The Jaguars proved last week that Peyton Manning and the Colts are beatable.
Payback is a bitch.
That said the Jets will find themselves in a precarious position Sunday when they visit the Indianapolis Colts.
When last we saw the Colts, the Jets ran, threw, and basically had their collective way against the poor fellas with the horseshoes on their helmets. From Richie Anderson’s opening 56-yard touchdown reception to the defense harassing Peyton Manning so much he audibled virtually every play to Lamont Jordan running roughshod on the beleaguered Indy defense, Gang Green walked off the field at Co-Tenant Stadium 41-0 Wildcard victors.
My, how times have changed.
The Colts, 7-2, are off to their best start since the days of Bert Jones while the Jets have struggled with a 3-6 mark. The Colts are averaging 28.2 points per game – a full 10 points more than the Jets (18.4) and appear to be among the class of the AFC, along with Kansas City, Tennessee, and New England.
Based on the Jets’ defensive performance, or lack thereof, coupled with numerous injuries to the unit, Gang Green is walking into a potential minefield – one made of synthetic turf, a surface the Colts thrive on. The friendly confines of the RCA Dome are more conducive to the Colts fleet attack than was the mulch and slop they played on in January.
Speed kills. And in the NFL, it is a difference maker both on the field and the scoreboard.
“They play well on turf, play well everywhere,” said Jets coach Herman Edwards at his Wednesday press conference. “They’re playing with confidence. They’re playing really, really well. So it will be a big challenge for us.”
As for the revenge factor, Edwards was candid.
“They’ll be a very, very emotional team playing us,” he said. “That’s obvious. That’s part of the issue.”
Manning, playing good soldier, downplayed the significance of payback.
“It hasn’t really come up around the team,” said the third rated passer in the NFL, via conference call. “It’s a hot topic around our local media and I guess maybe around the fans but just around the players we are so focused on this year. It was certainly a disappointing loss and it was last year, but we are off to a better start this year.”
The Jets defense, already in a shambles statistically, is also a shadow of itself medically. Manning must be licking his chops at the prospect of facing a Jets secondary that is missing its top cornerback and best safety in Donnie Abraham and Jon McGraw, respectively.
Although both players practiced this week, they are listed as questionable, and probably won’t see action. Furthermore, cornerback Ray Mickens will be playing with a sore neck sustained in the Raiders game.
Things are so desperate that Omare Lowe, a Jet for just a few weeks, was summoned from the practice squad and could see time in the nickel and dime packages. Can you say, sacrificial lamb?
John Abraham is out with a strained groin. Linebackers Mo Lewis, Sam Cowart, and Victor Hobson are all banged up. It all adds up to a potential Waterloo for the green and white.
“I’ve never been on a team where it’s blown up like this, seen this many guys hurt” said Edwards. “Every week you’re crossing your fingers, hoping another guy doesn’t go down. We find some more guys; you put them in, bandage them up, and keep going. That’s all you can do. That’s what happens when you run out of bodies.”
That’s not to say that Indianapolis is injury free. To the contrary. As of Wednesday, the Colts had 18 players listed on their injury report. The biggest name on the list is Manning’s top weapon, Marvin Harrison (56 reception, seven touchdowns), who is doubtful with a hamstring injury.
Gang Green’s putrid defensive play all season, a clear lack of speed, and depth concerns in the secondary are looming factors. The Colts no-huddle attack could shred the Jets to pieces.
Colts’ wide receiver Reggie Wayne (40 catches, five TDs) has elevated his game to become an instrumental part of the offense. Tight end Marcus Pollard (23 grabs, two TDs) has a way of wreaking havoc. Edgerrin James, despite rushing for 500 yards and averaging only 3.7 a clip, is slated to break out of his slump any game now. That’s a scary thought for the worst run defense in the NFL.
“Always when you play the Jets, they are extremely solid on the defensive front,” said Manning, who is tied with Tampa Bay’s Brad Johnson with a league-leading 18 TD passes. “Some teams have run the ball well against them and that has been something we have been struggling with a bit. That will be a key match-up to see what happens there. We always try to be balanced with our offensive attack, as far as running the ball and throwing the ball, and throwing some play action.”
Some teams have run the ball well against them? Try every team. Manning, of course, was being gracious.
Indy’s defense, although improved, is still not up to snuff with its offensive brethren. Led by defensive end Dwight Freeney (seven sacks) and linebacker David Thornton (84 tackles), the unit is ranked eighth in the AFC, just four spots ahead of the Jets. Both teams are yielding 19 points per game.
Said Edwards: “When you score 28 points a game, you don’t really worry about the defense so much.”
Therein lies the one intangible for the Jets. Gang Green’s offense, behind comeback kid Chad Pennington, must match the Colts firepower to stay in the game. Santana Moss has to stretch the field. Curtis Martin must continue to get positive yards on the ground. And Lamont Jordan has to have more of a role. He’s too good a player to only get four or five carries a game.
Offensive coordinator Paul Hackett should continue to find ways to get Anthony Becht involved in the game plan. The much maligned tight end has made some clutch receptions in the past few games. Go to the hot hand.
It would also behoove the Jets to grab an early lead.
“We have to keep our composure very, very early in the football game,” Edwards said, “and get it into a game knowing that these guys are very, very dangerous. They can strike at any time. If you get them out of rhythm, our offense can get going. That’s how we have to play.”
If not, it could be a long afternoon. And the Jets defenders will be rendered as nothing more than speed bumps en route to the end zone.