After the sheer exhilaration of victory against the Packers on Sunday, the Colts could be forgiven for a slight emotional deflation. The optimistic amongst us however will hope for another convincing performance this Sunday against the Jets, a team shorn of their two most significant players in the skill positions. With Darrelle Revis and Santonio Holmes, I would tag the Jets as favourites for this one. Without, I give that honour to the Colts, even with the significant issues on the current roster.
In order to win, the Colts are going to have to do their best in several key matchups. I'll be concentrating in particular on three such matchups:
Reggie Wayne vs. Antonio Cromartie
Wayne has been rightfully lauded for his performance against Green Bay, with his ability to gain separation complemented perfectly by sharply run routes and immaculate hands. Wayne clearly doesn't possess the speed that can threaten the likes of Cromartie deep downfield, but what he lacks in athletic ability he makes up for in guile and veteran craft. While I like Cromartie's physical tools as much as anyone, I think he can be victimised against excellent quarterback-receiver combos with good rapport. Some would perhaps say I'm overconfident in classifying Wayne and Luck in that category already, but it's all we can really rely on at this point on offense.
There is however potential for Luck to cross the line in terms of testing Cromartie, in that he may not be used to throwing at individuals with the range and speed of the Jets cornerback. I'll sit on the fence and hedge that Wayne will have a very good performance against Cromartie, with a couple of misreads around the field from Luck resulting in interceptions. It's a Rex Ryan defense, after all.
After the jump we'll take a look at the other match-ups I'll be watching.
Battle of Special Teams
While I favour the Colts in the game as a whole, it's clearly poised to be close on the scoreboard. In such games, pivotal plays can and do transpire on special teams, both in terms of field position and direct points. The Jets possess a significant threat in this area through Joe McKnight on kickoffs, who is averaging a sizeable 29.5 yards per clip with a solitary touchdown, fourth in the league per return. He's complemented in the punt return game by Jeremy Kerley, who's third in the league in his respective return category. Their coverage units clearly aren't too shabby and even have the potential Tebow factor, all of which adds up to a top of the pile ST ranking from the Football Outsiders so far this year.
I've been slightly impressed with the effort from the Colts ST units so far this year, though it's not saying much from a quality standpoint considering what we've had to endure for years. We do possess explosive playmakers who can bust a return, but the more pressing concern is to protect the football from our return perspective and contain the two Jets returners while on coverage.
D'Brickashaw Ferguson/Austin Howard vs. Dwight Freeney/Jerry Hughes
With the Jets running game averaging a paltry 3.2 yards per carry, it's essential that the Colts pressure Mark Sanchez and disrupt the Jets passing game. While he's variable at the best of times, Sanchez is liable to crumble when consistently pressured. His ball security is questionable, and i'll look for Freeney and Hughes to take advantage of this in the game. In years past, we could have counted on Freeney lining up from the 4-3 RE spot against Ferguson, who was consistently one of the better pass protectors. We now possess the advantage of surprise and subterfuge, and while Ferguson isn't nearly the player he once was, it will still be useful to match Freeney up against the woeful Howard on the right side of the offense.
Hughes needs to kick on having shown signs of development earlier in the year, and given that Robert Mathis will be out for two to three games, he'll have the chance to prove himself, as will the other complementary rushers. I favour the rushers in this confrontation, though it'll certainly make for interesting watching.
Well, those are the matchups that I view as crucial on Sunday. I'd be interested to hear other perspectives on what to watch, so feel free to comment below. Until next time.