Hitchhiker’s Guide to Colts at Jets, Week 6

The Indianapolis Colts (2-2) travel to New Jersey to take on the New York Jets (2-3) with a chance to earn an over-.500 record for the first time since the end of the 2010 regular season. Will the Colts be able to overcome not only a rash of injuries to key players but also any emotional drain they may feel after their dramatic 30-27 win over the Green Bay Packers? Or will the Jets, who have quickly gone from Super Bowl hopefuls to a team that looks like it may be in danger of missing the playoffs altogether, be able to contain the explosive Colts offense while overcoming their own offensive deficiencies?

After the jump, we’ll take an in-depth look at Colts at Jets, the stats, the injuries, and the match-ups that will determine the outcome of the game.

 

Tale of the tape

How do the Colts and Jets measure up against each other on offense and defense? Let us take a look. NFL.com conventional rankings are listed first, with FootballOutsiders.com advanced stats (DVOA) in parenthesis.  

Indianapolis Colts

New York Jets

Offense Defense Offense Defense
Passing 6th (15th) 15th (21st) 28th (31st) 6th (14th)
Rushing 19th (18th) 25th (23rd) 25th (25th) 31st (22nd)
Total 10th (13th) 19th (25th) 28th (29th) 20th (18th)

   

When the Colts have the ball

Indianapolis Colts Offense New York Jets Defense
87 WR R. Wayne 96 DE M. Wilkerson
80 TE C. Fleener 91 NT S. Po’Uha
74 LT A. Castonzo 70 DT M. DeVito
72 LG J. Linkenbach 58 OLB B. Thomas
64  C S. Satele 57 WLB B. Scott
75 RG M. McGlynn 52 MLB D. Harris
69 RT W. Justice 97 OLB C. Pace
83 TE D. Allen 20 CB K. Wilson
11 WR D. Avery 30 SS L. Landry
12 QB A. Luck 33 FS E. Smith
33 RB V. Ballard 31 CB A. Cromartie

The success of the Colts offense is all about Luck, Andrew Luck, that is. A quick comparison between the 2012 Colts offense and the 2011 Colts offense shows us a similar group of WRs, similar RBs, a slightly worse OL, and a slightly better group of TEs. That’s not to say there isn’t a lot of talent on this Colts offense – there is, it’s just young and inexperienced – but, by and large, this year’s Colts offense is pretty similar to last season’s. So why is this year’s offense so much more dynamic and dangerous? It’s a quarterback league, and the difference between the 2011 trio of Painter, Orlovsky, and Collins and Andrew Luck is like trading in your unicycle for a Ferrari.

If the Colts are to come out of Metlife Stadium with a win on Sunday, it will be on the arms, legs, and mind of Andrew Luck. Luck doesn’t need to do anything extraordinary to beat the Jets defense: play within himself and the system, take what the defense gives him, and play a smart, patient game, and he and the offense should be able to move the ball and put up points.

In the passing game, I expect the Jets to use multiple, disguised schemes to slow down the Colts offense. They will vary their coverages in an attempt to confuse Luck – he’s yet to face a defense as aggressive and creative as the Jets – and to take advantage of the occasional bad decision. I also expect Jets HC Rex Ryan to find a way to attack Luck’s tendency to lock-on to WR Reggie Wayne. Disguised double teams, press coverage, man-under concepts will all be employed to not only eliminate the easy throws to Wayne, but also in an attempt to bait Luck into a few interceptions.

The Jets defense isn’t quite the powerhouse it used to be – they are missing CB Darrelle Revis in the secondary and their pass rush has been mediocre at best – but they are still a talented, intelligent bunch, and Luck’s best bet for success is patience. He’ll have a few openings to take shots down field and Reggie Wayne will work himself open, but not forcing either of those throws is the key. And maintaining that patience should be easy, as it’s unlikely that Luck will find the need to engage in a shootout with the anemic Jets offense.

In the running game, the Colts will be hampered by the injury to RB Donald Brown that will sideline him for the next 2-3 weeks. In his place, they’ll start “The Lounge Singer” Vick Ballard. The rookie was turning heads in the preseason, causing some fans and bloggers to wonder whether he should be the starter entering the regular season. But 42 yards on 21 carries have helped temper expectations, and fans are now hoping that Ballard can be a suitable stopgap until Brown returns.

