18 Things to Watch For During Sunday's Colts/Jets Game
Run Sanchez! Run!
Last week, the Colts came out on the right side of the shootout that we predicted. This Christmas week, all the focus and attention is on who is actually going to play for the Colts, and just how much action they'll see. While no one knows the answer at this point, there are several things you can watch for:
1. Watch the best corner in the NFL. If Derrelle Revis isn't the unquestioned best CB in the NFL, he's right there with Woodson and Asomuga. He has shut down every big time WR he's played this year. The Jets like to iso him on the best WR the other team has and let him take that player out of the game. The Jets are third best in the league against #1 WRs (Buffalo and New Orleans are ahead of them), so Reggie Wayne might be invisible whether he plays much or not.
2. Watch for the blitz. Early indications are that the Colts are going to play their starters on Sunday, but watch for Rex Ryan to make Jim Caldwell think twice about how long he wants Manning in the game. The Jets blitz more than any team in football in a normal game, and any coach with a brain (paging Jack Del Rio) would bring the house against Manning every down, even dropping in a few late hits if necessary. It might lead to a few big plays early, but if the Jets manage to hit Manning enough, Caldwell might get cold feet and yank the MVP instead of trusting Tony Ugoh to protect him. Of course Manning kills the blitz, so it could mean lots of big plays early for the Colts.
3. Watch for the Bizarro Colts. Many have wondered if Manning might lose the MVP award by sitting the last two games. In fact, if he plays only sparingly, it could be the biggest boon to his case. It will only take a few drives with Curtis Painter at the wheel to reveal to the world just what a mess the Colts would be in if in fact Manning weren't the quarterback. It's been a long time since the Colts were truly an uncompetitive bunch without hope for the future (re: 1997), but we could get a glimpse of what life is like for franchises like Cleveland on Sunday. The Indy starters are expected to play, but I haven't heard any promises that they'll be in for the whole game. Personally, I think it would be cruel to expose Painter to that much pressure. His entrance in the game will be met with a cascade of boos, and every failure will be treated harshly by the crowd. Those are not ideal circumstances for a young QB to get his first playing time.
4. Watch for the Invisible Man. The quiet story of this season has been how much better the Colts could have been if Anthony Gonzalez had been healthy for more than a few plays. With the news that he's been put on IR this week and with Garcon hurting, the Colts might try to trot out Hank "I played a half and no one noticed" Baskett. It's just as likely they'll set up with a two TE set, but Baskett will be looking to double his catch total for the year from 1 to 2.
5. Watch for the last gasp. Rumor is that Adam Vinatieri is going to try and kick this week. He has two weeks to convince the Colts he can make kicks in the playoffs (insert rolling out of bed joke here), or else he may well have seen his final action with the team. He's due $3 million next year and the team would save $2 million real dollars by cutting him. That's a lot of money to pay a kicker. It's too much money to pay a 39 year old kicker coming of hip surgery. He would be the 11th highest paid Colt next year. If he is in fact 100% and makes kicks all playoffs long, he could still be back (especially with no salary cap). He has two weeks to prove he can do it.
6. Watch the best defense in the NFL. The Jets are a mess offensively, but have won half their games behind a smothering defense. The Jets have the best D by conventional measures and by DVOA. They have the second best defensive passer rating allowed, and have given up just 8 TD passes on the season. The good news is that the Jets can be scored upon. They've given up 24 points or more 5 times and are 0-5 in those games. There's a lot of pressure on the Jets defense as they have not won a game in which they allowed more than 17 points all season.
7. Watch the limp. Mark "Matt" Sanchez has had fits trying to slide this season, and as a result now hobbles around wearing double knee braces. Dwight Freeney expects to play on Sunday. Hee hee. Ha ha. Hehehehehehahhaaaaaa HAAAAA! Sanchez had better start hobbling for his life now.
8. Watch for #4. Manning really only needs a win to lock up his record fourth MVP award, but any kind of respectable statistical day against a tough defense would help. Manning is also vying for the NFL Passing Title, and currently lags behind Tom Brady in DVOA because Brady has a massive opponent adjustment for the season. A good game by Manning could sow up all three titles.
