EAST RUTHERFORD NJ - SEPTEMBER 19: Antonio Cromartie #31 of the New York Jets intercepts a pass from Tom Brady of the New England Patriots intended for Randy Moss at the New Meadowlands Stadium on September 19 2010 in East Rutherford New Jersey. (Photo by Andrew Burton/Getty Images)
When the Jets were heading to Indianapolis last year for the AFC Championship Game, I had no idea how they planned to cover the Colts' corps of wide receivers. These were quick and speedy guys, the kind that gave a team of Jets corners who aside from Darrelle Revis had good ball skills but not much speed, fits. We all know how that game turned out. I feel much better about Gang Green's chances against Indy's wide receivers this year.
More after the jump.
One thing should not change. Darrelle Revis should shadow Reggie Wayne for pretty much the entire game. Wayne had 3 catches for 55 yards in that AFC Championship Game. Chargers defensive coordinator Ron Rivera said after his team did an excellent job shutting down Indy's offense that letting Reggie Wayne get deep means "sure death" against Peyton Manning. This was hardly an original thought, but it is absolutely true. For most teams, that means shading a safety to Wayne at all times. The Jets should feel confident in leaving Revis alone, which again would be another example of Revis being so good that he in fact creates an extra defender to get into throwing lanes, double another receiver, or blitz.
The Jets have mixed up their coverage more this year than they did last year. Revis has not followed around the top receiver on the other team with a few notable exceptions like Calvin Johnson and Andre Johnson. Trusting Antonio Cromartie on Wayne for an extended time doesn't seem like the best idea, though. Cro is athletic enough that he could (emphasis on could) keep Wayne from doing damage deep. The problem is that Wayne is a wealthy man's Santonio Holmes. He can get deep, but he can also destroy a team underneath with his precise routes. Cromartie is at his best in pure athletic competitions with receivers. He doesn't do as well with guys who cut as sharply as Wayne on shorter and intermediate routes.
Cromartie seems better served on Pierre Garcon, who torched New York in that title bout with 11 catches for 151 yards and a touchdown. Dwight Lowery and Drew Coleman did not stand a chance. Revis was blanketing Wayne to the point where Manning wasn't even looking in his direction. Peyton didn't need to with Garcon running free. Garcon is a bit physical, but I have not been too impressed with what I have seen of his route running. He's a guy who utilizes his speed more than anything. I would be very concerned if he could use his physical style more to create separation with sharp routes, but Cromartie can hang with a receiver who finds most of his success with his pure physical ability. Antonio is not an easy guy to "outathlete."
Part of what helps the Jets is that Austin Collie is out. You saw me question Collie a lot in this space a year ago as to whether he was a product of playing with Manning. I thoughts so at the time. Watching him more, my views have evolved a bit. He doesn't have great physical tools, but he is smart and a very good route runner. This helped him develop good chemistry with his quarterback. Collie is on IR because of concussions. His replacement in the slot, Blair White, has shown flashes, but has not put up a really big game like Collie has the past two years. Collie went for 7 catches, 123 yards, and 1 touchdown in the championship game against Coleman and Lowery.
I also think the Jets are better equipped at corner to defend the secondary targets than they were a year ago. We already talked about Cromartie. The Jets didn't have anybody athletic enough to defend Garcon last year. It goes deeper, though. Cromartie, Marquice Cole, Kyle Wilson, and the Drew Coleman of 2010 are far superior to Lito Sheppard, Dwight Lowery, Donald Strickland, and the Drew Coleman of 2009. Coleman has actually developed some cover skills this year. The others from 2009 were again slower guys with great ball skills. Cole is faster and more athletic. Wilson has shown flashes of being the same.
Please do not take this to mean the Jets are a sure thing to shut down the Indy passing attack. Their receivers might give the Jets problems. Garcon in particular is difficult to bring down after the catch. While I think Cromartie has a good shot of preventing catches, the possibility of seeing damage after the catch is concerning since Cro is not a great tackler. Manning only needs small holes to hit receivers. The Colts also love to run receiver screens, which is somewhat worrisome since New York attacks and does not give corners much help.
It's like I said last night, though. The Jets need to generate pressure and limit big plays. Some teams try to limit big plays by using a consistent cover 2 against the Colts and playing conservatively. The Jets usually trust their coverage. That coverage is in much better shape than a year ago. Just as the pass rush can help the corners, if the corners can do their job, the men up front will have more time to get to Peyton Manning.