a variety of out-routes and slants. This is how to beat the Colts, as they play a soft Cover-2 defense and are more concerned with defending against the big play.
This week Sanchez needs to do a better job of taking the check-down when it's there. A couple of times last week he had Jones and Greene wide open in the flat but overlooked them and was too focused on what was going on down-field with his receivers running intermediate and vertical routes.
Although it was not as effective last week, this was the Jets key to victory in the win over the Bengals. Still, in the last two postseason games, Sanchez is 10-15 in PA passing with 2 TD's/0 INT's and a 136.7 passer rating.
If the Jets can run the football effectively early on, and allow the Colts defense to sell out on the run, Schotty can catch them off guard in man-coverage down-field and allow Sanchez to hit either Braylon or Keller for the big play.
Remember, the Colts secondary is banged up right now - starting CB Marlin Jackson Is out, and CB Jerraud Powers is listed as questionable. Safety Antoine Bethea will likely play but is fighting back issues.
Pressure on the Colts:
Indianapolis traded their perfect season for a potential Super Bowl berth. GM Bill Polian and Head Coach Jim Caldwell have taken a LOT of heat for resting guys. The Colts have been the Super Bowl favorite in Vegas for months now, and there is a lot of pressure on this squad to get the win on Sunday vs the "team that shouldn't even be there"
Under center, Peyton is one of the greatest QB's of all-time. Let's face it though, he has been mediocre-at-best in the postseason and the Colts will look to him to carry them to victory on Sunday. There is a lot riding on his shoulders.
He is 8-8 career in the playoffs with a 84.2 passer rating. While he has thrown 24 touchdowns, he has also thrown 18 interceptions! Jets DC Mike Pettine will look to use a variety of different looks to keep Peyton off balance and try to force him to make a mistake and throw into coverage. The Jets are very good at disguising their blitzes -- you frequently see guys walking around aimlessly pre-snap or pounding the ground to try to confuse opposing QB's and throw them off balance.
Offensively, I think we will once again have success running the football behind our Pro-Bowl O-Line. Shonn Greene has been a beast locked in his cage for the better part of the season until Leon got injured, and has really hit his stride since the postseason started. While veteran Thomas Jones is feeling the effects of a long year and nursing a bruised knee, Greene is fresh and can simply trample under-sized defenses.
I actually think the Colts Cover-2 will help Sanchez as long he can take what the Colts give him and make the short and safe throw. The Jets are looking for "Third and managables," while the Colts mantra is "bend but don't break" and will give the Jets the short underneath stuff. If he can read the defense and resist throwing down-field into coverage, I think we'll be ok. He is already accustomed to throwing short out-routes and slants and that's what works against this defense.
On Defense: If anyone can keep this prolific passing attack at bay, it's GangGreen. Doubters can preach all they want about "backing into" the playoffs, but the fact is, the #1-ranked defense in the NFL has allowed a ridiculous 14.8 PPG/258 YPG & only 157 YPG through the air. What more can I say about this defense?
The Colts are ranked dead last in offensive rushing yards (only 74 ypg), and the Jets will have no trouble bottling up the mediocre RB's Addai and Brown. The only way to beat a passing offense as good as Indy's is to make them one-dimensional via stopping the run, and the Jets can do just that -- they did it last week in San Diego.
They will have their hands full defending against TE Dallas Clark and this arsenal of Indy wide-outs, but they have a week to work out the kinks in their nickel package (most of them by Eric Smith) and improve in coverage. The key will be keeping Clark at bay, especially in the red zone, but Kerry Rhodes has been exceptional at blanketing receiving TE's this year and will be up for the test.
If the Jets can play it safe and allow themselves to hang around for the duration of the game, I believe the constant punching-in-the-mouth will wear the under-sized Colts defensive front down in the second half and Shonn Greene will bust another big one for a TD late....leading them to a come-from-behind victory.
We've mentioned the effectiveness of smash-mouth football, and how it is a recipe for success in the postseason. When you can run the football effectively, control the clock/time of possession, and keep the best player on the planet (Peyton Manning) off the field, you put yourselves in a position to win games. The Jets will do just that, and if they can play turnover-free football and limit the short-fields for Peyton, they will squeak out the win and punch their ticket to Miami! J-E-T-S 20, COLTS 18.