Three nuggets of knowledge about Saturday’s Jets-Colts wild-card game:
If the Jets were the type of team to look ahead, they would admit the Patriots are their biggest concern today. We're speaking, of course, about a team coached by a guy who in the summer scrawled on the side of a tour bus that his team would be Super Bowl champions, a guy who on last year's postseason itinerary scheduled a ticker-tape parade through the Canyon of Heroes. So we know the Jets aren't very good at adhering to the "one game at a time" chestnut. The Colts look vulnerable (by their standards), and the Jets can draw confidence from last year's AFC Championship Game that they will compete Saturday night. Against the teams the Jets probably would face in this year's conference title game, the Jets own a recent victory against the Pittsburgh Steelers at Heinz Field and a lost a close one to the Baltimore Ravens in the season opener. So that would leave figuring out how to beat the Patriots next week at Gillette Stadium, where the Patriots won 45-3. That probably makes the look-ahead Jets more nervous than the Colts do.
Lesser names in the Jets' secondary will be in the spotlight as much as Darrelle Revis and Antonio Cromartie. The "other guys" must step up to stop Colts quarterback Peyton Manning from waltzing down the field. Drew Coleman, who has shown a knack for big plays this season, will be the starting nickelback. Dwight Lowery, Kyle Wilson and Marquice Cole also will have roles in the Jets' sub packages. The defensive backfield is more flexible than it was in last year's AFC title game. Lowery started opposite Revis and surrendered nine receptions for 124 yards and a touchdown. Manning won't strike so hotly against Cromartie. That said, the Jets will need safeties Brodney Pool and Eric Smith to play well on the big stage. The Jets lost safety Jim Leonhard to a broken leg in early December, making Pool and Smith targets for opposing quarterbacks in the middle of the field.
Even a year later and with more weapons, the Jets still must limit the need for Mark Sanchez to win the game. In last year's playoffs, the Jets' objective was run, run and run some more, hope to get an early lead and then keep running until the clock struck 0:00. Sanchez completed just 12 passes in road victories against the Cincinnati Bengals and San Diego Chargers. Against the Colts in the AFC Championship Game, Sanchez was forced to throw because the Jets trailed in the third quarter -- and by the dreaded two scores with about nine minutes left in the fourth quarter. The Jets' front office helped their offense evolve into a team that could come from behind. They traded for Santonio Holmes and added LaDainian Tomlinson as a receiving threat out of the backfield. The Jets went from a team that ran on 58.9 percent of their plays in 2009 to one that ran 49.1 percent of the time this season. Even so, the Jets can't trade throws with Manning and the Colts. The Jets must establish themselves as the superior physical team -- which they are -- with a steady amount of Shonn Greene runs against a Colts run defense that has improved but still can be forgiving. From there, Sanchez can run play-action passes.