The New York Jets are in trouble.
As everyone knows, they try to control what Mark Sanchez does and put him in positions to make big, but safe plays.
The Jets have scored 38 offensive touchdowns this season (including the playoffs). 11 of them have come from 29 yards out or more. That's nearly 30% of their total touchdowns. In the playoffs, that ratio has sky rocketed. 3 of the Jets 5 playoff touchdowns have come on plays of at least 39 yards. It's clear that though the Jets are a run heavy team, they depend on big plays to take the pressure off Sanchez. When a team has a young quarterback, they know that long 10 or 15 play drives are going to be hard to come by. They seek to exploit mistakes in coverage and set up big plays. They know they can't afford the long brutal drives because they inevitably lead to multiple third downs where the quarter back HAS to make a play. It is a critical factor in Jets wins. On the season they have scored a long touchdown in 6 of their 11 wins. The only teams they've beaten without a big play for a score were Buffalo, Tennessee, Carolina, Indianapolis (though they did have a kick return and a fumble returned for scores), and the Pats early in the season.
Now here's the bad news for the Jets:
The Colts don't allow big play touchdowns. Or big plays of any kind, really.
On the season, the Colts have allowed just 29 touchdowns. Of those, just four were longer than 17 yards, and two of those (21 and 41 yard passes by the Bills) came in the final game with backups playing in a snow storm. Other than that, Indy allowed just two legitimate long scores on the season. One was the 64 yard run by Frank Gore where two players ran into each other, and the other was a 63 yard pass from Brady to Moss. You'll have that every once in a while.
As for big plays of any type, the Colts allowed the fewest passing plays of 20 yards or more in the league with 27 (four fewer than the Jets). They were 8th in plays of 40+ yards, but if you take out the ball Owens caught in week 17, they jump to 5th. They allowed the 10th fewest runs of 20 yards or more (9), but allowed four of those in the final 2 1/2 quarters against the Bills. 5 runs of that length would have lead the NFL. They allowed only one run of 40+ yards this year, the Gore TD.
The simple fact is that this matchup is a nightmare for the Jets offense. The Colts are going to take away the big from the Jets, which means that they'll have to score in other ways. One is obviously special teams. Unfortunately for the Jets, they have only one such score on the season. Granted it did come against the Colts, but it was moments after the players had been informed the starters would be sitting in the second half. That return is also the only one the Colts have given up this season. While it could happen again, the odds would certainly seem to be against it.
So if they can't get big plays and can't count on returns, the Jets will have to lean on their defense to create turnovers and scoring opportunities for the offense.
Ah, but there's the rub. The Colts defense has been ridiculous at keeping other teams out of the end zone after turnovers. Only twice this season has an opponent converted an Indy turnover into a touchdown. The first was at Jacksonville and the second was the Painter fumble that the Jets scored on. If the plan is to create short fields for the offense, it could work, but is seems unlikely those fields will result in touchdowns.
So all that's left to the Jets is to hope for long drives that will end with excellent red zone execution. The problem is that the Jets are just 18th in the league in converting red zone chances for touchdowns at 50%. The Colts defense is 9th in the league at 47%. So that means any red zone opportunity for the Jets will be a coin flip proposition at best.
Let's assume for a moment that the Colts managed to score 17-20 points. That's a safe guess based on the previous matchup. Frankly, I think it's low, but we'll give it to the Jets as their best case scenario. They've allowed 14 points each of their last two games, but both featured multiple missed field goals, and the odds of Indy missing more than one on Sunday are low. My question is how are the Jets going to get the 21 points they'll likely need to win this game? Where are they going to come from?
Finally I'll leave you all with this stat:
The 2009 Jets are 1-6 when allowing at least 16 points in a game. They are 0-5 when allowing 18 points or more.