Success on the ground won’t be out of the question, as Ballard and the Colts will be facing one of the worst run defenses in the league, but they must attack the Jets intelligently. And the best way for them to accomplish that is by better understanding their own offensive strengths and weaknesses. The Colts aren’t a power running team – the interior of their OL is not suited for these power runs – and to continue to call a steady dose of up-the-middle runs is slightly less productive than slamming their heads into the nearest wall.

What the Colts do have, however, is a good group of blocking WRs and TEs, and some decent run blocking tackles, and so the Colts should stick with a diet rich in outside runs if they want to have a balanced offensive attack on Sunday. If Ballard and the running game can find success, it should loosen up the Jets back end as Luck begins to mix play action into the passing game. And as they showed against the Packers, if they can get production from both the running and passing games, the Colts offense is as dangerous as any in the NFL this season.

When the Jets have the ball

Indianapolis Colts Defense New York Jets Offense
90 DE C. Redding 84 WR S. Hill
99 DT A. Johnson 60 LT D. Ferguson
94 DE D. Nevis 68 LG M. Slauson
92 OLB J. Hughes 74 C  N. Mangold
53 ILB K. Conner 65 RG B. Moore
50 ILB J. Freeman 77 RT A. Howard
93 OLB D. Freeney 81 TE D. Keller
23 CB V. Davis 11 WR J. Kerley
28 SS T. Zbikowski 6 QB M. Sanchez
41 FS A. Bethea 38 FB J. Conner
25 CB J. Powers 23 RB S. Greene

Like the Colts, the performance of the Jets offense can be directly linked to the play of its quarterback. Unfortunately for the Jets, they have Mark Sanchez and not Andrew Luck. The Jets rank near the bottom in every offensive statistic, and, though he’s shown flashes of “good”, the overall poor play of Sanchez is the biggest reason.

Some would argue that Sanchez isn’t totally to blame for the Jets struggles: RB Shonn Greene is rushing for a paltry 2.9ypc and he lacks a true dynamic #1 WR, but many of the issues that affect Sanchez also affect Andrew Luck. At the end of the day, it’s the job of the quarterback to take stock of the offense, understand its strength and weaknesses, and go out and perform. Sanchez has failed to do this throughout his career, throwing away the prime years of one of the NFL’s most dominant defenses. Now, barring a miracle, Sanchez is likely in his last year with the Jets, unless he’s able to help lead his injury-depleted team into the playoffs after a 2-3 start.

In the passing game, the Colts will need to find a way to pressure Sanchez without the services of their best player, OLB Robert Mathis. Mathis suffered a knee injury in the win over Green Bay and will be sidelined for the next 2-3 weeks. Until he can return, the Colts will be relying on OLBs Dwight Freeney and Jerry Hughes, along with some well-timed blitzes, to get pressure on opposing QBs. Well-timed, however, is the key. Sanchez isn’t a great QB, pressured or not, and over-committing to the blitz, leaving openings in the secondary which allow him to make easy reads and completions, is the worst possible strategy for the Colts.

Look for the Colts to employ the same coverages Sunday that they used against Aaron Rodgers in the second half of their week 5 game. That tight, aggressive coverage will exploit Sanchez’s poor decision making and lack of patience, and should afford the Colts DBs a few opportunities to create some turnovers. Whatever the Jets game plan on Sunday, the Colts must not allow big plays and quick scores: force Sanchez to lead a long, methodical drive, and then be ready to fair catch the impending punt.

On the ground, the Jets 25th-ranked running game has struggled to move the ball. As with the offense, preventing the big play, forcing the Jets to remain patient with Shonn Greene and his 2.9ypc, will likely result in a lot of punting situations.

Because the Colts offense will likely have to play a patient, smart game against the Jets defense, the Colts defense will need to force a lot of short drives, giving Luck as many opportunities to crack the code as possible. If they can do that, if they can turn this into a game of “which quarterback can play a smarter, more patient game”, the Colts should come away with the win. If they can’t, if they give up 5ypc in the running game, and allow a few cheap plays to the passing game, the Colts will struggle to dig themselves out of a hole against a hungry, desperate team.

Special Note: Tebow only has 16 offensive plays at QB this year, 14 runs and 2 passes, but one has to imagine that the cries for TebowTime are getting louder in Jets Land. If Tebow should come in, the Colts defense would do well to focus on stopping him on the ground. Much like our proposed game plan for the Jaguars: make him prove that he can beat you with his arm. Also watch for him in the punting game, as the Jets seem to be using him as a “punt protector” to add an extra dimension to their trick plays.

