QUOTE: “There's a, um tradition in tournament play -- not talk about the next step until you've climbed the one in front of you. I'm sure going to the state finals is beyond your wildest dreams, so let's just keep it right there.” -- Coach Norman Dale in “Hooisers” (1986)
Standing at the podium at the New York Jets practice facility Wednesday, quarterback Mark Sanchez spoke with great respect about the Indianapolis Colts, but he also mentioned that the field is the same length in Indy, the width is the same, and both teams wear the same protective gear. It reminded me of the movie “Hoosiers,” when Coach Dale took his team to the state championship and pulled out his tape measure to measure the height of the rim and the length of the court -- showing that the implications of the game may be larger, but the game itself is still the same. Yesterday, visiting the Jets, all the players seemed to understand that message through their coach, Rex Ryan.
The Jets were loose, confident and looking forward to competing against the Colts. They were very complimentary of the Colts but were not in awe of them. Feeling confident had they kept the Jets in the game in the second half against the Chargers. They are not short of confidence.
The respect for the Colts must come from their head coach, who’s had his troubles (as many others have) controlling Peyton Manning. In the past four games against Indy, Ryan’s Baltimore defenses struggled to keep Manning from making the big play, from consistently moving the ball down the field. Manning averaged 8.5 yards per attempt in those games and threw nine touchdowns and only two interceptions. In the first half of the first game against the Jets this season, Manning was also effective, going 14 of 21 for 192 yards, and averaged over 9.1 yards per attempt. He seems to understand the scheme of the Jets/Ravens; in fact, one Jets player told me after the first game that Manning could be heard making calls at the line to counter the Jets plan. Manning clearly comes well prepared and, like Ryan, loves the competition.
So does the first game mean anything? The first half plus the first drive in the second half mean a great deal, which is good for the Jets. Like their game against the Chargers, despite allowing over 170 yards, they only gave up nine points. They were great on third down, and they forced three punts and allowed only one pass play over 20 yards. The key was that they didn’t allow the Colts to get more than one score away from them, so they kept the game close, kept their offensive philosophy in place and played their style. In their first two playoff games, the Jets allowed their opponents to build an early lead, but they never allowed them to extend it. So if this game is tight as the second half begins, the Jets will be in prime position for the win.
Can they win? Without a doubt, as long as they play their style and don’t allow the game to get away from them, force too many drop-back passes and expose Sanchez to the Colts rush. I know many will say the Jets’ running game will help their passing game with all their play-action passes, but in reality, play-action passes don’t work against the Colts’ rush. In fact, calling play-action passes helps the Colts. Any time the quarterback fakes a handoff, he’s slowing himself down with his set up and allowing Robert Mathis or Dwight Freeney to apply pressure. Play action is a waste of time. Rhythm passes are better for the Jets because the ball comes out quickly and the quarterback can hit his last step and bang the ball out. Moving effectively and quickly is what will help them defeat the Colts, not faking handoffs.
The key for the Jets will be their ability to continue to win on third down and getting their offense on the field. Their offense is like a power puncher in boxing -- the more punches they throw, the more they wear down the opponent. The Jets don’t need to win time of possession, but they need to run enough plays to wear down the Colts defense. This is the classic boxing matchup — the mover and dancer (the Colts) and the slugger-power puncher (the Jets). The more punches the Jets can throw, the better chance they have to win.
So unless the Colts can throw the knockout punch early, which I don’t see happening, I like the Jets to win the game. I usually hate one-dimensional teams like the Jets, but I’m being pulled to their side because of their ability to never let the game get away from them and never being forced to play outside themselves. Like the Hickory High team in “Hoosiers,” the Jets have the confidence to play their style and know their style can work as long as the field in Indy is the same size — which we know it is.