Slowing Manning key to Jets' chances

Posted Jan. 03, 2011 @ 5:33 p.m.
Posted By Eli Kaberon

Despite head coach Rex Ryan's pleas in training camp, the Jets did not lead the league in (bleeping) wins during the regular season. New York went 11-5, a record some have called inflated because of a 9-1 record vs. non-playoff teams compared to 2-4 against squads still playing. QB Mark Sanchez has not developed into the top-flight player Ryan and the coaching staff were hoping he'd become. CB Darrelle Revis started the regular season out of shape because of a holdout, missed time with an injury and didn't intercept a single pass all season, yet still was voted a Pro Bowl starter.

None of that matters now, however. The 11 wins the Jets did post was good enough to earn a wild-card berth and the sixth seed in the AFC playoffs, where they will take on the team that eliminated them in the AFC championship game last season, the Colts. Ryan told the media following the team's Week 17 game — a 38-7 win over the Bills — that his team is exactly where it wants to be.

"This football team is ready," the head coach said. "We have no excuses, not one excuse. We're going to Indy or wherever and our goals are intact. We want to win a Super Bowl and we want to do it right now."

The PFW Spin

The Jets enter the game vs. the Colts knowing they face a significant challenge. Peyton Manning is a tough QB to beat anywhere at any time, but especially at home in the playoffs, as the Jets well know. A year ago, New York was leading Indy 17-6 just before the two-minute warning prior to halftime. Then Manning took over, throwing three TD passes in the game's final 32 minutes to lead the Colts to a 30-17 win and a trip to Super Bowl XLIV.

For the Jets to reverse that outcome, a lot of things have to change, starting with their scheme against Manning. The Colts' QB is one of the best in NFL history at reading defenses at the line of scrimmage, understanding the coverage and then adjusting his play to take advantage of what the opponent is presenting. Ryan's stop units over the years, first in Baltimore and now in New York, have tried to counter that with a lot of movement and by blitzing from unexpected positions, but it has not been successful. Manning has knocked out Ryan twice in the past four postseasons, including a 15-6 Colts victory over the Ravens in January 2007.

If the coach wants to reverse that trend and avoid making it 3-of-5 offseasons spent wondering how to stop No. 18, he'll need to develop a new strategy, and it likely will start with the secondary. In the past, Ryan has blitzed from all different points on the field, trying to confuse the QB into making poor decisions. It rarely works and often has backfired, as it did when Manning completed 17 of his final 23 throws last January. No. 1 WR Reggie Wayne was held to three relatively harmless receptions by Revis, but Pierre Garcon and Austin Collie torched the Jets' other defensive backs for a combined 18-274-2. The Jets did record two sacks, but didn't hit Manning enough to knock him out of rhythm.

Expect to see more zone coverage by the Jets in the middle of the field, a tactic they rarely have utilized in 2010. Revis will shadow Wayne, and Antonio Cromartie (four career INTs vs. Manning) will likely trail Garcon, but the other DBs may be splitting up the field to provide more over-the-top help. Pressuring the quarterback will still be a priority for the Jets, though not as much as in years past vs. the Colts.

A change in scheme does not guarantee a change in result, as Manning has picked apart almost every type of defense known to man. And there's still the issue of Sanchez and the Jets' offense putting points on the board against a ferocious Colts pass rush. But if the Jets want any chance of winning on Saturday night and continuing their road to a Super Bowl they'll need to do a better job of slowing down a future Hall of Fame quarterback than they have in the past.