Something Other Than Peyton Manning to Worry About

Colts defense is unheralded but dangerous

By Josh Alper
|  Thursday, Jan 21, 2010  |  Updated 1:30 PM EDT
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You can't throw a stick this week without hitting someone talking about all the things the Jets need to do in order to stop Peyton Manning from advancing to his second Super Bowl. Exotic blitzes and confusing coverages are debated as is the need to find the defensive backs capable of shutting down Dallas Clark and the Colts receivers who aren't booked for a stay on Revis Island.

Less discussed is what the Jets need to do offensively in order to score points on the overlooked Colts defense. It's a natural omission given Manning's presence on the other side of the ball, but it is something that has to be dealt with if the Jets hope to keep their season going for another week.

A cursory look at the statistics from the season would lead you believe that the Jets don't need to do anything out of the ordinary. The Colts gave up more than 124 yards per game on the ground so all the Jets need to do is keep pounding the ball with Shonn Greene and Thomas Jones, right?

They'll need to do a lot of that, but things get a little less simple when you dive deeper inside the numbers. Here's three things that stand out when looking at the matchup.

1. The Colts bend, but don't break - The Colts may be mediocre against the run over 80 yards of the field, but their work in the red zone has been outstanding. The Colts rank fifth in the league against the run in their red zone according to Football Outsiders, which means that the Jets are probabaly going to have to find other ways to punch the ball in for six if they get in close. 

2. Third down disasters - Third and long is a bad place to find yourself against the Colts. Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis are masterful pass rushers and they're both fast enough to chase down Mark Sanchez when he tries to roll out and make plays as he has in the last two weeks. Third down defense overall is a Colts strength, but there's a big offensive edge when teams are able to run the ball on third down against the Colts. That point leads us to...

3. Throw early on drives - If the Colts have Jets in a spot where they have to throw, it's to their advantage. To avoid that, the Jets should try to throw earlier on drives to take advantage of the expectation that they're going to run the ball. Hit a couple of plays, which don't have to be huge gainers, and you'll force the Colts into a more balanced approach. 

If all of that sounds like it puts some pressure on Sanchez, it should. The good news is that it is the same pressure he faced in the last two weeks, with the added danger of the Colts Cover-2 scheme meaning he'll have to take extra care not to throw the ball into traffic the way Joe Flacco did last weekend.

It's not as sexy as the Manning matchup, but both sides of the ball are going to wind up deciding who wins this game.

Josh Alper is a writer living in New York City and is a contributor to FanHouse.com and ProFootballTalk.com in addition to his duties for NBCNewYork.com.

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