INDIANAPOLIS IN - JANUARY 08: Head coach Rex Ryan of the New York Jets looks on against the Indianapolis Colts during their 2011 AFC wild card playoff game at Lucas Oil Stadium on January 8 2011 in Indianapolis Indiana. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
One thing about last night's victory that encouraged me a lot was the way the coaching staff showed an ability to adapt.
I will start with the defensive game plan. The Jets are a team that loves to attack. They usually put a lot of stress on their corners and can be a bit vulnerable to giving up big plays as a result. Peyton Manning lives on big plays in the passing game. The teams that are relatively successful against him limit big plays and force him to drive the length of the field. Manning is so good that he will get his, but it is more difficult to put together 10-15 play drives than it is to put up a 5 play drive picking up huge chunks of yardage at once.
As Jenny Vrentas explains (hat tip to The Jets Blog for finding the link), the Jets altered their approach to limit big plays because attacking Manning and leaving corners alone did not work in the past. Rex Ryan deserves credit for this. It is his defense. One criticism I have heard of his father is that Buddy at times seemed like he was more interested in hitting the quarterback than in winning the game. By scaling things back, Rex showed he can adapt. The success of the run game keeping Manning off the field certainly played a big part in this win, but the defense also held the Colts to field goals instead of touchdowns in the second half, which is a tribute to the bend but don't break philosophy. Keeping Manning out of the end zone is a victory.
Mike Pettine also proved his worth. In the Vrentas article, it mentions how Pettine kept reminding Rex not to deviate from the strategy. When the Jets hired Ryan, I thought it was important for Rex to find a guy he could trust to be his defensive coordinator. It was always going to be Rex's defense, but he needed somebody who could cross the T's and dot the I's while he focused on the bigger picture. In this case, having Pettine helped in a different way. He is a guy Rex knows well and trusts. I think anybody in a position of authority needs to have somebody who can talk back to them and tell them, "You're wrong." It is true in any walk of life. Right now I am reading a biography of John F. Kennedy in my spare time. Robert Kennedy did this for him. When Rex was thinking of dialing up the attack, Pettine was there to tell him not to. Rex benefited from having a guy he listens to.
Brian Schottenheimer is another guy to whom I'll give credit in this game. While I do not think there was anything technically wrong with his gameplan, his players were having a hard time executing, his quarterback in particular. He scaled back the offense in the second half. Sanchez threw 19 passes in the first half and 12 in the second. Most of the second half ones were simple and high percentage. Schottenheimer started committing to the run, which was a good idea with Indianapolis missing its best run defender. The Colts have a small front that the Jets overwhelmed and wore down. Schottenheimer did not go away from the run. It's easy to give a guy credit for an adjustments that worked, but the team definitely needed a different approach at halftime. If Plan B didn't work, it would have been time for Plan C, but Schotty realized he needed to make a change and didn't hesitate.
Let's talk about the huge completion to Braylon Edwards on the last offensive play. Schottenheimer listened to Braylon Edwards, who said he had a mismatch and altered his strategy. When Sanchez didn't like the play called, Brian let Mark call the play. I think that says a lot. A lot of coaches are absolute control freaks who would never take input. The guys on the field know better what is going on, though, and what they are comfortable with. I still have a lot of issues with Schottenheimer, but I think it is great that he trusts players, even inexperienced ones, and takes such serious stock of their input with the season on the line.
I'll end with Mike Westhoff. He benched the AFC's best kickoff return man in the regular season on the most important kick return of the year. Antonio Cromartie had broken a big return earlier, and Smith, perhaps slowed by his injury, had not shown much explosion on his only return. It was the right call as Cromartie's second big return of the night gave the Jets a realistic chance to get into field goal range. Again, some coaches are stuck in their ways. Many would have said, "Smith is my starter. If he's healthy, he's back there no matter what." Westhoff adapted and went to the hot hand.
I think this adaptability is important because the strategy that worked so well against the Colts will not work as well against the Patriots. We will obviously discuss it more, but this staff will need to change things up again.