Indianapolis Colts vs. New York Jets: Five Things to Watch For
Tomorrow's AFC Wild Card game between the New York Jets and Indianapolis Colts, a rematch of last season's AFC championship game, is a very fitting start to this season's NFL Playoffs. And as if the game need any more hype, New York head coach Rex Ryan has already upped the ante by suggesting his team will be in Dallas before all is said and done. The Jets, however, will not have an easy time Saturday evening in Indianapolis, where they have not won a playoff game in quite some time. With that being said here are five keys that will ultimately determine who walks out of Lucas Oil field tomorrow headed for the divisional round:
LaDainian Tomlinson and The Jets Running Game vs. The Colts D
In the 2009 season, all the talk surrounded the emergence of rookie Shonn Greene in the Jets running game during the playoffs. Greene, virtually an unknown during the regular season, had garnered over 250 yards in two playoff games despite playing behind Thomas Jones, who ran for over 1400 yards during the regular season. Then came the AFC championship game versus the Colts. The Colts defense put the clamps on the Jets running game and held the pair of Jones and Greene to under 90 yards combined.
This season, the Jets have had more of a time share in the running game, where veteran LaDainian Tomlinson has seemed to rediscover the fountain of youth running for over 900 yards and 6 touchdowns, with Greene adding almost 800 yards himself.
The Colts on the other hand, have not been all that great against the run this season, as they rank 25th in the NFL, but they have been bitten by the injury bug. Defensive end Robert Mathis and linebacker Gary Bracket are finally health for Indy, which is huge for them. The Colts held each of their last three opponents in 2010 to under 100 yards rushing.
So how well the Jets do tomorrow will depend in large part on how well LT and Greene can penetrate Indy's rejuvenated run D.
Colts Secondary vs. Santonio Holmes and Braylon Edwards
The Indianapolis Colts, as poorly as they have been at stopping the run this season at times, have been equally impressive against the pass, where they rank 13th in the league. The Colts have 10 interceptions on the year, but no one player has more than two interceptions. Some might think that stat favors the Jets, who then will try to attack one or more of the Colts corners. Of course, in the final game of the season, the Tennessee Titans tried to attack Indy threw the air, and Kerry Collins 300 yards and two touchdowns in the game, but, ultimately, the Titans fell to the Colts 23-20.
The New York Jets, on the other hand, boast a pair of downfield threats in Braylon Edwards and Santonio Holmes that they are sure to go to early and often. Edwards ended up with 904 yards on 53 catches and Holmes added almost 750 yards despite missing the first four games due to a league mandated suspension.
Ultimately, this one may come down to how effective Indy's pass rush, which leads me to my next slide:
Jets O-Line vs Indy's Pass Rush
Everyone knows how good Robert Mathis and Dwight Freeney are when healthy. In fact, it is probably no stretch to say that the two are the best pass rushing ends in the NFL today.
If New York is to have a chance versus Indianapolis tomorrow, D'Brickashaw Ferguson and company are going to have to make a point of keeping Mathis and Freeney away from Mark Sanchez
Joseph Addai vs. New York Run D
About halfway though the season, many observers had written off Indy, say Peyton Manning's skills were on the decline. Lost in the mix, however, was that Indianapolis was down to its third string running back at times, with Joseph Addai and Dominic Rhodes missing several games due to injury. Addai and Rhodes, now both healthy, have jump started the Indy offense again and have many saying that this year's AFC championship game might be another New England-Indianapolis rematch.
For the Jets to have any success on defense, they must be able to stop the run. Failure to do so could mean a long day. And while Indy's run game may not seem as potent as some of the other run offenses New York has seen this past season, they are nothing to take for granted either.
Peyton Manning vs. Darelle Revis and The Jets Secondary
Some have called Manning the greatest qb ever. Others say not until he wins at least one, or maybe even two, more Super Bowl(s). However, there is no denying the Colts offense runs through Manning. No one has proven better in the last decade at calling the audible than the Colts' no. 18.
On the plus side for the Jets, however will be that Revis Island will have a counterpart at the other corner named Antonio Cromartie. Cromartie is an explosive cb who more than likely will draw covering Pierre Garcon as his assignment. Many believe Cromartie to be a shutdown corner; I have seen enough from his Chargers days to know he gets beat way more often than he should.
However, should the Jets corners be able to take the middle of the field away from Manning, that could be the difference maker.