Eyes in the Backfield-Jets (Playoffs)

18 Things to Watch for During Saturday’s Colts Jets Game

Ooooh, so scary!

It’s playoff time, and for the second year in a row, the Colts are taking on the Jets in the playoffs. There’s no Super Bowl trip waiting at the end of this rainbow, however.  The winner gets to travel to either New England or Pittsburgh.  It’s not exactly a great prize, but both teams will play their hearts out.  Here’s what to watch for in Saturday’s Wild Card Game:

1. Watch for kick returns. The Jets are going to have to find ‘non-traditional’ means of scoring.  Brad Smith is a dynamic return man, and the Colts are a mess on special teams.  If the Jets can get short fields, or even a score from their return game, it could be just what they need to upset the Colts.

2. Watch the big game player.  Dwight Freeney has long been a beast in big games for the Colts, and they need him Saturday night more than ever.  If the Colts can disrupt Sanchez and force him to make quick decisions, it will dramatically help a struggling secondary.  Freeney and Mathis must make plays if the Colts hope to win.

3.  Watch the pick up.  With the Jets likely to bring pressure from odd angles, the Colts backs will have to pick up the blitz. Addai and Rhodes could see the bulk of the action exactly because of that.  Addai could end up playing a huge role in this game, even if he doesn’t rush for more than 50 yards.

4. Watch out for the Dark McKnight.  And when I say Dark McKnight I mean Jets rookie running back Joe McKnight. And now I apologize, sorry I couldn’t pass up the chance at a Batman reference. But back to McKnight, with LT out of gas and a struggling Shonn Greene, McKnight torched the Bills last week for 158 yards.  Look for the Jets to try more of the same against the much improved Colts run defense. 

5.  Watch out for the deep threat.  The Colts secondary is depleted. And when I say depleted, I mean they were are beat up beyond belief.  Like beat up worse than Hans and his German crew in Die Hard.  The Jets don’t specialize in the deep ball, but Santonio Holmes, Braylon Edwards and even Jerricho Cotchery have the ability to stretch the field. This weekend the Colts secondary will need to channel their inner John McClane and shut down the deep pass. Yippee ki-yay. Safety Aaron Francisco has become the whipping boy for many a Colts fan. Last week he was running around like a chicken with his head cut off.  Let’s just say we can’t have that again this week.

6. Watch the safety valve. The Colts have been awful at defending against TEs and RBs out of the backfield this year.  This is a big change, due in part to young linebackers seeing a lot of time.  The Jets will look long, but Sanchez will also have to quickly check down if the pass isn’t there.  The Colts must contain the Jets on these passes.  Watch for Gary Brackett to make a big play.

7. Watch for drops.  The Jets are actually not great against #2 WRs this year.  The Colts #2 is Pierre Garcon who LIT UP the Jets last year.  We all know the issue with Frenchy is the dropped passes.  He had some ugly ones last week, so when Peyton comes his way, he has to squeeze the rock or it could be a short playoff run for the Colts.

8.  Watch to the outside. The one place the Jets are really bad at stopping the run is wide left. If you see Don Brown come in the game, watch for a run outside left. If Brown can pop a big play, it could swing the game toward the Horse.

9.  Watch the Colts running backs (coming out of the backfield).  We all know that the Colts running game has resurfaced over the last four games.  But just don’t watch them running the ball, watch them catching it too.  Addai has great hands out of the backfield and Donald Brown has shown flashes of brilliance this season, averaging 10.3 yards a grab.  Expect more of the same this weekend.  With the Jets featuring good corners, getting mismatches out of the backfield could make all the difference on checkdowns and blitz busters.

10.  Watch for Snooki.  I don’t watch Jersey Shore. I don’t know what a Snooki is.  From everything I’ve heard, she sounds like she’d be a huge Jets fan.  So if you see an orange smurf getting tazed by IPD, whip out that camera phone and send me a picture of your celebrity sighting.

11. Watch the Blair White Project.  As mentioned in yesterday’s write-up, White needs to elevate his game for Saturday’s match up against the Jets.  He doesn’t need to break out for a 100 yard game or three touchdowns.  But he does need to help take the pressure off of Wayne and Garcon.  He needs to run good routes, find the open space, and keep the chains the moving.  Five to seven grabs for about 65 yards sounds about right.

12. Watch for M and M.  The Jets want to run the ball so it’s up to Moala and Mookie to make some plays up front.  If the Colts can get run stops and force third and longs, the Jets are toast.  Moala got good push last week and has started to become a real player for the Cotls D.  A big play out of him is essential.

13. Watch for pressure.  Not on the quarterbacks, but on the whole Jets team.  Rex has been talking like they are Super Bowl contenders, which they aren’t.  Indy could use a win, but is mostly been playing with house money.  I have a feeling the Jets will come out tight, and if they fall behind, they might well crack. The Colts need to jump on them early and make the feel like a win is hopeless.

