Colts-Jets AFC Championship: 10 Key Questions

Nick SouthCorrespondent IJanuary 22, 2010

INDIANAPOLIS - JANUARY 16:  Quarterback Peyton Manning #18 of the Indianapolis Colts thows the ball against the Baltimore Ravens during the AFC Divisional Playoff Game at Lucas Oli Stadium on January 16, 2010 in Indianapolis, Indiana.  (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
Andy Lyons/Getty Images

I think the worst thing about the NFL playoffs is the span of time between games. During the regular season there are 32 teams to discuss, debate, and dissect.

In the playoffs there's a select group of teams left. Over a week, there's plenty of time to break down every last detail of a matchup. As the playoffs march on, the number of teams left decreases. That seems to only increase the amount of analysis that goes on for a game.

Needless to say, the week of the Conference Championships brings out the worst of this. Two games. Four teams. We've read countless stories about the Vikings, Saints, Jets, and Colts. I've woken up at least three times this week to Rex Ryan screaming at me.

Does this stop me from writing another preview? Of course not. Not because I'm right, but because there's a lot more to this game than just the Jets' brash coach and Peyton Manning.

Time to dust off the 10 questions and look at the AFC Championship Game.


10. So, Which Player Will Be the Key to the Game?

Trying to pick which player will make the biggest impact in this game is like trying to decide which arm I want cut off. I don't want to pick and you couldn't make me.

There's no one key player to the game. Most media experts throw out the names of Manning or the Jets' Darelle Revis. Both could be, sure, but look at the Colts' victory against the Ravens last week. Pierre Garcon saved the game with his hustle play to force Ed Reed's fumble.

Would you have picked Garcon before the game as a difference maker? Would he even be in your top five?

Exactly. The game may hinge on a key play from the Colts' Clint Session or the Jets' Dustin Keller.

The point is that you don't make it to the AFC Championship without fielding a solid team. Multiple players will need to have key performances for their teams to end up in Miami.


9. Okay Then, Let's Start with the Marquee Names. How Do You Expect Manning to Perform Against the Jets' Defense?

Much has been said about Manning's success against Ryan-led defenses. There's a fine line between blitzing Manning and truly harassing him. It's almost a roll of the dice. If you blitz and don't get there, Manning will make you pay. Get to him and you could cause Manning's timing to be thrown off.

While the Colts' offensive line hasn't helped the running game flourish, they have kept Manning fairly clean. The Jets may want to look at tape of the 49ers game, when Manning was hit often and sacked multiple times. However, I would expect Manning to hang in the pocket and be successful.

Manning's numbers in the earlier Jets matchup may not look like much on paper, but remember, he didn't play a quarter and a half. He was on pace for about 300 yards. If can do that again, the Jets won't win.


8. Now, on to Revis. Is He Really That Good? What Impact Will He Make?

First off, Revis is the real deal. I've been going to Colts games for over 20 years and Revis may be the best corner I've seen play. He tackles better than Deon Sanders did and his cover skills are slightly better than Champ Bailey's.

Considering this—he's faced receivers like Randy Moss, Reggie Wayne, and Andre Johnson and he's held all challenges he's faced in check.

But they can diminish his impact on the game. The Chargers' game plan was actually a good one against Revis. They moved Vincent Jackson and Antonio Gates around. They created some matchups they wanted. A bad performance by Philip Rivers and Nate Kaeding killed them, not the offensive game plan. Even playing poorly, Rivers still nearly made it to 300 yards passing.

Revis is deadly against teams with one option. He killed the Bengals by taking Chad Ochocinco out of the equation. The Colts have proven they can live without Reggie Wayne or Dallas Clark having big games. Revis will be stellar as usual, but the Colts will still have options in the passing game.


7. Is the Running Game Going to Be the Colts' Offensive Achilles Heel?

Perhaps. But the Colts got next to nothing out of their running game last week against Baltimore and won comfortably. The Chargers got nothing from their running game and had chances to win the game.

