New York Jets “Slash” Brad Smith should be a key player when the J-E-T-S take on the Colts in a rematch of the 2009 AFC Championship Game
New York Jets (11-5) at Indianapolis Colts (10-6), Saturday Jan. 8th, 8:20 p.m. ET on NBC
Broadcast Team: Al Michaels, Cris Collinsworth, and Andrea Kremer (Field Reporter)
The pressure is on for both the Colts and NY Jets as these two teams that entered the 2010 NFL Season with high expectations had a bumpier ride to the postseason than expected. This one will be a rematch of last season’s AFC Championship Game and revenge will be in the air as New York will look to avenge the Colts’ 30-17 victory that sent them to Super Bowl XLIV a year ago. Jets TE Dustin Keller said of the opportunity to face the Colts in the postseason again, “It’s an opportunity to get back at them. We owe them one. They got us last year.”
The NY Jets are a tough physical team that loves to run the football — NFL’s No. 4 rushing attack –with emerging running back Shonn Greene (304 yards in the 2009 playoffs) and veteran LaDainian Tomlinson Plus Gang Green also features an attacking defense led by shutdown corner Darrelle Revis. Speaking of the Jets’ defense, their coach who loves to do the talking for his players had a lot to say going into this one. New York brash head coach Rex Ryan said of facing the Colts in the playoffs, “We are not going to Indianapolis to lose, we are going there to win. That’s our mentality and always will be. I believe in our football team. I know that’s an excellent football team we’re going to play but they’re getting our best shot. This will be a great game and as long as the Jets win, I’ll sign up for it.” But these are the Colts and the defending AFC champions are return to the playoffs for the ninth consecutive season, tying the Dallas Cowboys (1975-83) for the most postseason appearances in a row.
If the Colts are to succeed, QB Peyton Manning (regular season stats: 450-679, 4700 yards (2nd in NFL), 33 TDs (2nd in the NFL), 17 INTs, and a 91.9 QB rating) will need to protect the football and make some plays down the field to his remaining healthy weapons including WR Reggie Wayne, TE Jacob Tamme (67 rec, 631 yards and 4 TDs in 10 games since replacing starter Dallas Clark), and WR Pierre Garcon. Even as good as Manning and his offensive passing weapons are, the Colts must find a running game to keep the Jets from pinning their ears back on every play – allowed an NFL 3rd best 291.5 yards per game. Running backs Joseph Addai, Dommenick Rhodes (back from UFL and averaged almost 5 yards per carry in 3 games back) and Donald Brown will need to find a way to move the chains against the Jets’ high level tackling team. The Jets can get pressure from variety of places (LB Jason Taylor, LB Bryan Thomas, and others) and their goal is to make Manning have “happy feet” by hitting him on every pass play – ala Rex Ryan’s Father Buddy Ryan’s former Eagles defenses of the late 1980’s – so Revis and cornerback partner Antonio Cromartie (3 INTs) can get turnovers.
On defense, Indianapolis will need another strong defensive performance, like in their 2009 AFC Championship win over the NY Jets, this Saturday. The Colts will have to apply pressure from Pro Bowl DE’s Robert Mathis (1 sacks) and Dwight Freeney as Jets rookie QB Mark Sanchez (regular season stats: 278-507, 3291 yards, 17 TDs, 13 INTs and 75.3 QB rating) has been known to turn the football over when uncomfortable in the pocket. The goal of Jets’ offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer is to pound the rock with his huge offensive line filled with current and former Pro Bowl players (center Nick Mangold, OT Damien Woody, and OT D’Brickshaw Ferguson) while making the youngster throw 25 times or less, especially since Sanchez is working through a very bad bruised throwing shoulder. The Jets love to use their ground attack to setup Sanchez – who guided his team to the postseason for the 2nd consecutive year – throwing downfield to big play receiver and former Super Bowl hero Santonio Holmes. However Freeney and the rest of the Colts small and quick defense more than likely have a plan to shutdown L.T and Greene. Also watch for Keller against the Colts’ Cover 2 defense as their secondary is beat-up (starting two backup corners), but watch for former Pro Bowl safety Antoine Bethea to make some plays too.
There is no love lost between these two teams going back a ways as the Jets will forever be known as the team that put the AFL on the map in 1968 by beating the old Baltimore Colts in Super Bowl III in Miami, Florida. These two teams have met three other times in the postseason with the Jets’ currently holding a 2-1 edge, but the Colts own a 40-26 edge in the regular season series and have won 7 of their last 10 against the J-E-T-S. I fully expect a close game as the Colts needed 24 unanswered points after trailing by a deficit of 17-6 late in the 2nd quarter of the aforementioned 2009 AFC Championship Game.
Watch for Jets Wildcat QB/receiver Brad Smith, a former dual threat passer at Missouri, in this battle as he connected with receiver Jerricho Cotchery for a 45-yard pass and ran a kickoff back for a touchdown in last season’s playoff tilt. Smith also was second in the NFL in kick returns, finishing the season with an average of 28.6 yards. As always turnovers –Colts were 8-1 in 2010 when Manning didn’t throw an INT and 0-4 when he had at least 2 INTs – and special teams will be huge factors in this one. Speaking of turnovers, the Jets clearly have the edge as they are (+9) in turnover ratio while the Colts are a (-4) even though they have been protecting the ball at the end of the 2010 regular season. And if we are talking about special teams, this game features to of the better kickers in the NFL (Jets’ Nick Folk, 127 points and Colts Super Bowl hero Adam Vinateri, 129 points).
LV’s Pick: There is no doubt this game is going to be close as both teams are not as explosive as last season. Injuries have hurt both squads, but neither will make any excuses when they line it up on Saturday Night. However when I look at this match-up, there is one name that matters, Peyton Manning. Yes, I know he is only 9-9 lifetime in the playoffs, but this guy is the NFL’s ultimate competitor. Manning and the rest of the Colts will move their current winning streak to five games as they head to New England for another heated match-up with the hated Patriots. Watch for “ice water” Vinateri in crunch time — Colts win 27-24
Lloyd Vance is a Sr. NFL Writer for Taking It to the House and an award-winning member of the Pro Football Writers of America (PFWA)