14. Watch the Island.  Reggie Wayne gets a copious amount of throws from Peyton Manning, but with Revis on him, it’ll be interesting to watch if Peyton looks his way.  I would expect a few screens and slants early.  Peyton will look long to Wayne if he gets Revis one on one on a deep route.  The key will be Peyton not putting the ball where Revis can make a play on it. The Colts can’t afford interceptions if they hope to win.

15. Watch for OT.  I hate the new overtime rule, and I have a miserable suspicion it’s going to hurt the Colts.  Can’t you just see Indy winning the toss, kicking a field goal, only to have the Jets drive the length of the field for a touchdown?  Ugh I feel sick about it already. 

16. Watch for the blather.  It’s a Collinsworth game, so you know they’ll talk a lot about Manning’s struggles in playoff games and never once show his QB rating is in the top 10 all time.  They might even show the drop between his regular season rating and his playoff rating.  It’ll all be nonsense of course, and I’ll probably throw something at the screen.  Don’t worry, I’m using my back up “Collinsworth TV” that I break out just for his games in case I break the screen.

17.  Watch for the moment.  He had it last year against the Jets. Indy was trailing 17-6, when suddenly everything clicked for Peyton right before the half.  He went to Collie repeatedly, and like a cobra, struck for a touchdown.  If Peyton has that ‘aha moment’ tomorrow night, it’s over for the Jets.  Wait for it.  Relish it.

18.  Watch for the best we can hope for.  I really do love this Colts team, and while they’ll have a puncher’s chance in any game, winning tomorrow night’s game is probably the most we can ask for out of them.  It won’t be easy, but look for Peyton to find a way to take this team farther than it has any right to go.  Colts 24 Jets 23.

Thanks to Nick Pease for his help with 4, 5, 9, 11

Eyes in the Backfield-Jets (Playoffs)

18 Things to Watch for During Sunday’s AFC Championship Game

The Jets are long on magic, short on matchups

Last week, Indy took care of business in the divisional round and now stands just one win away from the Super Bowl.  The Colts let the Jets into the playoffs and now have the opportunity to kick them out.  It will either be the most brilliant strategy ever (ala 2004) or it will be mocked for eternity.  Will it be a moment of triumph in the Luke or one of the great upsets in NFL history?  Here’s what you need to watch for…

1. Watch the blitz-We know the Jets love to blitz (more than any team in football).  We know Manning loves it when teams blitz (101.4 rating).  The question is if the Jets can land the blitz enough to disrupt 18.  In the first meeting, they only hit him once.  The Jets have a lot of pressures, but relatively few sacks on the year.  I don’t think it will be enough to ‘pressure’ Manning.  They have to bring him down, or he’ll destroy them.

2.  Watch Dallas-He had 57 yards receiving in the first game, and last week the Jets allowed Gates to catch 8 passes for 93 yards.  This kind of production is surprising because over the course of the season the Jets had the fourth best defense against tight ends.  If they allow Clark to have a big game, they cannot win.  I can’t see any scenario where Clark racks up catches and yards and the Colts don’t score points.

3.  Watch Revis v Wayne, the rematch.  Wayne had three catches, an interference call, and was open for TDs twice, but Manning missed him.  Wayne often starts slow in games, only to pick up several key catches late.  Even if 87 has a slow start, it doesn’t mean that you won’t hear from him by the end of the game.  The Colts threw at Revis seven times in the first game; they did not appear to be afraid of him.

4. Watch the force-Jets opponents are 0-5 on field goals in the post season.  Normally, opponent’s field goal percentage isn’t something a team can control.  It’s a luck factor.  In the Jets experience there’s no such thing as luck.  Whether they are using a hokey religion or some ancient weapon, they’ve managed to create some kind of energy field around the goal posts that swats away the kicks of opposing teams.  Given that the Colts are trotting out Matt Stover to put up points, that force shield could hold for another week.  A field goal is a good result of any drive against the Jets, so the Colts will have to convert their kicks.

5. Watch for a limp-Jerraud Powers has been gimping around all week on a bad ankle, and Bethea has been limited in practice with a sore back (presumably from his awkward fall on his pick last Saturday).  The loss of Powers isn’t a back breaker, but he does make the Colts D that much better.  If he can’t go, Lacey will start and Jennings will play the nickle. If Bethea can’t go…I don’t even want to think about that.

6. Watch the play action.  The Jets now throw almost exclusively out of the play action or designed roll outs.  Neither should be effective against the Colts who are both fast and trained to ignore the run.  The Colts secondary needs to stay disciplined and not get sucked in.  The Jets will seek to set up a big play downfield off the P/A or even a flea flicker.  If everyone stays home and does their jobs, it won’t help the Jets.

