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.