Multi-Look Defense Makes Jets Difficult First-Round Match-Up, Manning Says
INDIANAPOLIS – To hear Peyton Manning tell it, his week has been anything but easy.
And he's not expecting it to get easier.
Manning, the Colts' 11-time Pro Bowl quarterback, said this week there are a lot of difficulties involved with playing the New York Jets, the Colts' opponent this week. They're talented, aggressive defensively and Manning said most notably, they're complex.
Really, really complex.
"It takes you absolutely forever to watch one game with their defense," Manning said as the AFC South Champion Colts (10-6) prepared to play the Jets (11-5) in an AFC Wild Card game at Lucas Oil Stadium in downtown Indianapolis Saturday at 8 p.m.
"It takes you some time. I think we're already behind the eight ball with a short week. With a Saturday game, you're a day short on your preparation. It's a full-time cram session. They're extremely challenging to prepare for, their scheme, and I think their players are better than last year."
They're not only complex, they're effective.
And that has been true this season on either side of the ball.
The Jets, after making the playoffs as a wild card last season, beat the Cincinnati Bengals and San Diego Chargers to advance to the AFC Championship Game, where they lost to the Colts, 30-17, after leading by four points at halftime.
This season, the Jets started just as quickly.
After an off-season in which they acquired not only running back LaDainian Tomlinson and wide receiver Santonio Holmes, but cornerback Antonio Cromartie and defensive end Jason Taylor, the Jets developed into one of the league's highest-profile teams, beginning with an appearance on the HBO Series, Hard Knocks. Their coach, Rex Ryan, also has remained one of the league's most visible coaches.
After losing their regular-season opener to Baltimore, the Jets won five consecutive games, and after a Week 7 loss, they won four more games to share the AFC East lead with New England at 9-2.
A reason for the Jets' success: the continued development of Mark Sanchez, a 2009 first-round draft selection who quarterbacked the Jets to within a game of the Super Bowl in his first season.
"Sanchez definitely has the ability to be dangerous, definitely with his feet," Colts defensive end Dwight Freeney said. "I think they like to get him outside of the pocket and use his mobility as a strength, do some boots and things of that nature, so it's going to be imant."
Sanchez, Freeney said, has helped the Jets improve their offensive balance. As was the case last season, the Jets are one of the NFL's best running teams, ranking fourth in the NFL. Shonn Greene has rushed for 766 yards on 185 carries, with Tomlinson rushing for 914 yards and six touchdowns on 219 carries.
"They are not much different," Freeney said. "They run the ball, and that is what they want to do. They want to establish the run and try to dominate the line of scrimmage. We understand that we have a challenge when it comes to that."
Sanchez, after throwing for 2,444 yards and 12 touchdowns with 20 interceptions last season, threw for 3,291 yards and 17 touchdowns this season with 13 interceptions in 2010.
"We can't just say that they run the ball, no – Sanchez does a good job," Freeney said.
"Mark Sanchez has been doing a good job for them this year," Colts safety Antoine Bethea said. "Obviously, he has some good weapons at the receiver position as well as the tight end position. He does a good job controlling the game, getting the ball to the receivers so they can make plays downfield.
"The back seven just has to continue to do our job, sit back there, read the quarterback and break on balls and make plays when possible."
Gary Brackett, the Colts' middle linebacker and defensive captain, said while Sanchez played well last season, "I think he is just a little bit more mature" this season.
"Even last year he was playing great," Brackett said. "As a whole, we saw him in the AFC Championship game and they were playing some of their best football, similar to what they are doing now. From that standpoint, just having some more weapons with LaDainian Tomlinson and Santonio Holmes doing a great job, he (Sanchez) is just doing a good job using what he has around him.
"I think he is explosive. I think he is a guy that is mobile in the pocket and gets away from a lot of trouble in there and uses his legs to scramble for a first down or buy some time to throw the ball downfield. I think it is a guy who is electric, and he will hurt you if you give him the opportunity to."
While the Jets' offense has improved defensively, Manning said their defense remains what it has been since Ryan's arrival last season – one of the league's best.
The Jets this season ranked third in the NFL in total defense, and only three times allowed more than 20 points in a game.
"There are still a lot of similarities," Caldwell said. "They played extremely hard and played well last year. They covered you well and with Cromartie, they just get better. He can run and defend. He's rangy.
"There are a lot of similarities. They're playing as well as ever."
Because of that, Manning said while the Colts won their last four games and enter the post-season on their longest winning streak of the season, "We're facing a different animal in the Jets this week."
"The only team we've beaten in the playoffs is the Chiefs, so this will be one of the toughest tests of the season," Manning said. "It's going to be important that we try to play well in all phases. "They added Cromartie at corner, who is a top cover corner in the NFL.
"They are playing with a lot of confidence right now. That's why it is going to be a tough game."