NFL Wildcard Playoff Preview: How the Jets can beat the Colts

New York Jets head coach Rex Ryan reacts on the sidelines in the fourth quarter against the Buffalo Bills in week 17 of the NFL season at New Meadowlands Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey on January 2, 2011. The Jets defeated the Bills 38-7 and advance to the playoffs. UPI /John Angelillo

As I did with the Saints-Seahawks preview, below I break down how the Jets can beat the Colts on Saturday and vice versa.

THE JETS WIN IF: Obviously Mark Sanchez needs to be productive for the Jets to have a shot, but I’m going to focus on Rex Ryan’s defense. If Ryan finally wants to get the Peyton Manning monkey off his back, he could learn a lot from watching how the Patriots, Chargers and Cowboys defended the Colts in Indy’s three-game losing streak in Weeks 11-13. In those three games, the Colts averaged just 2.6 yards per rush. Granted, they didn’t have Joseph Addai then, but the key to defusing Manning might start with taking away his running game. Obviously the Jets need to get pressure on Manning. All teams facing quarterbacks like Manning, Tom Brady, Drew Brees and Aaron Rodgers need to dial up pressure to beat those guys. But despite the popular belief that the Colts can’t run the ball, most of Manning’s success comes from Indy’s balance on offense. The Colts might not rack up a lot of rushing yards, but that doesn’t mean their ground game can’t be effective. The Jets need to focus on shutting down the Colts’ rushing attack first and make them one-dimensional. If Manning is constantly in third-and-long situations, then eventually the Jets will come up with a big play (just as the Patriots, Chargers and Cowboys did). Disguising blitzes and sending pressure from the secondary is all well and good, but those things won’t matter if the Colts can move the ball on the ground. Peyton is going to make plays – that’s just what he does. But it’s those times when the Jets force him to throw in third-and-long when they need to capitalize.

THE COLTS WIN IF: Peyton continues his domination of Ryan-led defenses. Over the past month of the season, quarterbacks such as Tom Brady and Jay Cutler were able to strike for big plays because Ryan constantly had to send extra defenders to help his feeble pass rush. If Manning can strike for a couple of long-gainers and put the Jets back on their heels, then it will force Mark Sanchez to beat the Colts with his arm. Another thing Indy must do is control the tempo. If the Jets are able to play their game (i.e. running the ball and playing good defense), then Manning may get frustrated that he can’t attack, attack, attack like he’s used to doing. Nothing infuriates him more than having to stand on the sidelines and watch the time tick off the clock. But if the Colts can establish rhythm early, get into the fast tempo they want to play and make Sanchez and the Jets’ offense scramble to catch up, then Indy wins this one running away.

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