A running game sure would help, if for nothing else but to keep the wolves off of Manning. But the Colts have adjusted to a style of play similar to Bill Walsh's old 49er teams. The short passing game has become their running game. The Colts employ a multitude of quick slants, outs, curls, and screens to move the ball methodically down the field. They can still strike with lightning fast scores, but the Colts have morphed their passing game to handle different situations.

A healthy Joseph Addai should give the Colts some type of rushing attack, but shutting down the Colts' ground game won't promise the Jets a victory.


6. Is the Jets' Defense All Revis and Little Else?

Hardly. Outside of Jets' fans, it would be hard for most to name three or four starters for the Jets not named Revis, but their team is full of playmakers. You'll need to get to know guys like Bart Scott, David Harris, and Shaun Ellis. Appreciate the play of guys like Jim Leonhard and Kerry Rhodes. This is a talented unit.

What they lack in star power, they make up in solid play. They aren't a smothering, intimidating defense like the Ravens were during their Super Bowl year, but they are a team that hits hard and keeps teams out of the end zone. Points will not come in bunches for the Colts. Indianapolis will have to be patient and take what they can get to move the ball on the Jets.

If they expect to win, the Colts will need more than the 14 points the Bengals and Chargers scored against the Jets in the playoffs.


5. Is the Colts' Defense Unappreciated?

Yes, very much so. Statistically, the Colts defense looks good, but not great. Eighth in scoring defense, 14th against the pass, 24th against the run.

But remember, the Colts defense took a vacation in games 15 and 16. 20 percent of the rushing yardage allowed for the year occurred in the final two contests.

Teams make mistakes when they assume this defense is like Colts' defenses of the past.

The Ravens managed just 87 yards rushing last week against Indianapolis after torching New England for three times that the week before.

The Jets are built offensively very much like the Ravens.


4. So, what Exactly Will Be the Jets' Gameplan?

Ryan won't ask his offense to do anything different than what they've done in the last two weeks. Against both Cincinnati and San Diego, the Jets ran the ball and made sure they put Mark Sanchez into situations where he could be successful.

They let him do a little more against San Diego, but his big plays came on roll outs, something that will be hard to do with the quality rushers the Colts have coming off the edge.

Simply put, the Jets will need to be successful running the ball. If not, Sanchez will have to make plays against one of the league's stingier pass defenses.

Ryan will be thrilled if the offense does just enough to stay in the game. He'll expect his defense to keep it close. If they can, all the offense has to do is make one or two big plays in the fourth quarter. It worked in San Diego, but it's a lot to ask for the conservative approach to work again.


3. How do the Rookie Head Coaches Handle the Pressure?

Honestly, could you think of two coaches that are more opposite?

Ryan is a brash coach. His bravado about expecting his team to win the Super Bowl might alarm some. Frankly, it's refreshing. Ryan hasn't said anything demeaning to the Colts. He obviously respects them and you can't blame a coach for expecting his team to win.

You wouldn't send the message that they'll be lucky to win, would you?

Ryan will handle the pressure just fine.

As for Jim Caldwell, the stoic Colts' coach appears to lack any intensity at all, but look at the Colts' season. They seem to come back in the fourth quarter in every other game. Caldwell has been in more pressure situations this season than many coaches see in two or three.

Caldwell is up to the task too. Neither will flinch at the chance to win a trip to the Super Bowl.


2. So, what Will Caldwell's Gameplan Be?

Score. Putting points on the board will force Ryan to change his gameplan. The Jets can't wait for a fourth quarter miracle if they are down by two or more scores. The Colts need to finish drives. The Colts missed on some big plays in the first matchup. The plays were there. If they are there again, the Colts must execute.

Defensively, the Colts will allow the Jets to run maybe between the 30s, but will buckle down when the Jets approach scoring range. The Colts will rely on their defensive speed to limit the Jets to short yardage plays.


1. Prediction

Colts 27, Jets 16. Despite the hype surrounding the Jets, in the end, the Colts started 14-0 for a reason. We may never know what would have happened in the first Jets game, but no one will care with a win on Sunday. The Jets can look forward to a bright future, but the Colts should be looking forward to a second Super Bowl in four seasons.


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