by Christopher Gardella
Indianapolis Colts (3-0) at New York Jets (2-1)
When Eric Mangini cleaned out his Foxboro office this past off-season, itâ€™s hard to imagine him leaving behind the Patriotsâ€™ past game plans for Peyton Manning and the Colts. Mangini, now a New York Jet, will attempt to frustrate Peyton Manning this week, much like his predecessor Bill Belichick has done in the past.
For Colts center Jeff Saturday, the similarities between the current Jetsâ€™ defense and past Patriotsâ€™ defenses are obvious. â€œTheir defense is pretty similar. They get in position where they need to be, and they play it well.”
Unlike the Patriots of the past, however, the Jets have struggled with the run, allowing 134 yards a game, ranking the unit 25th in NFL. Despite their inability to slow opposing rushers, the defensive unit has impressed Eric Mangini with their ability to cause turnovers in big spots.
Safety Kerry Rhodes has been causing headaches for offenses all year. Last week against the Bills, Rhodes had a team high 12 tackles, with two sacks and two forced fumbles. His performance was good enough to earn him Defensive Player of the Week as well as the praise of head coach Eric Mangini.
â€œI think heâ€™s really starting to develop some positive leadership skills in the secondary,â€? said Jets head coach Eric Mangini. â€œYou can see it in his preparation during the week and that keen maturity. He has done a good job trying to improve his technique. All that is positive and heâ€™s made some big plays here in the last few weeks.â€?
If the Jets are to stop Peyton Manning and the Colts, theyâ€™ll need more than Kerry Rhodes to come up with big plays. The entire unit will have to show up and win the turnover battle. Not an easy task, but certainly not an impossible one considering Manginiâ€™s past success against Manning.
WHEN THE COLTS HAVE THE BALL
Despite losing Pro-Bowl running back Edgerrin James this off-season, Peyton Manning continues to lead a potent offensive attack that ranks 5th in the NFL in total yardage, and 2nd in points. Replacing James are veteran backup Dominck Rhodes and rookie Joseph Addai. Rhodes has struggled early in the 2006 campaign, averaging just 2.6 yards per carry and will split carries with rookie Joseph Addai.
The Jets defense doesnâ€™t match up well against the two north-south runners and will be vulnerable between the tackles (a recurring theme from week to week). When the Jets have employed the 3-4 base defense, they have been unable to control the line of scrimmage at the nose tackle position. The lack of production has left linebackers Jonathan Vilma and Eric Barton exposed to offense linemen, which has limited the Jetsâ€™ ability to stop the run on a consistent basis.
With a receiving corps consisting of Marvin Harrison, Reggie Wayne, and Brandon Stokely, there is no doubt that Peyton Manning will come out firing on Sunday. The Jetsâ€™ pass defense ranks 27th and must reduce the number of big plays they allow. Quarterbacks are completing less than 52 percent of their passes against the Jetsâ€™ secondary, an encouraging figure considering the lack of a pass rush the Jets have showed.
Peyton Manning is a quarterback who relies on timing and rhythm with his receivers. If that timing or rhythm is broken or disrupted, Manning has shown a tendency to struggle. How to disrupt the timing of the All-Pro quarterback is a question few have been able to able to answer. With an excellent offensive line in front of him, consistently blitzing Manning is a dangerous endeavor. Disguising defensive packages, jamming receivers at the line, and occasionally blitzing Manning can throw off the two-time MVP. Throwing Manning off his game early is a key for the Jetsâ€™ coaching staff. Once he gets going, heâ€™s nearly unstoppable.
WHEN THE JETS HAVE THE BALL
When Tony Dungy took control of the Colts in 2002, his first course of action was to install the same Cover 2 defense he had run so successfully in Tampa Bay. Without Warren Sapp, Derrick Brooks, John Lynch, and Ronde Barber, however, the Cover 2 defense is just another scheme. While the Colts defense has developed into a solid unit, it certainly doesnâ€™t resemble the defenses Dungy coached with the Buccaneers.
The Jetsâ€™ rushing attack (or lack thereof) gets a boost this week, with the expected return of left guard Pete Kendall. The Jetsâ€™ running backs have been unable to find running lanes in the first three weeks of the season but may have more luck against an Indianapolis run defense that is allowing 161 yards per game.
Derrick Blaylock has traded spots with Cedric Houston in Eric Manginiâ€™s doghouse. After being inactive for weeks one and two, Houston was activated last week and found his way into the end-zone for a touchdown. Houstonâ€™s hardnosed running style matches up well with the soft interior defense of the Colts.
Kevan Barlow may be joining Derrick Blaylock in Manginiâ€™s doghouse if he is unable to produce against the Colts. For Barlow, the Colts couldnâ€™t have come at a better time. He has had more than a month to fully absorb Brian Schottenheimerâ€™s playbook and is running against a rush defense that is ranked 28th in the NFL. Heâ€™ll get the bulk of the carries this week and could finally find some running room.
The Jets offense has relied heavily on the twice-reconstructed shoulder of Chad Pennington this season. Laveranues Coles, who was named Offensive Player of the Month, has reestablished his chemistry with Chad Pennington, becoming his favorite target once again. The emergence of Jericho Cotchery has helped the offense immensely, and not just in the passing attack; Cotchery is one of the best blockers on the team. This allows offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer the option of deploying three-wide receiver sets without hindering the running game, an added bonus from a position that many thought to be a weakness coming into the season. The Jets have relied heavily on the pass thus far and will continue to do so against the Colts. Protecting Pennington from pass-rush specialist Dwight Freeney is essential to the success of the offense. If Pennington has time in the pocket, moving the ball via the air shouldnâ€™t be a problem against the Coltsâ€™ secondary.
MATCHUP TO WATCH
Dwight Freeney VS Dâ€™Brickshaw Ferguson: Freeney has made All-Pro Jonathan Ogden look like a human turnstile in past match-ups. Fergusonâ€™s athletic ability and long arms match up well with Freeney, but heâ€™s only a rookie and will need help protecting Penningtonâ€™s blindside.