The Jets will probably try to run behind franchise left tackle D'Brickashaw Ferguson and perennial All-Pro guard Alan Faneca on Sunday, especially since Dwight Freeney will probably see limited action like he did in Week 15 against the Jaguars. That means that Raheem Brock needs to step up and fill Freeney's sizable shoes both in run defense and in the pass rush. New York has yielded only 28 sacks so far this season, even though they are working with a rookie quarterback and have faced some formidable pass rushing defenses to this point.
It's interesting that the Jets are only averaging 3.75 yards to Ferguson's side of the field given the success they've had on the ground and the fact that Ferguson has graduated to the ranks of accomplished left tackles. They average 5.9 yards per carry on 61 attempts to left guard behind Faneca, though, so they will still try the left side.
The Falcons, who run a similar scheme to the Colts, were able to hold New York to 99 yards on 33 carries because they did the very things Indianapolis had been able to do on defense prior to the Jacksonville game. They shot their gaps, attacked the line of scrimmage, and forced Thomas Jones to run east-to-west, where he is not at his best.
Daniel Muir and Antonio Johnson need to get back to what made them part of a vastly improved front seven by doing exactly that and paving the way for Gary Brackett and Clint Session to flow to the ball. On passing downs, Eric Foster and Brock need to make up the loss in pass rushing production left behind by the absence of Freeney and Robert Mathis, who will probably again have his snaps monitored closely with Keyunta Dawson subbing in for him or even starting for him.
The Jets have had considerable success running to the right side behind right guard Brandon Moore and right tackle Damien Woody, averaging five yards a carry in that direction, so Dawson will need to stay on his toes and not become too obsessed with getting to Sanchez. Center Nick Mangold acts as more of a pulling guard and gets to the second level quickly.
This is a cohesive unit that has started every game this season together. They often play better as a unit than the sum of their parts, which is pretty scary, considering that they have a lot of talented players among the front five. This will be a fight for 60 minutes with the Colts operating with some reserves and some undersized players, but these are the battles they will need to win if they are to be effective.
Braylon Edwards was acquired by New York through a trade with the Browns and appeared to assimilate the offense quickly, leaving his focus and pass dropping issues behind him in Cleveland. However, those issues quickly returned and Edwards has returned to being his old, inconsistent self. He dropped a long touchdown pass against the Bills in Week 13, but caught a long touchdown last week against Atlanta for the Jets only score.
Edwards is a strong, fast, athletic player with a tremendous frame and is built to play the position. If he had Reggie Wayne's work ethic, he would be in Wayne's league. He certainly has the potential to make some big plays and dominate games, but he also has the potential to get frustrated early and suffer from lapses in concentration. That is why the Colts should put Jacob Lacey on him and have Lacey not allow Edwards any room in which to operate. This will hopefully frustrate Edwards and effectively take him out of the game.
On the other side of the formation, Jerricho Cotchery is a wily veteran that knows how to find the soft spot in the zone, runs crisp routes, and is still fairly dangerous in the open field with the ball in his hands. To neutralize him, you can't give him any holes in the zone to settle into. That is why Jerraud Powers or Kelvin Hayden would be ideal to cover him, as they know their assignments and are excellent zone defenders.
New York will often throw screens to special teams ace David Clowney or former college quarterback Brad Smith in order to get these talented playmakers the ball with blockers in front of them and, hopefully, space in which to operate.
They will also use Smith in the Wildcat formation occasionally, but not as often or as successfully as the Dolphins deploy the formation, so the Indianapolis defenders need only keep that in mind, keep the play in front of them, and practice sound tackling fundamentals.
Since Leon Washington was placed on injured reserve, Thomas Jones has stepped fully into the featured back role in this offense, giving way to rookie Shonn Greene when he needs a breather. Greene only has 79 carries thus far in 2009 — with the bulk of those coming in his two games against the Bills — but has averaged 4.8 yards per carry with those attempts, so he may get some more looks if it appears as though Jones is shifting side-to-side too much and not hitting the hole.
As mentioned previously, Jones is least effective when moving east-to-west. He is most effective when he can scan the blocking, pick his spot, and move toward the line of scrimmage with authority. He is far from a plodding back, but is a less explosive version of the player that turned a few key plays against Indianapolis in Super Bowl XLI.
The Colts defenders need to stay aggressive, stay on point, and don't give Jones an opportunity to hit the hole hard, they can slow down this offense and get the ball back in the hands of Peyton Manning. New York will not give up on the running game if they do not succeed at first, as evidenced by their tenacity against the Falcons last week when it wasn't working, so the Indianapolis defense just needs to stay after it.
Sanchez has a season like those of most rookies. There have been ups and downs. At times he has flashed the brilliance the Jets knew he had in him when they traded up and chose him fifth overall in this year's draft. At times, he has looked like a confused, flustered rookie.
He appears to have recovered from the knee injury that forced him to miss the Tampa game in Week 14, so health should not be an issue for him. But, he has also thrown four touchdowns versus ten interceptions in his last five games. He has stopped forcing the ball into coverage when the play is not there, but can definitely be harried into a bad decision.
The best way to make a rookie look like a rookie is to pressure him up the middle, so Brock and Dawson will need to collapse the pocket from the outside and Johnson and Muir need to at least get a push up the middle, with healthy doses of Philip Wheeler and Brackett blitzing on the interior.
The one thing New York has not done is limit the offense in an attempt to simplify things for Sanchez. They have attacked down the field all season, with a total of 85 deep pass attempts thus far in 2009, averaging 11.82, 16.53, and 13 yards per pass to the deep left, deep middle, and deep right respectively.
The only area of the field the Colts have been vulnerable in is to the deep middle, where they have allowed an average of 14.05 yards per pass on 20 attempts against. Look for New York to attack this area off of play action, hoping that Melvin Bullitt and Antoine Bethea bite and leave themselves open to a big play over the top.
The running game is the key for the Jets, though. If Indianapolis can shut Jones and Greene down, it will make things considerably more difficult for Sanchez. They should start their focus there. If the Jets open the game passing, they will be playing right into the Colts hands, so they just need to hope that the Indianapolis defenders have another off week at the point of attack.
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