NFL: Jets vs. Colts: the key matchups
By BARRY WILNER
AP Football Writer
Matchups for the AFC championship game between the New York Jets and Indianapolis Colts at Lucas Oil Field:
When the Jets have the ball
New York is very consistent in what it does, even when it trails in a game, as it has in both playoff contests. The Jets run with Thomas Jones (20) and Shonn Greene (23), then run some more. Greene has been a revelation in the postseason after Jones ranked third in the league with 1,402 yards rushing and scored 14 times. The rookie broke two long runs for touchdowns and is averaging 6.0 yards a carry for 263 yards overall. With veteran FB Tony Richardson (49) blocking behind one of the league’s top offensive lines — C Nick Mangold (74) is an All-Pro and the tackles and guards had good years — the Jets ranked first in rushing.
Indianapolis, which was 24th against the run during the season, must clamp down on the Jets as it did last week against the Ravens’ Ray Rice and Willis McGahee. That means LBs Gary Brackett (58) and Clint Session (55) plugging holes. DT Dan Muir (90) excelled against Baltimore.
If rookie QB Mark Sanchez (5) has to win this game, the Jets are in trouble. He’s protected the ball well as New York grabbed the wild card and advanced this far. If All-Pro DE Dwight Freeney (93) and partner Robert Mathis (98), along with backup Raheem Brock (79), get in his face in passing situations, standout safety Antoine Bethea (41) and CBs Kelvin Hayden (26) and Jacob Lacey (27) might have opportunities for picks.
Simply put, the Jets must establish their running game and keep moving on the ground.
When the Colts have the ball
Although the Colts can be effective with RBs Joseph Addai (29), Mike Hart (32) and rookie Donald Brown (31), they have no issues with having their QB throw. Who would if that guy is four-time MVP Peyton Manning?
Manning’s work this season might be his most impressive considering he had to train two new wideouts in rookie Austin Collie (17) and the raw Pierre Garcon (85). Both became dynamic under Manning’s guidance, and All-Pro tight end Dallas Clark (44) had his best season with 100 catches.
Throw in — and throw to — Reggie Wayne (87), who also had 100 receptions, and the backs, and Manning has all the threats he needs.
Wayne will be matched up with All-Pro cornerback Darrelle Revis (24), who pretty much has shut down every top receiver he’s faced, especially lately. Then again, those guys didn’t have Manning passing to them in a meaningful game.
New York’s top-ranked defense isn’t great at getting sacks, and the Colts yielded only 13 all season, but did give up two last week. Instead, the Jets will try to pressure Manning into throwing before he wants to; disguising coverages rarely works against him anymore.
DE Shaun Ellis (92) has a broken hand, which could limit his effectiveness. The Jets’ key playmakers are LBs David Harris (52) and Bart Scott (57), Revis and safeties Kerry Rhodes (25) and Jim Leonhard (33).
The way Manning and the Colts handled Baltimore’s strong and experienced defense last week bodes well against a unit very similar to the Ravens.
Neither team is particularly dangerous returning kicks, although WR Brad Smith (16) ran back a kickoff 106 yards in the previous meeting. The Jets have missed the explosiveness of injured Leon Washington on returns. Indianapolis had a 93-yarder by Chad Simpson during the season.
The Colts have Matt Stover (3) handling field goals and PATs with Adam Vinatieri (4) still hurt, and Stover is very reliable. He doesn’t have as long range as the Jets’ Jay Feely (3), who also has been quite accurate. Considering the low-scoring games New York tends to play, Feely is an important weapon.
Steve Weatherford missed the Jets’ wild-card win at Cincinnati with an irregular heartbeat, but was back last week at San Diego. Colts rookie Pat McAfee (1) had a superb game last week against Baltimore.
A pair of rookie head coaches with entirely different demeanors and backgrounds, but superb resumes — including, naturally, their work this season.
The bombastic Rex Ryan went through endless interviews in recent years before landing in New Jersey. He has made football fun again for his players and an organization with little history of success since the Joe Namath era. Like his father Buddy, Rex Ryan speaks his mind, shows the utmost confidence in “my guys,” and claims there is no limit to what they can achieve. Heck, he already declared the wild-card Jets as a Super Bowl favorite.
With an attacking defense anchored by Revis, a powerful offensive line starring Mangold, and the NFL’s best running game, Ryan is using the formula that worked for the Ravens when he was defensive coordinator.
Jim Caldwell was Tony Dungy’s hand-chosen successor, a coach-in-waiting until Dungy retired after last season. The soft-spoken Caldwell has a background on offense and, unlike Ryan, was a head coach at the top level of college football, at Wake Forest.
Caldwell didn’t do much more than tweak the system the Colts have used so successfully for more than a decade. But replacing a Dungy brings its own set of pressures, and Caldwell handled them so magnificently that the Colts went 14-0. Only when he chose to rest his starters, against the Jets coincidentally, and not chase the unbeaten season did Caldwell taste any controversy.