7. Watch for drops. Both Braylon Edwards and Pierre Garcon have had real problems this year with dropped passes.  Garcon put one on the ground just last week on a key third down.  Both players are deep threats, and an ill timed dropped could crush the hopes of their team.  Garcon didn’t play in the first game, and his presence opens up new dimensions for the offense.  He just has to hang on tight.

8.  Watch the guy we could have had.  Shonn Green and Donald Brown were at the top of Polian’s draft list last year.  The Colts agonized between the two, ultimately choosing to take Brown because he fit better into the Colts offense. Green fell to the Jets in the third round. He has been a catylst for their offense recently, even posting the game winning touchdown against the Chargers.  He averages 5 YPC during the season, so the Colts have to limit his big plays.

9. Watch the Sparkle Cat…or whatever they call it.  Oh yeah, Tiger Cat.  The Jets have to be watching tape of the Miami game trying to figure out how to adapt their gimmick offense in a way that give the Colts fits.  Frankly, I have a hard time taking any team seriously that pulls its QB off the field on third down, but whatever.  If the Jets can find something to exploit with an unconventional set, they’ll use it.

10.  Watch for an added gear.  The Jets offense thinks they know the Colts defense because they played.  They have no idea.  Mathis, Powers, Session, and Bullitt all sat that game.  There’s a real chance the addition of the real explosive players back to the Colts D catches the Jets off guard on Sunday.  If they aren’t prepared to double Mathis and Freeney, they could be in for a rude awakening.  The crowd will be ready to come unglued and it’s impossible that the combination of new players and a raucous crowd will be too much for Sanchez.  He may wind up in the corner sucking his thumb by the end of the first quarter.

11. Watch for cliches.  The Jets are on a roll right now.  They are playing with house money.  They believe in themselves, and this is a team of destiny.  Mark Sanchez isn’t a rookie any more.  They’ll look to hit pay dirt with explosive plays downfield.   They won’t change horses in midstream or take candy from strangers.  Their coach is a big fat idiot who seriously needs to shut his mouth before I smack that stupid look off his face. When you play with fire you are going to get burned. The Jets are going to get beat to holy hell.

12.  Watch Brown picking up the blitz. The Jets will be coming from all angles and I really don’t want to hear Peyton have to curse out the rookie in the middle of a play again.  If Brown is to stay on the field long enough to make the big play we’ve all been waiting for, he HAS to know his assignments blocking wise.  I really don’t want to see a strip sack because Brown was confused.

13. Watch the returns. The key play in the first game between the two teams was the kickoff return for a score to open the second half.  It was the only one of the season for the Jets, but it probably got them to where they are now.  They need some kind of big special teams play to alter field position or create points that their offense just isn’t capable of scoring on its own.  The Jets have only won three games this year without a long TD or a return score of some kind.

14.  Watch the comeback. The biggest advantage the Colts have in this game (other than a massive talent gap) is the knowledge that they can and have come back.  If the Jets get down early, they aren’t likely to pull off the upset, but if the Colts trail, they know they can come back and pull the game out in the end.  The Jets offense is so putrid that the Indy will stay in the game no matter what the score. If it comes down to one drive at the end, the Colts are well prepared to turn it into the game winning points.

15.  Watch the flip flop-The media has hyped the Jets all week. I honestly believe it is a cynical attempt to keep the New York market glued to the TVs.  However, most of the analysts and experts will bail on the Jets at the last minute and flock toward Indy.  Ratings are good to get, but once you’ve got them, it’s better to be right.  The predictions will swing heavily to Indy over the weekend.

16. Watch the strategy.  The Jets are a mess in their two minute drill. They waste timeouts.  They never seem to know when to challenge.  Meanwhile Jim Caldwell pushes all the button perfectly each week.  Perhaps his greatest test will be his willingness to man up on 4th and short inside the Jet 40.  He simply cannot punt in that situation.  In the end, I think Rex Ryan is bringing a knife to a gun fight when it comes to managing games.  Caldwell is meticulous and has probably already thought through every scenario.  Watch for Ryan to make the big mistake.

17. Watch the turnover differential.  If the Jets don’t get points off of turnovers, they won’t get points.  A punt is a good play on Sunday, so fans need to be patient with the offense as they take their time.  As long as Indy is careful with the football they ought to be able to put the game away.  Indy can’t afford interceptions.

18.  Watch for Miami.  I can’t see the Jets scoring enough to stay in this game.  Considering that 20 points would be enough to keep it close, that should tell you how little I think of the Jets offense.  I like the Colts to dominate.  DZ says Indy 24-10.  Demond will check in later.