On Saturday night the New York Jets open up the AFC Wild Card round as they take on the Indianapolis Colts at Lucas Oil Stadium (8:20 EST). The Jets (11-5) enter the game as the sixth seed in the conference, while the Colts (10-6) reside as the third seed since they won the AFC South division title. Lets take a look at some of the keys to the game.
Sacks allowed: 28 (9th in the NFL) Colts Defense: 30 sacks (23rd in NFL)
Points per game: 22.9 (13th in NFL) Colts Defense: 24.2 (23rd in NFL)
Rushing yards per game: 148 yds (4th in NFL) Colts Defense: 127 yds (25th in NFL)
Passing yards per game: 202.6 (22nd in NFL) Colts Defense: 214 (13th in NFL)
1) Get Sanchez going early- It is no secret that the Indianapolis Colts are going to do whatever they can to stop the running game in order to put pressure on Mark Sanchez. Gang Green must come out somewhat aggressive on offense, using the short passing game to open up the run. This approach will not only get Sanchez in rhythm early, but will help prevent the Colts from stacking the box. I would not be surprised to see the Jets look to tight end Dustin Keller early and often as the Jets passing game seems to thrive when DK gets rolling.
2) Slow down Freeney and Mathis- The Colts have two dynamic pass rushers in Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis that must be accounted for at all times. Gang Green must remain consistent in protection and not allow either of these defensive demons to disrupt the passing game. This point is emphasized even more with Mark Sanchez nursing a sore shoulder. There are a variety of ways the Jets can try to slow down Freeney and Mathis including quick slant passes, draw plays, and the power running game.
3) Long, productive drives- One of the keys to beating Peyton Manning and the Colts is to keep their offense off of the field. Gang Green must be able to put together time consuming drives that result in touchdowns. The Jets cannot afford to have lengthy drives that result in field goals, as that is the formula for failure. This is where the running game comes into play, as the Jets must be able to move the chains on a consistent basis. If the running game starts to sputter the Jets may have to use LaDainian Tomlinson in a variety of screen packages.
Sacks: 40 (8th in NFL) Colts Offense: 16 sacks allowed (1st in NFL)
Points per game: 19 (6th in NFL) Colts offense: 27.2 (4th in NFL)
Rushing yards per game: 90 (3rd in NFL) Colts offense: 92.7 (29th in NFL)
Passing yards per game: 200 (6th in NFL) Colts offense: 288 (1st in NFL)
1) Generate pressure on Manning- The Colts offense is built around their passing game which make the defensive game plan quite obvious. Gang Green must find ways to get pressure on Peyton Manning. The pass rush does not necessarily have to generate sacks, but enough pressure to force Peyton to throw the ball away. In addition the Jets must find ways to disrupt the timing between Manning and his receivers. Whether that means jamming the receivers at the line of scrimmage or camouflaging coverages, Gang Green must do whatever they can to get the Colts offense out of sync.
2) Get off the field on 3rd down- Throughout most of the season the Jets defense has struggled getting off of the field on third down. This trend cannot continue on Saturday if the Jets want to have any type of success defensively. Gang Green must clean up the communication mistakes in the secondary and wrap up when tackling. The longer the Colts offense is on the field, the less of a chance the Jets have to win.
3) Solid secondary play- Even though the Colts will be without Austin Collie and Dallas Clark they still have several playmakers that can light up the Jets secondary. This is a major area concern for the Jets defensive backfield as they have routinely struggled covering the tight end as well as the third and fourth receiving options. Darrelle Revis must find a way to once again contain Reggie Wayne, while Antonio Cromartie and the rest of the Jets secondary defends Pierre Garcon, Blair White, and Jacob Tamme. Keep an eye on defensive backs Drew Coleman, Kyle Wilson, and Dwight Lowery as Peyton Manning could repeatedly challenge them instead of dealing with Revis and Cromartie. Note: This is the type of game where the Jets will miss safety Jim Leonhard the most. Leonhard, who was lost for the season due to injury, was the brains of the Jets secondary and has substantial experience dealing with the Colts offense.
Finally the regular season is over and the Jets can truly show the world what they are made of. Gang Green enters the game fairly healthy and rested, leaving next to no excuse for a poor performance. I expect a big-time performance out of the Jets as they are a hungry team with a chip on their shoulder. You just know that veteran players like Tony Richardson, Jason Taylor, and LaDainian Tomlinson will have this team focused on the task at hand. In the end I think the more talented team wins this game and that team is the New York Jets 27-21.
Enjoy the game everyone!