The fifth seed New York Jets may technically be underdogs when they face the top seeded Indianapolis Colts in next week's AFC Championship Game, but it's the Colts who should be scared, not than the Jets.
Jets Defense vs. Colts Offense
Key Team Rankings
Jets Pass Defense: No. 1
Jets Run Defense: No. 8
Colts Pass Offense: No. 1
Colts Run Offense: No. 32
Key Player Matchups
David Harris (Jets) vs. Joseph Addai/Donald Brown (Colts)
Bart Scott (Jets) vs. Peyton Manning (Colts)
Darrelle Revis (Jets) vs. Reggie Wayne (Colts)
Kerry Rhodes (Jets) vs. Dallas Clark (Colts)
Running Game Analysis
The Colts' running game features two recently drafted, young, first round running backs. Neither Joseph Addai or Donald Brown average over four yards per carry. The Colts run the ball only enough to make the play action passing game more effective. They rarely run between the tackles unless it’s a draw play, instead preferring to attack the edges of the line with stretch run plays.
With the Colts only paying lip service to a run game that features no hard-nosed element, the Jets should have little issue shutting it down. Inside linebackers David Harris and Bart Scott are both intelligent beasts that will have little problem shutting down draw plays.
Harris is the more athletic of the two and Scott the emotional leader and play caller. Scott and Manning will be an important matchup as they both try to outmaneuver each other in pre snap reads and play calling for the run game. That should be a fun chess match to watch. The Jets cornerback tandem of Lito Shephard and Darrelle Revis are both vicious run supporters, which will severely impact the effectiveness of the stretch runs the Colts love so much.
Conclusion: The Colts run game is doomed against the Jets, but they have to run it anyway or Manning’s play action is useless.
Passing Game Analysis
The Colts passing game, led by Peyton Manning, is the best in the NFL and usually they appear to have the ability to score at will. However, this will not be true against the Jets. Manning’s top target, Reggie Wayne, will be all but wiped away by Jets top cover corner Darrelle Revis. Revis is that good, allowing less than 4 yards when he actually allows a completed pass.
When attacking the perimeter of the Jets defense, look for Manning to target cornerback Lito Shephard, who, when not allowing completions is committing penalties. With Wayne not an option, or at least not an option when covered by Revis, Manning will focus primarily on Dallas Clark.
If Manning can get more than 3 seconds of stability in the pocket Austin Collie or Pierre Garcon will become problems for the Jets downfield. But the Jets blitz more than any team in the league, so look for Addai and Brown to be heavily featured in the passing game in an attempt to negate the blitz. If the Colts can get any of their WRs singled up down the field against a CB not named Revis and Manning has time the Colts have to win that battle every time, as the opportunity will be far to rare to waste.
The Jets only allowed eight passing touchdowns all season long and they will eat Manning alive unless he is on top of his game. If Manning holds on to the ball for too long, defenders like Calvin Pace will be all too willing to bring him down. If Manning throws into coverage the Jets will own the turnover differential. Manning is good enough to do it, but it wont be easy.
Safety Kerry Rhodes is athletic and the most likely matchup against Dallas Clark, but Clark is out of Rhodes' league. If the Colts have any hope of moving the ball against the Jets this weekend it will be with an emphasis on getting the ball to Dallas Clark and the running backs. Look for Manning to take advantage of the aggressive Jets blitzing by throwing a lot of short passes and screens to his running backs.
Conclusion: The Colts will still be able to move the ball through the air against the Jets, but it will be done by dinking and dunking with running backs and tight ends, not big plays to wide receivers. The lack of the big plays will make it difficult for the Colts to score a lot of points, which also moves the game closer to the Jets favor.