The Jets ran the ball well, limited turnovers, limited penalties, attacked the quarterback on defense, forced turnovers and scored more points than they had in all but one game a season ago.
But Monday night, things may not go as smoothly, or at the very least, they may be a bit harder to come by. After all, there’s a slight difference between seeing Johnny Manziel for three quarters and three-time Pro Bowler Andrew Luck for four.
So, what will New York have to do to improve its record to 2-0 for the first time since 2011? Here’s the game plan and keys to success.
Indianapolis is going to be fired up on Monday night; there’s no denying that. Pegged by many as a Super Bowl favorite, while an 0-2 start to the season won’t necessarily be the end, it certainly won’t make things easy as we head down the stretch.
In a way, Monday night is a must-win game for Indy, and expect Lucas Oil Stadium to be rocking and the Colts to feed off the high energy in the building.
|Playoff Chances after Week 2|
What the Jets are going to need to do to quiet things is simple: Take the life and energy away from all those not wearing green. The best way to do that? Sure, a long touchdown on the first series works, but slowly and methodically working down the field before punching it into the end zone to cap a 12-play drive? Yeah, that works just as well, if not better.
While the Jets defense focuses on the game plan just below, the offense’s focus should be to do everything in its power to keep Luck off the field. Time of possession, third-down percentage and average yards per play will be as key to the Jets' success as any rushing or passing yardage total.
Against the Browns last week, the Jets ran it 36 times for 154 yards. That’s a healthy yards-per-carry average of 4.3. Expect a bit more of that Monday night. Again, while Eric Decker and Brandon Marshall defended quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick this week by saying the quarterback can make “all the throws,” there’s no denying Fitzpatrick works better when he has an effective running game that opens the play-action passing.
The game plan on defense really couldn’t be much simpler: Shut down Luck.
How exactly to execute that game plan? Well, that’s a bit more complicated.
Entering the fourth year of his career, the former No. 1 overall selection in the 2012 NFL draft has established himself as one of the game’s best quarterbacks, and what Luck can do when he’s on was displayed a season ago.
In 2014, Luck set career highs in passing yards (4,761), completion percentage (61.7) and passing touchdowns (40). The touchdown mark of 40 was also the most in the NFL. Oh, and just for good measure, he added an additional 273 yards and three touchdowns on the ground.
“He does everything,” Jets head coach Todd Bowles said earlier this week. “He’s one of those quarterbacks, he’s big, he’s got size, he can run. He can beat you with his brain, he can beat you with his arm, he can beat you with his feet.
“He’s just a hell of a quarterback. He’s probably one of the best in the league. He’s easily one of the best in the league, and we’ve got our work cut out for us.”
In looking for a way to slow down Luck, the Jets need not look much further than what their former head coach, Rex Ryan, did in Indianapolis’ season opener. Against Ryan’s Bills, Luck looked pedestrian. In a 27-14 loss, Luck completed just 53.1 percent of his passes and was limited to 243 yards. While he threw two touchdowns, he also tossed two interceptions.
The Colts offense was out of rhythm the entire game.
Why? Because the Bills threw a different blitz at Luck on nearly every play.
Per Pro Football Focus, the Bills brought extra defenders 25 times last Sunday. On those 25 plays, Luck was just 9-of-23 passing for 118 yards, was intercepted twice, sacked twice and had a quarterback rating of 34.3.
But it wasn’t just that the Bills were blitzing that disrupted Luck, it was how they were blitzing. Ryan emptied his bag of tricks to give Luck a different look each play. He moved his defenders around constantly, brought different players, ran stunts and everything else. Luck spent the early portions of each play trying to figure out who was coming and from where. Then, Ryan would surprise him with something else.
On one particular play, the Bills lined up starting and Pro Bowl defensive tackle Kyle Williams at middle linebacker. Just before the snap, Williams ran to the outside of the formation and rushed as a stand-up outside linebacker.
On another play, the Bills had Williams, Mario Williams, Jerry Hughes and Manny Lawson all lined up on the same side of the field within five yards of each other.
It was organized chaos, and it was needed to disrupt Luck.
But what made the Bills' defensive scheme so effective—aside from the confusion and weird fronts—was where they chose to apply the pressure. Sure, there were a few plays where Kyle Williams would line up outside, but his goal on that play wasn’t to go get the quarterback; it was to contain.
See, one of the things that makes Luck so deadly is that he has the ability to run. He’s not slow. In fact, he ran the same 40-yard dash coming out of Stanford as Cam Newton. As a result, when he feels pressure, he has the ability to avoid it, roll out of the pocket, outrun defenders and keep his eyes down the field.
