(note to Jets fans: I do this column every week, so don't freak out that we are overlooking your team)
Obviously, nothing is in the bag yet, but should the Colts be fortunate enough to advance tomorrow, we'll all be glued to the NFC Championship game to see who they would be playing in Miami.
The Saints/Vikes matchup is a difficult one to parse because both teams are excellent at different areas of the game and in some ways neither is an attractive matchup for the Colts. Demond and I argued the point this week, so I'm going to take a crack at arguing the Vikings are the best matchup for the Colts and maybe later he'll show up take on the Saints.
I think Indy would rather face Minnesota than New Orleans because I honestly just think the Saints are the better team. I break it down like this:
Better Coach: Payton over Childress (and it's a landslide). Payton is more likely to come up with a good scheme on offense to beat the Colts D, and he's far less likely to butcher the clock at the end of the half and game.
Better QB: Brees over Favre (by quite a bit). Favre is more likely to get sacked (the Vikes are middle of the pack in adjusted sack rate) and more likely to make a stupid throw under pressure. It feels like now is Drew Brees's time whereas Favre is playing on muscle memory at this point.
Better Secondary: I don't worry too much about defensive lines, because we've learned that Peyton isn't going down no matter what. The question is who can cover the Colts WRs. This isn't close. While the overall DVOA for the two defenses is almost identical, they are polar opposites. The Vikes play great run D, and are AWFUL on pass defense. The Saints are the reverse. I'd much rather play the team that can't stop the pass.
Better Run Game: Believe it or not, the numbers are clear. The Saints have the most efficient run game in the NFL. The Vikings are 23rd in FO's rankings one spot BEHIND the Colts.
I would always rather play a stupid coach, a QB who could go off half cocked, a crapy secondary and a team that struggles to run.
There are advantages the Vikes have though. They are have incredible special teams. They are third in the league, mostly due to insane kickoff return numbers. The Saints are near the bottom. However, now that Reggie Bush is returning kicks, perhaps that advantage for the Vikes becomes a wash.
The Vikings also have a better defensive line, whereas the Saints rely on blitzes. Ooooh, we love Manning against the blitz.
Taken as a whole, I can't see the Saints losing tomorrow night, but if the Colts advance first, I'll certainly be rooting for the Vikings to be their opponent.
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.
This week we offer you a Q/A with "Wonder" a Jets fan and regular contributor at UltimateNYG.com. He was gracious enough to answer some of our questions about this Sunday's game. You can check out my responses to his queries here.
One of the Jets major advantages on Sunday is their #1 ranked run game. Unfortunately for them, running well hasn't always correlated to winning football games this year.
Consider in their 11 wins, they rushed for an average of 188 yards a game (179 if you take out the two gift wins at the end of the season). That's certainly a potent attack.
The problem is that in their 7 losses, they've rushed for 147 yards a game. This season they've lost 6 games when they rushed for more than 100 yards and 5 games when they rushed for more than 120 yards, and even lost a game after rushing for 300 yards.
The Jets don't need just a 'big' game rushing the ball, they need a monster game rushing the ball in order to be effective. In only two of their 11 wins did they rush for less than 139 yards.
The question is, how likely are they to gash the Colts for that kind of yardage?
Indy gave up at least 139 yards on the ground five times this season. Unfortunately for the Jets, three of those occurred in the final three games when Indy began to alter the defensive rotation. In the first Jets game for example, the Colts allowed 202 yards on the ground. That is certainly a number the Jets will point to for confidence. Unfortunately for them, 136 of those yards were gained after the move to pull the starters.
Let's set aside the final three games of the season for a moment, and focus instead the other two games where the Colts allowed big rushing totals. One was against the Saint Louis Rams. In that game, Indy had a 21-3 lead, and had limited Jackson to 20 yards on 8 carries. In the second half, Indy played soft and let the Rams run, but the game was already put away. The Colts won 42-6.
The other game may have some bearing on this one. In the Colts' win over the Dolphins early in the season, Miami shoved the ball down the throat of the Indy D to the tune of 239 yards on the ground. Moreover, they did their heavy damage with the Wildcat formation. They had 13 Wildcat runs for 93 yards (7.2 YPC), and 36 other runs for 146 yards (4.1 YPC). Obviously, this is the kind of scenario the Jets have to hope for. They do have their own version of the Wildcat which was successful against the Bengals, and no doubt they'll try to use it on Sunday. It isn't analogous to the Dolphins version, however, which is more of a power running style honed to perfection.
The Jets are going to have to hope for the kind of rushing day against the Colts that only one other team has managed to accomplish this season. If they can, they could pull the upset. If they can't, they have little chance.
This is so good, it goes on the front page.
Tip to Stan, the tape of the game (as broken down by a NY writer) shows Manning tore up the Jets
Who is the King of the NFL?
Peyton Rex or Rex Ryan? This Sunday we'll get an answer, and though we don't have a lot of data to work with about Manning has played against the Jets defense, we can see how Manning has played against Ds run by Jets Head Coach Rex Ryan. Ryan became the defensive coordinator for the Ravens in 2005.
