Entering halftime of last year's AFC Championship game, the Jets enjoyed a 17-13 lead over these Colts. Indianapolis went on to score 17 unanswered points in the second half undoubtedly having an influence over at least a few of the Jets' offseason moves. This Saturday night, the improved Jets re-enter Lucas Oil Stadium hoping to match up better on both sides of the ball with the Colts. Here I will break down some key match ups.
Colts offense vs. Jets defense
Rex vs. Peyton 2011: New York in better shape this time.
Last year, the Colts were eventually able to consistently take advantage of the Jets' aggressive man coverage scheme by spreading out the defense and utilizing several weapons on the outside.
While All-World cornerback Darrelle Revis held Colts wide receiver Reggie Wayne in check, the Jets had trouble matching up with Pierre Garcon, Austin Collie and Dallas Clark. Further, as the Colts spread the defense out, they forced the Jets to use their sub-packages, leaving favorable match ups for the Colts' ground game.
Unfortunately for the Colts, not only did the Jets add cornerback Antonio Cromartie this offseason, but the Colts have lost Austin Collie and Dallas Clark to injuries. Thus, this season multiple defenses have been able to cause problems for the Colts' traditionally proficient passing attack.
The Colts may not have the personnel or depth to consistently separate vs. the Jets' secondary. But they should get their chances. Lacking a truly dynamic pass rusher, the Jets have struggled to scare opposing offenses with their four or five man rushes.
Nobody has success blitzing quarterback Peyton Manning with significant frequency. If Manning has sufficient time to wait for pass catchers to break open, particularly vs. corner back Drew Coleman (pictured above) and Cromartie, the Colts will move the football. Watch for Manning to take some shots down the field to Garcon as well.
What? The Colts can run on the Jets?
Finally, over the season's late stretch, we have witnessed a much more productive Colts ground attack. The Colts have taken advantage of the effect that their spread formations have on the personnel groupings of opposing defenses.
Teams that play their nickel defense vs. the Colts have given up yardage in the running game. The Jets have been vulnerable to this very thing vs. the Patriots, Steelers, and Bears.Their linebackers have struggled in coverage at times forcing them to get more defensive backs on the field. Don't be surprised by the production of the Colts' running backs.
Jets offense vs. Colts defense
Pass first Jets??
The Jets must facilitate the running game with a short, play-action based passing game. Offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer and QB Mark Sanchez elegantly utilized this game plan vs. Chicago in Week 16. Against a defense like the Colts, Sanchez can effectively take advantage of the aggressiveness of linebackers and safeties to open up areas and seams vs. zone coverage. Watch for plenty of three wide receiver sets as well.
Further, if the Jets can isolate wide receiver Santonio Holmes and Braylon Edwards against the corner backs of the Colts, there will be huge mismatches in the intermediate and deep passing games. Mark Sanchez needs to continue his accurate and efficient play. The Jets must be patient, taking what is given, while taking advantage of those game breaking opportunities that will arise.
Jets should run strategically
In theory, the weakness of the Colts' defense, and thus the area to be targeted for an effective offensive game plan, is the run defense. Breaking down their efforts vs. the run over the past several weeks tells a different story.
The return of middle linebacker Gary Brackett from injury has vastly affected the effectiveness of the Colts defense. Young outside linebackers Kavell Conner and Pat Angerer, and defensive backs, including Justin Tryon have fit in with their physical, instinctive and aggressive play on the outside.
If a team is going to run on these Colts, they must go between the tackles. However, defensive tackles Daniel Muir and Antonio Johnson are underrated in their abilities to be stout at the point of attack, allowing the speed of their teammates to get bodies to the ball carrier. The Jets may use the running game early on only to make the Colts respect it.
Who wins first down?
Finally, without question, the Colts must win the first down battle and get the Jets into third and long situations- scenarios where the Colts defense thrives best. Whoever starts at right tackle for the Jets, Wayne Hunter or Damien Woody, will face perhaps their most difficult adversary of the season in defensive end Robert Mathis. Staying out of obvious, long yardage passing situations goes a long way toward mitigating this issue.