NFL

NFL AFC Wildcard Game: New York Jets vs. Indianapolis Colts

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New York Jets vs. Indianapolis Colts

Indianapolis, IN, Lucas Oil Stadium
Saturday, January 8, 2011 8:00 PM ET NBC

 

Laying the scene

Despite an uncharacteristically rough year, the Colts managed to win the AFC South in one of the division's weakest years in recent history. Despite preseason predictions of a Super Bowl championship, the Jets stumbled to a slow finish and ended up with a wild-card berth. Even though the Colts won the division, they were a lot less prolific than they have been in years past. Because of such high expectations, these teams have been portrayed as disappointing or weak at times by the media. However, both teams still have the pieces in place to make a deep playoff run and neither team should be overlooked.

Personality-wise, these teams couldn't be any farther apart from each other. The loud, boisterous Jets are constantly seeking attention, and are sometimes attracting it for the wrong reasons (Braylon Edwards' DWI, Ines Sainz controversy, Rex Ryan's weekly press conferences), which could be viewed as a major distraction. Meanwhile, the Colts are known for quietly taking care of business regardless of what happens. One of these two teams will prevail on Saturday night, and it will be an interesting clash of not just football teams, but philosophies as well.

What Indianapolis has to do to win

In order to advance to the next round of the playoffs, the Colts are going to have to attack the middle of the field. While receivers Reggie Wayne and Pierre Garçon have the speed to occasionally beat the Jets deep, it won't happen often because cornerbacks Antonio Cromartie and Darrelle Revis are capable of cover them for long enough to allow the Jets' pass rush to force Peyton Manning to get rid of the ball, which means he will frequently have to look away from his outside options. This means that receiver Blair White and backup tight end Jacob Tamme will need to be running a lot of crossing routes over the middle, because the Jets' linebackers are a liability in pass coverage.

Additionally, the Colts are going to want to get left guard Kyle DeVan involved in the run game as much as possible. Both tackles are major weaknesses on the Colts' offensive line, so in order to help running backs Joseph Addai and Dominic Rhodes get to the outside, DeVan will have to pull and seal the edge. If the Colts do this, they will be able to set up the play-action pass, and their offense will be able to move the ball even more effectively, and will possibly be able to take more strikes downfield. On defense, the Colts' hopes rely on Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis, so they will want to allow those two to take on the Jets' offensive tackles, and allow their four-man rush to handle the offensive line while everybody the linebackers help with the pass.

What New York has to do to win

On defense, the Jets are going to have to pressure Peyton Manning up the middle. The Colts' offensive tackles are their biggest weakness and can each be easily beaten by a single rusher, which means the Jets will be free to send their blitzers at the middle of the line. Peyton Manning excels despite an underwhelming offensive line because he is able to step up in the pocket and get rid of the ball quickly. If the Jets are able to clog the middle and take away that space where Manning likes to step up, this game could turn in the Jets' favor. To do this, they will need to send a linebacker to match up one-on-one with each of the defensive tackles, while letting each of their three defensive linemen handle one of the Colts' interior offensive linemen one-on-one. The Jets should then try to send one linebacker up the middle, while putting the fourth into pass coverage to defend the short crossing routes.

With Revis and Cromartie matching up with Wayne and Garçon, the safeties can afford to play a bit closer to the line of scrimmage than an average defense could against the Colts. This would narrow the space that Tamme and White would have underneath, meaning that Manning will be throwing into a smaller window than he'd like, while in the face of extreme pressure. What the Jets have to do to make this successful is disguise their blitzes, though. If Peyton Manning sees ahead of time which linebackers are going to blitz him, he can audible into a more favorable play, so the Jets have to give him a ton of different pre-snap looks.

With Revis and Cromartie matching up with Wayne and Garçon, the safeties can afford to play a bit closer to the line of scrimmage than an average defense could against the Colts. This would narrow the space that Tamme and White would have underneath, meaning that Manning will be throwing into a smaller window than he'd like, while in the face of extreme pressure. What the Jets have to do to make this successful is disguise their blitzes, though. If Peyton Manning sees ahead of time which linebackers are going to blitz him, he can audible into a more favorable play, so the Jets have to give him a ton of different pre-snap looks.

On offense, the Jets have some big names at receiver, but they're facing a defense that is built to rush the passer, so they're going to want to run the ball as much as possible to keep defensive ends Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis away from quarterback Mark Sanchez, who is already nursing a hurt throwing shoulder. While the Colts have improved against the run lately, running against them is still more likely to be successful than dropping back to pass and letting Freeney and Mathis chase after your quarterback. One player who will be key to this is receiver and return man Brad Smith, a former quarterback from the University of Missouri whose versatility allows the Jets to move him all over the field and spend a few plays at running back and quarterback from time to time.

The call

Warning to gamblers: I picked all four Wild Card games incorrectly last year and quit picking for the rest of the postseason, so don't bet your life savings on my predictions. With that being said, I'm going to go with the theme of picking teams with the least off-field distractions to win. The Colts are quiet, and they worry about nothing other than just doing what it takes to win the games. The Colts don't have a stableful of marquee names, they don't have a litany of controversies in the news, and they don't have a coach who's become a punch line in the locker room because of videos he and his wife appeared in. The Colts are flying under the radar for a team that has one of the best quarterbacks in the league, and they will likely remind everybody that even if their current team is less talented than their Super Bowl roster, they still know how to win with discipline and focus. - Hank Koebler,IV

Hank Koebler, IV is a sports journalist attending the University of Missouri's school of journalism.

You may email Hank at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter at HankKoebler

 

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