This game, to me, might be the easiest to predict, and by predict I don’t mean who will win. I do think though, the ways in which this game could play out are relatively few and far between.
The only death sentence in this game I can see for the New York Jets is if they fall behind early. While there are several quarterbacks in this post season clearly capable of rallying their team from double digit deficits, even in the 4th quarter, I do not believe in this particular game Mark Sanchez is one of those.
Yes, Sanchez has five game winning drives this season, three of the fourth quarter comeback variety. However, keep in mind that these rallies came against the likes of Denver, Detroit, Cleveland, and Houston. Not exactly defenses that strike fear into the hearts of anyone, save their own fans.
Yes, I’m aware that the Colts defense hasn’t exactly been scaring anyone this year either, however there are two points that remember when discussing this Colts defense. One, they have been playing much, much better in the last few weeks of the season. Two, and this is part of a reason for number one, they have been afforded the luxury of playing with leads more often in the last few weeks of the season as opposed to the seasons first third.
The difference in the Colts defense when ahead, or trailing, is like night and day. Their run defense doesn’t have the ability to consistently stop people. In fact, teams gain positive yardage running on the Colts defense 84% of the time. That’s the 6th highest total in the league. With numbers like that, if a team has a lead, or is in a close game and can commit to running the ball, the Colts defense can be in trouble, big trouble.
The problem is right in the middle. Teams have punished Indianapolis right between the guards, as the Colts defense has been the 5th worst in the NFL at defending runs right up the middle. Why is this such a big problem? Only five teams have been better at running up the middle this year than the Jets.
Against the passing game he Colts have been pretty solid at slowing down the other teams wide receivers. The chink in their pass defense has been covering backs out of the backfield and tight ends. Fortunately for Indianapolis, the Jets attempts to incorporate LaDanian Tomlinson, Shonn Greene and Dustin Keller into the passing game have been rather futile. Neither of the three have been very dangerous in the passing game, despite the fact that Dustin Keller has been targeted over 100 times.
This could prove critical late in the game as teams with late leads on the Colts, and using the ground game to control the clock and keep Peyton Manning off the field will use play action extensively, and often these play action plays will consist of tight ends or backs in the flat. The Jets inability to take advantage of this weakness with the Colts could ultimately be the difference in their ability to put this game away if they are fortunate to be playing with a lead in the second half.
On the flip side of the coin though, when a team is playing from behind, play action becomes relatively useless and ineffective, and that is t area of pass defense that the Jets can hope best to exploit. This is why it’s vital for the Colts to be playing with a lead in this game.
Robert Mathis and Dwight Freeney are as good a pass rushing duo as you will find in the league. Unfortunately for the Colts, there aren’t a lot of opportunities to rush the passer when the other team has the lead, or is having lots of success running the ball and can still incorporate that into their game plan.
Throw in the factors of playing at home in front of a raucous crowd, indoors, on a fast track, with the struggling Mark Sanchez at quarterback, Freeney and Mathis are foaming at the mouth to be unleashed on Sanchez. If the Jets fall behind and are forced to abandon the running game, and consequentially play action passing, Sanchez could be in for a long, long night, and things could snow ball quickly.
On the other side of the ball, does much more need to be said than simply, Peyton Manning? Perhaps.
The year began with lavish praised being heaped all over this Jets defense. Near the middle of the season however some questions had begun to arise as a couple of different squads had put up some big numbers on the unit. I think those questions should be put on the shelf.
The Jets haven’t been the league’s best unit this year, but they’ve been an elite one. After Pittsburgh, you could throw a blanket over the next 5 or 6 teams, so there’s no place for questioning the validity of the Jets defense.
The pass defense was expected to be a major strength, and for the most part, it has been. Darrell Revis hasn’t exactly been a complete shut down corner, but he’s been more than adequate, to say the least. Missing games, and the hamstring injury limiting him when he first returned all factor into the numbers not being perhaps as impressive as one would expect. Not to mention, having Revis out for such durations forced some shuffling in the secondary that ultimately resulted in teams being able to take advantage of what was the number two corner spot quite a bit.
All told though, the Jets secondary, while not able to really take away one particular target from the offense, also wasn’t particularly hurt by any one particular target. They covered number ones, they covered slot receivers, and they covered backs and tight ends all equally. In other words, there aren’t many holes in this secondary. Without Dallas Clark and Austin Collie, do the Colts have the pass catchers to find what few holes are there?
So can the Colts find some success on the ground? It’s highly unlikely. The Jets run defense was a top five group, and the Colts running game, well, we know what it was. Yes, injuries galore decimated it, and Colts fans have to hope the return of Joseph Addai at the close of the season means good things for the playoffs.
Addai hasn’t been anywhere close to the back he’s proven capable of, but he’s been clearly better than any other option the Colts of trotted out with Manning in the backfield. The Jets defense however is too good for just adequate to make much of a dent. Addai absolutely must suddenly revert back to his normal self, and now, for the Colts running game to have a chance.
The one weakness the Jets have has been stopping teams in short yardage situations. Luck would have it for the Colts that they’ve been pretty futile in such situations, so any hopes of trying to take advantage of this doesn’t seem like a plan that will work for the Colts. Furthermore, the Jets are high among the elite teams in terms of not allowing big plays via the ground game. The Colts, as you can probably guess, rank near the bottom in big plays from the rushing attack.
When it comes to special teams, there’s hardly anything worth discussing here. Only the Chargers had worse special teams play this year than the Colts. The only edge the Colts have is if it comes down to a late field goal they have Adam Vinatieri. No team in the league is worse at covering kicks than the Colts, and nobody has been more proficient returning them than the Jets. So even if the Colts score, the Jets are more than likely going to start with good field position. Similar things can be said of the punting game.
So what happens?
Simple. The Colts need to turn Mark Sanchez over, and do it early. They need to get a lead, and then let the dogs loose on Mark Sanchez. Then they need to keep forcing turnovers, get up, and get up big.
If this game stays close, it’s hard to like the Colts chances. Yes, one would say, “close game, 4th quarter, I’m taking Peyton Manning over Mark Sanchez, all day”. And I would too. However, I’ll take the other 44 guys suited up in Jets uniforms over the 44 in Colts uniforms, and that’s what is going to win this game.
Perhaps, perhaps, thanks to all the talk that has been going on all year, if the game is close late, the Jets crumble, succumbing to the pressure they’ve placed on themselves all year as they see their season potentially ending in the first round of the playoffs.
But I doubt it.
I say the Jets win.