What the Bills did last Sunday was pressure the Colts with their two defensive tackles, or two defensive ends on stunts, right at the interior of Indianapolis’ offensive line. While Anthony Castonzo is one of the game’s better offensive tackles and Jack Mewhort is no slouch, the Colts are much weaker inside.
While whoever blitzed and those interior defensive linemen worked to get pressure up the middle, those defensive ends/outside linebackers had to contain. Luck couldn’t step up in the pocket because the pressure was right there. He also couldn’t roll out because those on the outside had contained. He was stuck.
The result? He couldn’t plant his feet, and his passes routinely sailed high.
If the Jets want to beat the Colts, they’re going to have to do exactly what the Bills did a week ago: Pressure Luck up the middle to take away his ability to step up in the pocket, contain the outside so he can’t escape, and play tight coverage to ensure receivers aren’t running open off the ball.
If New York can do all of that and shut down the run, there’s a great chance Luck walks off the field Monday night as bruised and battered as last Sunday while the Jets celebrate a victory.
Key Matchups and Players
Brandon Marshall vs. Vontae Davis
Marshall has drawn quite the two opening cards. After facing Browns Pro Bowl corner Joe Haden a week ago, the wideout will see an awful lot of Davis on Monday. Last year, few receivers had any success when locked down on Davis Island.
In 2014, quarterbacks threw at Davis 92 times, completing just 41 passes, or 44.6 percent. He didn’t allow a single touchdown, intercepted four passes and defended 13 others. QBs had an average QB rating of just 41.2 when testing him.
|2014 Top PFF CB Grades|
|Player Name||Team||Overall Grade||Coverage Grade||Catch Percentage|
|Chris Harris Jr.||Denver||28.4||27.2||51.7%|
|Darrelle Revis||New England||17.7||15.0||51.9|
|Sean Smith||Kansas City||17.0||16.1||58.7|
Having played with Davis for two years in Miami, Marshall said earlier this week he’s followed the cornerback’s career. When he first met Davis, Marshall described him as a player who was as physically gifted as any, but he really hadn’t added the mental part of the game to his repertoire.
Since being traded to the Colts in 2012, he has, and it’s made an awfully big difference.
“When Vontae’s super focused, he’s one of the best in the business, if not the best behind (Darrelle Revis),” Marshall said. “He’s super patient now, and that wasn’t the case back then. He’s always been a smart guy, but now it seems he’s locked in on every single play now.
“It just seems he’s finally put it all together, and that’s a scary thing for a receiver.”
Leonard Williams vs. Colts' Interior Offensive Line
Last week, the majority of the pressures the Bills were able to record on Luck came off blitzes. If the Jets are able to get pressure by just rushing four, that certainly makes the secondary’s job that much easier.
Jets defensive end Muhammad Wilkerson is a dominant player. Both New York and Indianapolis know that. Expect him to see double-teams.
Jets defensive end Leonard Williams is a bit more of an unknown. A rookie selected with the sixth pick in the draft, he has loads of potential but is still inexperienced. If he breaks out, the Jets may steal a victory.
With the offensive line’s attention likely focused around containing Wilkerson, Williams should see his fair share of one-on-one blocking, as was the case a week ago against the Browns. Starting the first game of his career, Williams finished with five tackles and a team-high three quarterback hurries.
But even when Williams didn’t show up on the stat sheet, he made an impact.
The Jets will be hoping for a duplicate performance out of the rookie. Can he deliver now that teams have a full game of film on him?
There’s no reason to believe the Jets can’t win this game on Monday. They have the defense capable of pressuring Luck and the offense able to keep him off the field. They can control the clock, force turnovers and make the game go their way.
But the Jets don’t have Luck. And Luck is the type of player who, no matter how well you play, he’ll just find a way to win.
With Indianapolis staring at a potential 0-2 start, expect Luck to play like a man possessed Monday night. The Jets may be in his face all night, but Luck will still manage to make one of those throws that leaves fans, coaches and opposing players in awe.
The Jets may have perfect coverage, but Luck will put the ball in the place where no defender—not Revis, Antonio Cromartie, Buster Skrine or Deion Sanders—can knock it away.
The Jets may be leading going into the fourth quarter, but when the game needs to be put on someone’s shoulders, Luck will fit every last one of the 45 other active Colts players on his.
Expect this game to be a close one and for the Jets to show they deserve to be a team taken seriously in the AFC East. Expect Fitzpatrick to show he can still be an NFL starting quarterback, and the Jets will prove that the defense really is that good, that Marshall still is elite and that Chris Ivory can be an every-down back.
But also expect that when a play needs to be made, Luck will make it.
Connor Hughes is the New York Jets beat writer for the Journal Inquirer and Scout.com. All quotes and advanced stats referenced and used were gathered firsthand.
Connor can be reached on Twitter (@Connor_J_Hughes) or via email (email@example.com).