Five key match-ups

1. The Colts vs Emotions – Against Green Bay, the Colts were carried in part by their emotions, their desire to win one for their sick coach. Now that they’ve won that game, accomplished that first goal for Chuck Pagano, will there be a let down, a physical or mental drain of emotions? Will we see a repeat of last week’s first half where the Colts came out extremely flat and out of sync? Or did they learn how to harness those emotions during the second half?

More importantly, emotions can only carry you so far, and as the season progresses, the Colts focus must be on the players, the game plans, and the execution. The Jets aren’t a very good team on either side of the ball, and the Colts should be able to earn a victory for their coach by playing “within” themselves.

2. WR Reggie Wayne vs CB Antonio Cromartie – The Jets were dealt a major blow earlier this season when they lost their best player, CB Darrelle Revis, to a knee injury. In his absence, the Jets have elevated CB Antonio Cromartie to the #1 CB position and have used him to shadow the opposing #1 WR. Through 2 weeks, Cromartie has had success shutting down the 49ers #1 WR (the term #1 WR is relative) and Texans WR Andre Johnson. This week will be his stiffest test to-date, as he tries to contain the NFL’s best receiver (thus far), Reggie Wayne.

Through 4 games, Wayne leads the NFL in yards per game, receptions per game, and targets. While he’s provided an amazing security blanket for Luck, his ability to get open against Cromartie and the Jets defensive scheme will be vital: Luck has targeted Wayne an eye popping 60 times, which means that Luck is occasionally forcing throws to a covered Wayne. Jets HC Rex Ryan will attempt to exploit Luck’s tendency to lock onto Wayne by throwing a variety of disguised coverages at the WR/QB duo. Against an anemic offense such as the Jets, the last thing Luck and the Colts want to do is give up short fields (or, worse, defensive touchdowns), so recognizing coverages, working hard to get open, and patience will be paramount.

3. Colts OL vs Jets Pass Rush - Andrew Luck has shown time and again that if you give him time, he’ll make good things happen. The task of giving Luck time will fall on an offensive line that will once again be without LG Joe Reitz (he’ll be back as soon as Liam Neeson rescues him in Taken: #76), but should have its starters at the other four positions. While the Colts OL has been shaky at times, they should find success against a Jets pass rush that has only notched 5 sacks through 5 games and is ranked 27th in Adjusted Sack Rate.

If the OL can prevent the Jets defense from harassing Luck, he’ll have success attacking a Jets secondary that is missing its best player, Darrelle Revis. And if the Colts can put up a few early scores? That might be too much for this Jets team to overcome.

4. RB Vick Ballard vs His First Career NFL Start -With the news that RB Donald Brown will be out for the next 3 weeks with a knee injury, the Colts will turn to rookie RB Vick Ballard (or, as I like to call him, “The Lounge Singer”, because his name reminds me of a 1970s Vegas Crooner) to stabilize the running game. Ballard had an impressive preseason, but has failed to live up to the hype in the regular season, rushing for a meager 42 yards on 21 carries. There is some good news for Ballard entering this game, though.

First, the Colts don’t need him to be a superstar – this is Luck’s offense. All they ask of their RBs is to turn the occasional negative play into a positive, pick up about 4-ypc, and avoid turnovers. Ballard has all of the physical tools to do this, and more, it’s simply a matter of him going out on Sunday and executing.

The second piece of good news for Ballard is that the Jets run defense is pretty bad. According to conventional NFL stats, the Jets run defense is 31st in the NFL, surrendering 172.4ypg on the ground. FootballOutsiders.com’s DVOA ranks them a little better, placing them 22nd in the league.

While I don’t expect Ballard and the Colts to get close to 172 yards – heck, I doubt they break the 100-yard barrier – it won’t be about yardage totals, but efficiency. Avoid runs for a loss that put you in 2nd- and 3rd-and-long situations, pick up the occasional first down, and use the running game just enough to keep the Jets defense off balance. If Ballard can do those things, his first NFL start will be a good one.

