New York has a shot at redemption as they face Peyton Manning and a Colts team that ousted the Jets from last year's postseason, just one win shy of a Super Bowl berth. The Colts are 3-0 at home on Wildcard weekend, outscoring their opponents by an average of 24 points, making New York's upset bid doubly difficult. In 2003, the Jets last Wildcard meeting with Indianapolis, the Jets obliterated the Colts 41-0 much to the delight of a lively Meadowlands crowd. Overall, Indianapolis is 5-1 against Rex Ryan's defenses as Peyton Manning has fired 12 touchdowns and only two interceptions over that span, including Ryan's tenure on the staff at Baltimore. The Jets head coach has been outspoken in his desire to return the favor to Manning, making him feel the disappointment and misery that Ryan experienced nearly a year ago.
KEYS TO VICTORY:
In last season's AFC title game, Pierre Garcon victimized New York, collecting 151 receiving yards on 11 receptions including a third quarter go-ahead touchdown. The addition of Antonio Cromartie equips Gang Green with a viable lock-down corner as he will likely oppose Garcon on Saturday night. Cromartie will need to win the battle at the point of attack disrupting Garcon's timing with quarterback Peyton Manning. Ryan and defensive coordinator Mike Pettine are optimistic that Cromartie will prevent Garcon from putting on a repeat performance from the teams' last postseason encounter.
2. New York's offense needs to produce sustained drives
New York's best defense will certainly be their offense's ability to move the chains, thereby keeping Peyton Manning on the sidelines. Sustaining drives proved instrumental in Super Bowl XLIV as the Saints limited the Colts offense to seven possessions. Tailbacks LaDanian Tomlinson and Shonn Greene can help the Jets cause by pounding the Colts 25th ranked rushing defense. The Colts retained six offensive possessions alone in the first half of last year's AFC title game with New York going three and out on four separate offensive possessions. The Jets will aim to reverse their fortunes and dominate the time of possession battle on Saturday night.
3. The Jets pass coverage between the numbers
A glaring weakness of Gang Green's defense has been the ability for New York's burly linebackers to drop back in coverage and protect the middle of the field. Jets' opponents have been honing in on exploiting New York's linebacking corps by sending speedy slot receivers and physical tight ends between the hash marks often exposing their sluggish covering skills. Quarterbacks Tom Brady and Jay Cutler enjoyed success by steering clear of stud cornerback Darrelle Revis and to a lesser extent Cromartie on the outside, instead picking on New York's nickel and dime defensive backs. These undersized safeties and lumbering backers are prime targets for the speedy Colts offense. Expect New York to combat their speed disadvantage by making personnel adjustments utilizing dime and nickel packages in obvious passing situations. Drew Coleman seems to be the third down cornerback.
4. Gang Green's front three applying pressure to Manning
Defensive ends Shaun Ellis and Mike Devito along with nose tackle Sione Pouha will have a tall order in breaking through a Colts offensive line that surrendered a league best 16 sacks during the regular season. In last year's AFC title game, linebacker David Harris demolished Peyton Manning for the Jets only to two sacks on afternoon, doing so on the Colts first two offensive possessions of the game. New York's defensive line has struggled to unleash a consistent pass rush forcing Rex Ryan to send additional blitzers to produce pressure on opposing quarterbacks. Manning has a knack for burning blitzes and the Jets defense will need to rotate backups Marcus Dixon and Trevor Pryce to spell the starting three and provide a spark. If the Jets are able to harass Peyton Manning in the pocket with their down lineman, it will provide an enormous lift to the defense, possibly force a game-changing turnover.