No matter what style of football gets your blood pumping on Sunday afternoons, the AFC Championship Game should quicken your pulse.
In that spirit, AFC South blogger Paul Kuharsky and AFC East blogger Tim Graham tried their bloggerest to break down Sunday's matchup in Lucas Oil Stadium. It’s a quasi-rematch of what transpired in Week 16 between the sorta Colts and the full-go Jets. New York prevailed 29-15 over what amounted to Indianapolis’ reserves in the second half.
Paul Kuharsky: OK, we have to start with the Jets' identity, and that's not just defense, but an attacking defense. Rex Ryan's guys blitz more than anyone in the league.
That isn't a good match against the Colts. I know New York just dispatched the Chargers and a quarterback in Philip Rivers who is quite good against the blitz. But Rivers is a neophyte compared to Peyton Manning, and it's long been held that the quickest way to get beat by Manning is to send people at him. ESPN Stats & Information says he posted a 101.4 passer rating when teams sent five or more pass-rushers during the regular season.
He simply won't hold the ball long enough to be sacked, and with fewer numbers in coverage, he will find the favorable matchup to attack. (Shameless plug: I wrote about how quickly the ball is out of his hand earlier this week.)
I know the Jets don't have any give-up in them. Still, I think the longer you go at the Colts in that fashion without success, the more dispiriting it can be. That’s the case even if the Colts have to dink and dunk. Let Manning hit a home run to Reggie Wayne, Dallas Clark, Pierre Garcon or Austin Collie and it's even worse.
Tim Graham: All right. Everybody knows I don't like you, and you don't like me. But let's see if we can get through this without any name-calling.
There's a myth about the Jets' defense that because defenders always go, go, go after opposing quarterbacks, they rack up a lot of sacks and get quarterbacks rattled. Not so. The Jets registered only 32 sacks all year, more than only 10 other teams. The Buffalo Bills had 32 sacks.
What makes the Jets' attacking defense work is the confusion it creates. Quarterbacks don't know where the pressure will come from or which defenders will handle which receivers. Against the San Diego Chargers last week, Jets cornerback Darrelle Revis would be on No. 1 receiver Vincent Jackson one play and tight end Antonio Gates the next. The Jets' defensive mission is to get a quarterback to second-guess what he's seeing. They're just as interested in forcing an incomplete pass as they are in the big quarterback hit.
That's why the Jets are so masterful at managing down and distance. They routinely get teams into unfavorable situations. No defense allowed a lower percentage of third-down conversions or overall first downs, a measly 14.8 a game.
PK: Manning didn’t win MVP No. 4 by getting confused. If Revis is on Wayne, Manning will look to Clark or Garcon. If Revis is on Clark, Manning will look to Wayne or Collie. He’s not going to put his hands on his helmet and called a panicked timeout over the sort of switcharoo that sent Chad Henne or Josh Freeman into a spiral. The Jets weren’t that masterful while losing seven games.
TG: A lot of analysts are dismissing the Jets' chances because their biggest strength, that dastardly defense, resembles the Baltimore Ravens'. And we just saw what Manning did to that crew last weekend. Granted, there are similarities. Ryan coached the Ravens defense for a decade and was their coordinator before he jumped to the Jets, bringing linebackers coach Mike Pettine, linebacker Bart Scott and safety Jim Leonhard with him.
But there are some major differences that will be of concern for the Colts. The Ravens are geared to stop the run, but that was a wasted strength because the Colts don't do that very well anyway. The Jets had the league's No. 1 pass defense, and while the Ravens ranked a respectable eighth, they allowed 53.5 yards more per game than the Jets did. The Jets allowed only eight passing touchdowns all year.
I'm not stupid enough to declare the Jets will neutralize Manning, but they will be far tougher to exploit than the Ravens were.