5. Colts Secondary vs QB Mark Sanchez – Rex Ryan announced this week that he’s sticking with Mark Sanchez as the Jets starting quarterback. No matter what metric you use – DVOA, profootballfocus’ grades, QBRating, etc – Sanchez has been one of the worst QBs of the 2012 season.

Not all of this is his fault, he’s gotten no support from the Jets running game, his receivers are young and inconsistent, and his OL, once a strength of the Jets, has been shaky. But the point remains, Sanchez has failed to be productive, and the last thing the Colts want to do is give him any easy completions. Some of the onus will fall on the Colts front-7 getting pressure on Sanchez, but with Mathis out, the real work must be done by the Colts secondary.

How should they handle the Jets offense? By attacking the WRs, pressing them, playing tight, and forcing Sanchez to make contested throws into tight windows. If the Colts can do this consistently, they’ll not only shut down the Jets offense, they’ll put themselves in position to pick up a few interceptions along the way.

The injury reports

NOTE: This guide comes out Thursdays, official injury statuses are not released until Friday, the Probable or Questionable designation in these reports is based on Wed/Thur participation only.

Indianapolis Colts 

Player Name Injury (STATUS)
OLB Dwight Freeney Ankle (Questionable) 
CB Vontae Davis Ankle (Questionable)  
DE Fili Moala Knee (Questionable)
NT Martin Tevaseu Ankle (Questionable)   
RB Donald Brown Knee (OUT       
OLB Robert Mathis        Knee (OUT)
LG Joe Reitz   Knee (OUT)
RB Mewelde Moore  Ankle (Probable)
C Samson Satele  Knee (Probable)
LB Pat Angerer  Foot (Questionable)

 

New York Jets

Player Name Injury (STATUS)
LB Nick Bellore Shoulder (Probable)
DB Aaron Berry Ribs (Probable)
CB Antonio Cromartie  Shoulder (Probable)
TE Jeff Cumberland  Ribs (Probable)
DT Kenrick Ellis Knee (Questionable)
FB John Conner Hamstring (Questionable)
WR Clyde Gates Shoulder (Questionable)
WR Stephen Hill Hamstring (Probable)
OT Austin Howard Back (Probable)
TE Dustin Keller Hamstring (Probable)
WR Jeremy Kerley Finger (Probable)
S LaRon Landry Heel (Questionable)
C Nick Mangold Ankle (Questionable)
G Brandon Moore Hip (Probable)
LB Calvin Pace Achilles (Probable)
DT Sione Po’uha Back (Questionable)
QB Mark Sanchez Back (Probable)
LB Bart Scott Toe (Probable)
OG Matt Slauson Knee (Probable)
S Eric Smith Hip/Knee (Probable)
LB Bryan Thomas Hamstring (Probable)
CB Darrelle Revis Knee (OUT)

 
 

Series notes

  • Note that these are regular season stats! :)
  • The Colts and Jets have squared off 66 times, with the Colts holding a 40-26 lead in the series.
  • QB Andrew Luck, TEs Fleener and Allen, RB Ballard and WR Hilton have never faced the Jets, or most other NFL teams, for that matter. It will obviously take a few years for them to accumulate some stats against a majority of NFL teams.
  • WR Reggie Wayne has faced the Jets four times. His stats: 17 catches, 253 yards, 0 TDs.
  • WR Donnie Avery has faced the Jets one time in his career. In that game he caught 2 passes for 29 yards and had 1 run for 13 yards.
  • DE/OLB Dwight Freeney notched 3 sacks in 2 games against the Jets.
  • QB Mark Sanchez has faced the Colts once, in that game he was 12/19 for 106 yards, 0 TD, 0 INTs. That’s Mark Sanchez for ya.
  • The Jets two starting WRs, Hill and Kerley, have yet to face the Colts
  • RB Shonn Greene has 16 careers for 95 yards and 0 TDs in his 1 career game against the Colts
  • TE Dustin Keller has 3 catches for 19 yards in his career (1 game) against the Colts. That’s Mark Sanchez for ya.
  • OLB Calvin Pace has 1 sack in his career against the Colts

 

Identifying the coverage

Where(Visually): CBS

Who(Visually): Jim Nantz and Phil Simms

Where(Audio): 1070 AM The Fan WFNI and 97.1 HANK FM

Who(Audio): Bob Lamey and Will Wolford 

 Is the Game on in your area? Good question! The people at The506 will be able to tell you.

Prediction

Colts – 21 , Jets -17

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