2005 Week 1 Colts 24 Ravens 7
Manning was 21/36, 254, 2 TDs. Colts scored 17 points and then took the air out of the ball.
2006 Playoffs Colts 15 Ravens 6
Manning was 15/30, 170, 2 INT. Indy goes for five field goals in Baltimore. This is the game the Jets fans have to hope for. Of course, the Ravens lost by 9 with a better O against a lesser defense, but it's still their best hope.
2007 Colts 44 Ravens 20
Uh oh. Manning goes 13/17 for 249 and 4 TDs.
2008 Colts 31 Ravens 3
Manning goes 19/28 271 and 3 TDs
2009 Jets 29 Colts 15
Before Manning gets pulled he posts 15 points (2 TDs, FG), and 14/21 for 192 yards.
That means that in five games against a defense run/designed by Rex Ryan. Two of those defenses (2006, 2008) were better by DVOA than the 2009 Jets. All of them were top 5 DVOA defenses.
Manning's total stats against Rex Ryan: 82/132, 62.1%, 1136 yards, 8.6 YPA, 9 TDs, 2 INTs, 106.1 rating.
Rex Ryan is a marvelous defensive coordinator. His blitz heavy philosophy will be frustrate most quarterbacks.
Peyton Manning is not most quarterbacks. He's the king.
By the way, I saw on a Jets blog this comment:
I am no fool, the Jets absolutely benefitted from the Colts pulling their starters in that game. What I would say, is that the Jets were down just five points when Caldwell removed Manning from the game. The Colts are a team that averaged 26 points per game on the season, so to hold them to just 15 points in more than two quarters, is an impressive showing by the Jets defense in my opionion.
Again, I feel bad for the Jets fans. They may not be fools exactly, but they aren't good at math. The Colts starters played 2.5 quarters or 62.5% of a game. If the Colts matched their same rate of production for the rest of the game, they would have scored 24 points. Considering that the Jets' blocked an XP on Adam "I haven't kicked in two months" Vinatieri led to the Colts essentially losing 2 points (they missed the 2 pt conversion to make up for it)...I'd say the Jets were basically on pace to give up...
around 26 points.
Departing ever so quickly from football, I went to see Sherlock Holmes with my wife the other night. We were both into the movie. I've been a Holmes fan since I read the complete works in 5th grade. I had been begging my wife to read them for years, and she recently started and immediately loved them. I've also been a Guy Ritchie fan since Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels came out. I also think Snatch is a vastly underrated movie as well and own copies of both. I thought the trailer for the movie looked awful (to my great disappointment), and hadn't planned on seeing it, but once the early word came in that Sherlock Holmes was faithful to the spirit of the books and stories, we were gung ho to see it.
While Holmes is not a perfect movie, I have to say that I've rarely enjoyed myself so much. The acting and dialogue is excellent and Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law dominate the screen with their wit and chemistry. The most distracting aspect was that we've recently been reluctantly watching the Holmes derivative House MD, and it's hard not feel like you are watching House and Wilson half the time. That's only because they are working with the same source material as inspiration, however. The two lead actors are tremendous in every way. The scenes where Holmes analyzes how to defeat an opponent at fisticuffs are spectacular.
The only negative things I would say about the movie are that several of the set pieces went on too long. The fistfights with the large Frenchman were too long and unsatisfying. I want less action and more dialogue, but maybe that's because at 33, I'm already an old dude and would rather watch snappy banter than a long chase scene. The other modest flaw in the movie is that Rachel McAdams is horribly miscast as Irene Adler. McAdams is a good enough actress, but she just doesn't click with the Law and Downey. The real problem is that she is too young to play the role. Adler is supposed to have outwitted Holmes on various occasions, and in this film, Holmes is played by a 44 year old actor. McAdams is 31, but plays younger on screen. Cate Blanchett, who is 40, would be a much more age appropriate leading lady for this movie and would have had the kind of gravitas that McAdams simply doesn't have.
The movie is meant to be fun, but for the most part manages to be smart as well. I've heard that there are plans to extend the franchise, and as long as Downey and Law are involved, we'll be the first in line. In a way, this movie is similar to Star Trek in my mind. Both films were based on characters and franchises that I care passionately about. Both movies managed to breathe new life into them without sacrificing anything of the original spirit. In fact, this version of Holmes is far more true to the books than any of the other film versions I've seen. I highly recommend and enjoyed the film, and it will be one I chose to own and happily rewatch.
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.
Your Moment of Zen:
Colts offense vs Jets defense:
Drive one: 2 first downs, 25 yards, punt
Drive two: 2 first downs, 54 yards, TD
Drive three: 3 first downs, 86 yards, FG
Drive four: 2 first downs, 30 yards, punt
Drive six: 2 first downs, 20 yards, punt
Drive seven: 4 first downs, 81 yards, TD
3 and outs: 0
Scoring drives: 3/7
Jets offense vs. Colts defense
Drive one: 0 first downs, 6 yards, punt
Drive two: 3 first downs, 33 yards, punt
Drive three: 0 first downs, 5 yards, punt
Drive four: 4 first downs, 63 yards, FG
Drive five: 2 first downs, 34 yards, punt
3 and outs: 2
Scoring drives: 1/5no comments