Yes, it’s been an amazing run, and, yes, the Jets are definitely the team of the future in the AFC. And blah blah blah. We all know this. But all you really want to know is whether the Jets will beat the Colts this Sunday, right?
First, let me point out what no one else I’ve seen has, namely that despite the Jets’ severe status as underdogs they actually outscored their opponents by more points –112 to 109 — than the Colts did during the regular season.
Second, let’s stop pretending that there’s anything inflammatory in Rex Ryan’s statements that “I expect us to win. I’ll be shocked if we don’t.” This is not the second coming of Broadways Joe’s “I guarantee it.” Rex has done nothing but show appropriate confidence in his boys. What do you expect him to say: “We’re here for a moral victory’?
That aside, we’re seeing a slew of newspaper, magazine, and Internet articles on this game titled “How the Jets Can Rattle Peyton Manning” with suggestions like “Pressure him up the middle” and “Change your coverages.” Yeah, OK, but how do you pressure him up the middle and what coverages do you change to? Almost all of it is a double load of double talk. Or, as they say in Indianapolis, a load of pony poop. (Colts, get it?)
There are a staggering number of factors to consider in any big pro football game, but what this one clearly comes down to is the league’s best defense against the man regarded by his peers as the best quarterback in football. What does this mean in practical terms? It means that the Colts probably aren’t going to get much yardage on the ground, but this is far from the enormous advantage that New York area writers and fans claim it to be. Think about it this way: if the Colts can finish the regular season and their first playoff game as the NFL’s number one-seeded team — and let’s not forget they haven’t yet lost a game they were trying to win — then clearly they know how to win football games without running the ball very much, or even very well.
So, yes, the Jets’ defense is going to spend much of the afternoon ignoring the run and going straight after Peyton Manning. But keep two things in mind: the Jets don’t have a super pass rush (just 32 sacks in the regular season, tied with four other teams for 11th) and Manning is the best-protected quarterback in the NFL (sacked just 10 times all year). It’s unlikely Ryan’s Greens can come at him with anything he hasn’t seen before or, for that matter, with anything he hasn’t seen — and beaten — several times.
This is an unpleasant fact that Jets fans are going to have to face up to soon after kickoff on Sunday. From September 11, 2005 to October 12, 2008 Manning’s Colts played Ryan’s Baltimore Ravens defenses four times and won four games by an average of 28.5 points to nine. And while we’re on the subject, the Colts weren’t overwhelming the Jets in their December 27 game when Peyton was taken out in the third quarter, but they were leading 15-10 and looking like they were going to score again. To put a still finer point on it, the Ravens, who still use Ryan’s defenses, were the same 9-7 this season as the Jets, and the Colts beat them 20-3 in the divisional playoffs.
There’s no getting past the fact that Peyton Manning, if given proper protection, is the best. He’s not likely to hit on any cheap scores against the Jets, if only because Darrelle Revis and Kerry Rhodes are the best tandem one-on-one coverage men in the league. The question is not whether the Colts receivers will beat them but whether or not Manning’s offensive line will give him that extra second or so to allow his receivers to break free. If we were betting men, we’d say that the Colts receiver who will give the Jets the most trouble is not wideout Reggie Wayne but tight end Dallas Clark, who weighs 250 pounds. Clark can break off the line of scrimmage like a wide receiver, and when he catches the ball he’s going to outweigh any defensive back the Jets assign to him by at least 50 pounds. How the Jets contain Clark inside the red zone will determine the outcome of the game.
We think it will go pretty much like this. The Colts will be winning after three quarters by about the same margin they were in the December game — let’s say 17-13. They’ll intercept a Mark Sanchez desperation pass and convert it into a game-clincher to win 24-13. In the end, the game will have been closer on the field than the final score will indicate.
We wish we had better news, but after all, this is Peyton Manning we’re talking about. It’s hard to believe that any team can stop someone this close to a second Super Bowl win and pro football immortality. If it’s any consolation to you, Jets fans, the future is so bright for your team that you will have to watch them with shades on next season.