This is the ninth installment of my 11-part series, previewing each and every NFL playoff game this year. To read any of the other eight click on the appropriate link below:
The Jets need to play their absolute best football to win this game. Unfortunately for the Colts, that’s exactly what the Jets have been doing lately and on top of that the Jets seem to have luck on their side as well. For the Colts this will be a very similar game to last week, with one difference. The Ravens had a defense that excelled at stopping the run, and the Jets are a team that excels at stopping the pass but both are great overall defenses. The Jets and Ravens are essentially the exact same team offensively. Run first, pass minimally, young quarterback, one successful young running back and an effective veteran running back as well as a good full back. So if the Colts defense can have a similar performance to the one they put on last week the Jets will have a tough time scoring, therefore a tough time winning.
To avoid this the Jets will plan on pounding the rock against the smaller Colts defense. This is no secret. Both Thomas Jones and Shonn Greene will get to run the ball a lot in this game. But for when they get into long yardage situations, the Jets need to get a solid performance out of rookie quarterback, Mark Sanchez, who has showed improvement with each and every game. Last week against the Chargers, Sanchez showed a lot of poise for a rookie, staying calm and making good reads and throws in third down situations to keep the drives going. He’ll need to play just as well again this week and find the weak spots in the Colts Cover 2 defense to lead his team to victory, and forward to the Super Bowl. Look for Braylon Edwards to pick his game back up. He only had four receptions for 56 yards (total) in the first two playoff games. The Colts will find ways to get points on the board and the Jets know this and therefore must game plan for it and that game plan needs to involve a healthy dose of Braylon Edwards.
Defensively I expect the Jets to bring some heavy blitzing. It has been proven in years past that Peyton Manning will find the mismatches that blitzes provide and get the ball out of his hands and to his receiver quickly, but the Jets didn’t make it this far by playing it safe. And either way, even if they don’t blitz they likely won’t be able to get enough pressure and that gives Peyton time to sit in the pocket and pick apart the secondary. The blitzes that the Jets will likely use the most are blitzes that disrupt the pocket by hitting the A-gaps, in an attempt to force Peyton to roll away from the pressure and make a throw on the move. I would anticipate all sorts of different looks and packages from the Jets, out of hope that Peyton will misread at least one of them.
However, even if the pressure doesn’t get to Peyton, the chances are that his top target will be (for the most part) a non-factor due to the amazing skills of Darrelle Revis, and his ability to take the opponents top receiver out of the game, which in this case is Reggie Wayne. So don’t expect the Colts to send Wayne on a lot of deep routes because that plays right into Revis’s strengths. Instead Peyton will likely give some routes across the middle, about 15 yards deep. This will help, but Revis will still probably keep Wayne’s production to a minimum. That’s when Peyton turns to Dallas Clark. The Jets allowed Antonio Gates to get nearly 100 yards on eight receptions last week, which means Gates was arguably the Chargers most productive weapon, mainly because Kerry Rhodes and Jim Leonhard don’t do well lining up against tight ends.
Peyton Manning will look to exploit this apparently lone weakness on the Jets defense. He will also be sending the ball in the direction of rookie wide receiver, Austin Collie and might-as-well-be-a-rookie-receiver, Pierre Garçon a little more often than what’s been normal. I’m anticipating a lot of overloads with Collie, Garçon and maybe even Clark all lined up on the right side of the formation, leaving Wayne on the left by himself. This will insure that Revis can only take one target weapon out of the Colts arsenal. The Colts will also be hoping to get a more productive day from running backs, Joseph Addai and Donald Brown. The Ravens have, arguably, the best run defense in the NFL (allowed 3.4 yards per attempt this year) and while the Jets aren’t far behind (3.8 yards per attempt) the Colts don’t need to get much from their run game, they just need to get enough from their run game.
Both of these defenses do a fantastic job at taking away the big plays. The Colts allowed, a league low, seven passing plays of 30 yards or more and the Jets allowed, a league low, three passing plays of 40 yards or more. And actually, now that I’m looking at this more closely it’s remarkable how close these two teams are in terms of allowing big plays. Here’s a quick chart to show you what I’m talking about:
|Number of Plays Allowed – Regular Season|
|Team||Run 20+||Run 40+||Pass 20+||Pass 40+|
What this tells me is that this game will be a chess match. Both teams will need to pick and choose their spots to attack while their on offense. It’s unlikely that either team will break off a homerun play. The way they address this will be different however. The Colts will use a lot of dump down passes, and short routes to get the ball in the hands of the receivers quickly while the Jets will look to simply pound the ball with the running game.
I see Peyton throwing for nearly 300 yards, with two touchdowns and a pick (gasp!) – yes, I’m predicting he throws an interception. Sanchez will probably do about half that, with around 150 yards, one touchdown and a pick. Shonn Greene, Thomas Jones and Brad Smith will probably combine for over 150 yards on the ground, while Joseph Addai, Donald Brown and Mike Hart will hope to get about 90 yards combined. I’d also be expect both quarterbacks to get sacked once or twice.The number of receiving threats that the Colts have will be a big difference so…
The Colts win it 24 to 20.
As a side point, I would like it to be noted that I wrote this entire post without mentioning anything about the week 16 matchup. The Colts played that entire game without seven of their starters (linebacker Clint Session, cornerback Jerraud Powers, offensive tackle Charlie Johnson, wide receiver Pierre Garcon, Safety Melvin Bullitt, defensive end Robert Mathis, and placekicker Matt Stover) and pulled basically all the rest of them in the third quarter. But at the same time the Jets are a much improved team since then plus they’re on a roll and they’re extremely hot right now. Because of these things (plus some other reasons) I believe the game the game that took place four weeks ago is irrelevant.
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