PK: Yeah, Tim, I agree with you there. You are not that foolish. The Baltimore comparison only goes so far. That divisional-round win was the eighth in a row for Indy over the team that's filling the void it left in Maryland. The Ravens and Colts played five times in the last three seasons, which makes for quite a bit of familiarity.
The Colts and Jets, meanwhile, have played only twice since 2003 and one of those was the infamous give-up game back on Dec. 27. And while it amounts to ancient history, the last playoff meeting was a pretty strong defensive effort by New York against Manning. I was actually in the press box at the Meadowlands on Jan. 4, 2003, for Jets 41, Colts 0. (Three Jets and 10 Colts remain on the rosters from then.)
TG: I'm not a big believer of one team having another's number. The New England Patriots certainly didn't find an automatic victory over the Ravens in the first round of the playoffs. It will be interesting to see if there is any residual effect from Week 16, but based on what the Colts did to the Ravens, I predict not.
PK: We talked about the Jets' pass rush -- how about the other side? Mark Sanchez has certainly shown he can be poised and patient, and I know he's had some fast rushers come at him before. But facing the full fury of Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis can be pretty intimidating for a veteran quarterback, let alone a rookie. Those guys are relentless and will keep Jets offensive linemen D'Brickashaw Ferguson and Damien Woody on their heels.
Even if “The Sanchise” does well sensing the Colts’ pass rush and shifts around or gets rid of it early, will he find himself pressing to make a big play? While Indy prides itself on the Pro Bowl duo of rush ends, it's also got a super-stingy defense when it comes to big plays. Odds are low that Sanchez will find a home run. The Colts gave up a league-low seven pass plays of 30 yards or more in the regular season, and while Randy Moss hurt them, I don't see his equal in green and white. Nine runs of 20 yards or more haven't killed them, either.
Indianapolis is small and the Jets could come in feeling they’ve got a size advantage. But what the Colts lack in size they usually make up for in speed. They’ll get numbers to the ball and nobody’s going to run by them.
TG: Sanchez has shown he can be poised and patient? I gather you watched only two Jets games all season and just so happened to avoid seeing him play like a 6-year-old on a Zagnut bender.
Sanchez avoids sacks because the Jets have asked him to throw no more than a handful of times a game -- and usually in highly favorable situations. Here are Sanchez's completion totals in his past seven victories: nine, 13, seven, 12, eight, 12 and 12. In addition to the help they received from the Colts in Week 16, the Jets have gotten into the playoffs because offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer has done a brilliant job of marginalizing Sanchez within the game plan.
The way they're able to do that is with their relentless run game. Thomas Jones is starting to look like a 31-year-old back after amassing 1,402 yards and 14 touchdowns in the regular season. Enter fresh-legged rookie Shonn Greene to bolster the league's top rushing attack. I know the Colts haven't given up the home-run plays, but they do have a soft run defense, ranking 24th during the regular season and second-to-last on third downs. The Jets are adept at getting into third-and-short situations. They won't hit the long ball, but they consistently hit line drives.
PK: As a matter of fact, Sanchez did look pretty good against the Tennessee Titans and the Chargers. Colts blueprint: Get a lead, make Sanchez drop back more often than the Jets would like. It can be a big part of their run defense, too.
All right, come join me in Indy already. We'll play credit-card roulette at St. Elmo's, then expense it all and finally get to the big game.
Last time you were here we got Bill Belichick's wild fourth-and-2 from his own 28. I'm guessing Ryan won't be living such a risky life during this one. I'm looking forward to it.
Colts win, I'll go to South Florida. You can have the combine in late February. Jets win and we flip the script?
TG: The Jets' best shot to reach the Super Bowl is to remain within striking distance for as long as possible. That was how they were able to knock off the Bengals and Chargers, with a defense that never allowed opponents to get ahead by more than one score.
Since I'm not covering the Super Bowl unless the Jets go, I have a feeling the next league event I cover will be back in Indianapolis at the NFL scouting combine. Then again, I thought the Jets' season would come to an end in San Diego last week, too.