Colts vs. Jets: 10 Keys to the Game for New York
Before the season started, most would have assumed the New York Jets would be heavily favored in this game, as the Indianapolis Colts would be starting a rookie quarterback against one of the league's best defenses.
However, after a turbulent month of devastating injuries and spotty offensive production, this game is as close as any other game on Sunday's slate.
Here are 10 keys for the Jets to get back to a .500 record this Sunday.
Confuse Andrew Luck
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Andrew Luck is one of the most polished NFL prospects to ever come out of the draft, and he is showing off his smarts at the NFL level. What separates him from RGIII is his ability to get his players in the perfect position to make plays and make quick decisions—just like Peyton Manning used to do.
However, Luck has yet to see a defense as exotic and multiple as Rex Ryan's.
Luckily for the Colts (no pun intended), Darrelle Revis is out for the season, which means Ryan will not be able to be quite as exotic in his coverages, but he still has plenty of tricks up his sleeve.
The Jets should give Luck a lot of falsified pressures and mixed coverages to throw him off early and get him playing faster. If the Jets sit in base coverages, they are just asking for trouble.
If Luck has a bad game, the Colts offense will start to fall apart.
Stop the Run
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For the fifth straight week, the Jets have shown to be very vulnerable against the run. However, if there is a week to get healthy in this aspect, this is it.
Not only are the Colts one of the weaker running teams in the NFL, but Donald Brown is out, leaving Vick Ballard as the lone starter for the Colts.
Ballard has shown some flashes in the past, but he not a uniquely talented player. The Jets struggle with quick, speedy backs, both of which Ballard is not.
If Ballard has a big day on the Jets, it's time to panic about the Jets run defense.
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It seems like I say this every week, but no matter how inefficient the running game may be at times, the Jets need to maintain balance in the run game.
With Dwight Freeney coming off the edge, the Jets need to find a way to slow down the Colts pass-rush, and the last thing they need is to be going three-and-out without taking any time off the clock.
Indianapolis is a prime candidate to get the running game going again, since they are one of the few teams playing the run almost as badly as the Jets, allowing 4.7 yards per carry.
The Jets need to get a bit more creative in their run concepts. The use of more counters, screens, draws, etc. could help spring Greene or Powell and pick up a few easy first downs to ease Sanchez's burden. I mean, it can't get much worse.
Control Reggie Wayne
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Perhaps one of the biggest surprises of the NFL season has been the resurgence of Reggie Wayne, who, at 33 years of age, is putting up numbers like he was 28 and working with Peyton Manning.
Last week, he caught an astounding 13 balls for 212 yards. Antonio Cromartie is coming off a game in which he caught as many passes from Matt Schaub as Andre Johnson did.
Something has to give.
I would be a bit weary of leaving Wayne alone with Cromartie to start off, as Wayne is a master route-runner who could burn the inconsistent Cromartie with a few well placed steps. Perhaps a few two-deep looks to keep Wayne from getting off to a fast start will help Cromartie get into his own rhythm.
Get the Ball to Jeremy Kerley
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As of now Jeremy Kerley has established himself as the Jets' most dynamic offensive weapon, which would probably hold true when Dustin Keller comes back.
Against the Texans, he faced a heavy dose of coverage from Jonathan Joseph, and he responded by ripping off 95 yards on five catches. His lateral quickness and agility is something to behold.
This week, he will see plenty of Vontae Davis and Jerroud Powers, both of whom are significant downgrades from Jonathan Joseph (as are most corners in the NFL). The Jets need to find a way to get Kerley the ball early and often to finally get a lead and put the Colts on their heels.
Win the Special Teams Battle
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Special teams have always been a big part of what the Jets have done under Rex Ryan, and they will need them to come through on Sunday against the Colts.
Both of these teams are relatively close in talent level and both sit with two wins apiece, and special teams could very well be the deciding factor.
The Jets don't necessarily need a another kick return for a touchdown or pull off another fake punt, but winning the field-position battle and avoiding turnovers will set the Jets' struggling offense with good field position.
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Through five games, the Jets supposedly-improved pass rush has been virtually invisible.
Quinton Coples, for whatever reason, is not getting many snaps. Calvin Pace and Bryan Thomas are inside run-stoppers only. Aaron Maybin may as well borrow Harry Potter's invisibility cloak.
However, the Colts offensive line is among the worst in football, especially when it comes to protection. Rarely does Andrew Luck have quality time to make reads and get comfortable. If the Jets can keep Luck under pressure with four guys, it will make it even harder on the rookie to decipher Rex's defense.
The Jets are looking at this game as a way to get their sack numbers back to acceptable levels, but the Colts line is likely looking at the Jets as a "get well" game for their protection woes. Something has to give.
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With most of the Jets' efforts focused on stopping Reggie Wayne, the Jets are probably going to roll the dice on Kyle Wilson to hold his own dealing with Donnie Avery and T.J. Hilton.
Both players have shown flashes, but they have been largely inconsistent. Neither player demands a lot of coverage, and the Jets should not give it to them.
They drafted Kyle Wilson in the first round for a reason, and he needs to be able to take care of these two receivers like he dealt with Kevin Walter on Monday night.
If Wilson turns in another poor performance like he did against the 49ers, the Jets defense will be on its heels trying to deal with Wayne and Avery/Hilton. As a result, every other aspect of the defense, including the run defense, will falter.
Wilson's role may not seem significant on the surface, but his ability to shut down the Colts second and third receivers will be crucial.
Young Defensive Lineman Step Up
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As injuries to the veteran defensive lineman begin to take their toll, the time is now for the future star defenders on the Jets defensive line to make an impact.
Muhammad Wilkerson has played well against the run, but he has yet to record a sack this season. He needs to become more of an all-around defensive end and rush the passer on nickel and dime situations.
We should start to see more and more of Quinton Coples as the season wears on. Coples has flashed at times when given the opportunity, but the coaching staff is reluctant to expose him in the run game. With the injury to Kenrick Ellis, they will be forced to trust the young rookie.
Either way, the time is now for the Jets' investment in their defensive line to pay off.
Get Dustin Keller Involved Early
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The Jets offense has sorely missed Keller's presence over the past month, but all indicators point to him returning for Sunday's game.
For having missed an entire month of play with a nagging hamstring injury, the Jets need to get Keller involved right away to get him back in the flow of the game. The last thing Keller needs is more frustration of not getting any looks after being inactive for so long.
Plus, the more attention he can draw from Antoine Bethea, the more things will open up for the other receivers.