9. Watch for the watch. With no word from the Colts guaranteeing the starters will play the whole game, every Indy possession will begin with everyone wondering if Manning is coming back out on the field. If Indy opens up a 14 point lead, you'll hear Dan Dierdorf say with a serious tone, "The Colts have to be thinking about pulling Manning from this game! I wonder about the wisdom of what they are doing, exposing him to this kind of risk!". Manning will then throw another touchdown pass and Greg Gumbell will reply, "You're a dumbass, Dan". Hey, it could happen.
10. Watch the picks. Sanchez has thrown 3 picks in the 6 wins he has and 14 in the 7 losses. Forcing Sanchez to toss the ball wildly around the field will be the key the to a big Indy win. The Colts will look to force him to take chances. Rumor has it that Rex Ryan has issued him an armband with color coded play calls to indicate the level of risk he can take with each throw. His arm band this Sunday is just solid red.
11. Watch for no correlation. The Jets have the #1 run offense in football, for all the good it does them. Thomas Jones has rushed for 100 yards 6 times this season. The Jets are 3-3 when he does. He has rushed for 75 yards or less 6 times. The Jets are 3-3. He has twice rushed for between 78-99 yards. The Jets are 1-1. When he goes for more than 120 yards, the Jets are 1-1. When he runs for less than 45 yards, the Jets are 1-1. In other words, much too much will be made out of Thomas Jones' importance to the Jet offense.
12. Watch the scrum. With 6 teams in the AFC sitting at 7-7 and two more at 8-6 everyone feels they are still alive for a playoff spot, including the Jets. Unfortunately, there are so many teams vying that the Jets can't get caught scoreboard watching. They have to focus on winning the game and letting everything shake out. The key game will be the Steelers Ravens game at 1 on Sunday. If Pittsburgh wins, the door is wide open for a log jam. A Ravens win would all but sew up a spot for them and reduce the hopes of teams like the Jets to almost nothing.
13. Watch for Brown. Don Brown has been out several weeks, and the Colts know they'll need him for the playoffs. The big play threat that he brings could open up a new dimension for the offense, and now is the perfect time to give Addai extra rest and let Brown take the bulk of the carries in the final two games. It will help him get in rhythm as well as spelling Addai. 10-15 carries from Brown would be exciting for the Indy faithful.
14. Watch the forgotten men. Perhaps my biggest miscalculation about the 2009 season was thinking the Colts would go heavy with two tight ends. First, I didn't expect Gonzo to go down after just a few plays, but I also admit I vastly underestimated Collie's emergence as a real option from the slot. Now with Garcon probably out, it's time once again for the Colts to get familiar with the likes of Santi, Robinson and Tamme. They've only combined for 18 catches for 159 yards and no TDs this season, so now is the time to get them work.
15. Watch the fantasy. Most fantasy leagues are wrapping up on Sunday, including the 18to88 league where Demond's team is playing for the championship against Eric Frohiep's "Triple Threat" squad. Demond is off to an early lead thanks to a big game by Chris Johnson, but Frohiep sports a certain horseshoe wearing Superman at quarterback. The winner gets two preseason tickets next year, so we are obviously rooting hard for Demond because we are cheap and hate to give stuff away.
16. Watch Phillip Wheeler. Wheeler was noticeable for the first time last week. He made several plays and seems to be understanding his role in the defense better. With Clint Session likely out with a knee injury, the Colts will depend more than ever on Wheeler to be in the right place to make some plays. If he can develop into an impact player late in this season, it could elevate the Colts' defense at just the right time.
17. Watch for milestones. Several Colts have individual records they still hope to attain this season. Clark needs a TD to match HoF TE John Mackey's career record. He also needs just 3 yards and 11 catches for 1,000 and 100 on the season. Manning is looking to lead the NFL in yards and TDs. Addai needs just 28 receiving yards to pass his career high. Reggie Wayne needs 8 catches for 100 and 13 for a career high 105. Freeney needs two sacks to post his second best season sack wise. Austin Collie needs 13 catches to break Bill Brook's Colts record for most catches by a rookie. The Colts have always worked hard to give players the chance to hit milestones late in the season, so keep an eye on these.
18. Watch for the record. No Colts team has ever won 15 regular season games. This will be the first. DZ likes the Colts 24-3. Demond will check in his pick later.