For the third time this decade, the Indianapolis Colts find themselves playing in the AFC Championship game. This season, the Colts are the AFC's #1 seed and arguably the best team in the league this season. Unlike the two previous conference title games the Colts participated in, it won't be the New England Patriots with whom they will have to vanquish in order to advance on to the Super Bowl. If history has taught us anything, this should come as a major relief. Needless to say, any game against the Patriots is anything but a walk in the park.
As for the other big rival of the Colts, the San Diego Chargers, they'll also watch the AFC Championship game from home, much to the amusement of we the people of Colts Nation. I suppose that's what happens when you're more interested in flapping your gums instead of concentrating on playing football, eh San Diego?
Both the Colts and Jets are coming into this game with a lot of confidence. The Jets are attempting to follow in the footsteps of the 2005 Steelers, 2007 Giants, and 2008 Cardinals (although not technically a wild card) in becoming yet another wild card team to reach the Super Bowl despite a mediocre regular season. The difference between those aforementioned wild card teams and this current Jets team is that this Jets team possesses the league's best running game and defense, whereas none of those other teams possessed much of anything except the will to win. So it should come as no surprise that the Jets have made it this far into the postseason, regardless of all the hoopla surrounding the events that inevitably allowed them to be in this position.
In the past two playoff games, the Jets have averaged 169 rushing yards on 36.5 carries, compared to 141 passing yards on 19 attempts. Having said that, it's quite easy to see how this Jets offense operates, making it just as easy to game plan for it as well. It's the same when looking at the Colts offense -- they have no running game so there's no sense attempting to stop something that will be a non-factor in this game.
The Colts for some reason still can't shake that "can't stop the run" stigma that has been following them since the 2006 Jaguars game. People look at yards gained against the Colts' defense and just assume they're soft, which couldn't be farther from the truth. Sure, teams get yards against the Colts, I'll give them that. The difference between this Colts defense and the 2006 Colts defense is they prevent huge gains, and more importantly, keep teams out of the end zone. They epitomize bend but don't break.
Take for instance the divisional game against the Ravens. The talking heads vehemently stated that for the Ravens to win they needed to pound the ball and wear down the smallish Colts defense like the Dolphins did in week two. Interestingly enough, the people who made said claims seem to have forgotten that the Colts actually won that game, not the Dolphins, despite having the ball for a mere 15 minutes throughout the game. The Ravens, more specifically Ray Rice, amassed a whopping 67 yards on 13 carries, 0 touchdowns, and a fumble to boot. That can't be right, can it? The Baltimore Ravens are a physical, power running team, there's no way they could be held to under 100 yards rushing against the small Colts defense!
So much for that huh? Like I said before, the physicality of a team is a figment of the traditionalist's imaginations. No team in the NFL is more "physical" than any other in the league, as evidenced by the Indianapolis Colts. Yes they're smaller, but they're also faster and better coached than just about any other defense in the league. So in the famous words of Officer Barbrady from South Park, "Move along people, there's nothing to see here!"
As for the Colts as a team, they're trying to accomplish something they've never done before -- which is becoming increasingly harder to say considering this team has and probably will accomplish everything imaginable -- and that's make it to the Super Bowl as the #1 seed, and eventually win it as the #1 seed -- which hasn't been done since the 2003 Patriots, but that's a conversation for another time (hopefully in 3 days).
The Colts' offense has been riding Peyton Manning's arm all season due to a nonexistent running game. The same stayed true in the divisional playoff game against the Ravens, where the Colts' running game just did not show up. Joseph Addai, the team's top rusher that day, racked up 23 yards on 11 carries and a 2.1 yard per carry average (insert Peyton Manning face here). Yeouch. Admittedly, the Ravens have a pretty stout run defense, but that's beyond pathetic. That stat line entered into a realm that which only ultra tools like Sean Salisbury know.
Against the Jets, the offense will have to continue to rely on Peyton because they have no other choice. As Derek Schultz so eloquently stated on his radio show The Zone on XL950 (am), "My key to the game: Peyton Manning." If one of those o rly? owls just popped up in your head, don't feel bad because you aren't alone.
The Jets' run defense is second to none, even with their premiere DT Kris Jenkins on injured reserve. That doesn't mean that the Colts should abandon the run altogether, however. Utilization of the draw play could provide some much needed balance to an extremely pass heavy offense. If anything it could slow down the blitz, which you know Rex Ryan is going to use a lot of. Coincidentally, Joseph Addai scored the longest rushing touchdown of his career against the Jets in week sixteen, on guess what? A draw play. (takes a bow)
The intriguing aspect of the passing game going into this game is how the Colts will adjust to Darrelle Revis. Will Peyton try to isolate him one-on-one with Reggie and try a couple deep passes? I hope so. If you recall back to the week sixteen game against the Jets, Reggie Wayne had Darrelle Revis beat on a deep pass that Manning overthrew. As good as Revis is, he's only human, just like every other player on that field, including Peyton Manning. If the Colts can connect on a deep pass like the missed opportunity in week sixteen, they might be able to turn this game into a blowout. Either way, when the Jets start to get desperate they like to pull out the blitz card and hope that it trumps whatever the offense has (see Chargers game). A lot of the time it works, against lesser opponents. Against Manning, it's a totally different story. If I were Peyton I would be praying that they blitzed me every play. When the Jets blitz, they are forced to play man coverage on the receivers and running backs which is going to cause a mismatch somewhere on the field. Assuming the offensive line can hold its own long enough for Peyton to find the mismatch and exploit it or to hit his checkdown, I would expect to see a lot of gains somewhere in the range of 10-20 yards throughout the game, much like in the week sixteen game.
Shifting to the defense, the positive news (as if there's any bad) resulting from that 20-3 stomping of the Ravens, is that the Colts' defense played flawlessly. Even more encouraging is the fact that they played flawlessly against a team that is a carbon copy of the Jets; extremely run heavy with a mediocre passing game.
This defense should be credited with just as much praise for the success of this team as Peyton Manning in my opinion. They've been opportunistic and even clutch. Imagine that, the words clutch and Colts being used in the same sentence (gasp). Apparently anything is possible, right Kevin?
As far as the game plan for the defense, well that's relatively simple: do exactly what you did against the Ravens, which is stop the run. Stop the run and you win the game. How's that for hard-hitting analysis?