With most 3-4 defenses, it all starts up front. The three down linemen
disrupt protections and occupy blockers and the linebackers get all the glory.
In some rare cases, a gifted front three can bring their own playmaking ability
to the table and make a good front seven outstanding. The three starting
linemen for the Jets are in the first category.
Kris Jenkins was placed on injured reserve early in the season and his
replacement, Sione Pouha, has done well in his place, but Pouha had big pants to
fill. Pouha has 59 tackles to his credit, which is actually a very high
number for a nose tackle, and has also contributed two sacks.
He is more
disruptive in the running game, though, which is why New York has remained
respectable up the middle and are allowing 3.97 yards per carry in that area,
which is tied with the Colts for 16th in the league. Pouha will need to be
disruptive in the passing game as well, as Jeff Saturday, Kyle DeVan (and
company), and Mike Pollak have all struggled against quality nose tackles this
season. If he has a great game, Indianapolis will have trouble moving the
ball on offense.
Right end Mike Devito is the weak link in this group and teams have averaged
6.05 yards per carry around end to his side of the field. The one area the
Colts have had success in the running game — averaging 5.54 yards per carry
around left end — is behind Charlie Johnson and to Devito's side of the
formation, so they should be able to run some slant and stretch plays to Jospeh
Addai running left and have a fair amount of success with Dominic Rhodes up the
middle. Left end Shuan Ellis has 4.5 sacks and teams have only had
marginal success running to his side, averaging 3.87 yards per attempt.
If Indianapolis is going to win this game — and keep Peyton Manning upright
and uncompromised — they will need to be balanced on offense, not allow the
defensive line to pin their ears back as well as the linebackers, and be
prepared for a fight. Just because this front three is not elite does not
mean that they are bad players. The Colts need to focus on Devito and
Pouha in the running game and avoid Ellis — both on runs and rollouts — in the
Rex Ryan is known for his pressure schemes and exotic blitz packages and that
usually starts with the linebackers. The Jets have 40 sacks on the season
and 20.5 of those sacks came from linebackers, with the defensive line
contributing only 8.5.
Middle linebackers Bart Scott and David Harris have
four sacks combined and usually only come on stunts in a "jailbreak" situation.
They are the enforcers in the middle of the field and will be responsible for
punishing Jacob Tamme and Blair White for any in routes or quick slants that
they try to run.
Outside linebackers Calvin Pace and Bryan Thomas have combined for 11.5 sacks
on the season and are usually the mystery fourth rusher on any down. They
are both converted defensive ends, but they have been 3-4 linebackers for so
long that they are now equally comfortable playing in coverage or with their
hand on the ground.
Pace and Thomas, surprisingly, don't tend to disguise
their intentions before the snap. Either the offense knows that they're
coming and need to brace themselves or the quarterback needs to worry about
which fire zone they will drop into. The guess work in facing a Rex Ryan
defense is not trying to address who's coming; the issue tends to lie in who
isn't coming and where they'll go when the ball is snapped.
In addition, the venerable Jason Taylor is having another fine season as a
situational pass rusher. He is listed as a linebacker, but has five sacks
and two forced fumbles and nearly always shows up on the field in known passing
situations. If there is a high likelihood that Indianapolis will pass and
Taylor is on the field, chances are that he is coming after the quarterback.
Ryan tends to vary his personnel groupings and formations based on down and
distance — more frequently than most defensive coaches — so it will be very
important for Manning to switch to the no huddle offense when he catches the
right personnel on the field.
Though New York had 40 sacks during the regular season, no player finished
with more than six (Thomas had six, Pace had 5.5) and their defensive line and
linebackers combined for 29 total sacks, which means that the other 11 were
registered by defensive backs.
Nickelback Drew Coleman has four sacks
alone, so there is a high probability that he is coming on the blitz if he is
close to the line of scrimmage. Ryan likes to group and blitz his
defensive backs in an attempt to overload one side and Manning is well aware of
that fact. The issue will be finding an open man when that pressure comes.
Without Dallas Clark and Austin Collie, the Indianapolis offense is
shorthanded against a very formidable group of coverage players for the Jets.
Reggie Wayne will draw Darrelle Revis, who has his own island named after him
and Pierre Garcon will face off against Antonio Cromartie, who is very familiar
with the Colts offense and their tendencies from his days with the Chargers.
Wayne is a match-ups player at this point in his career and he has a terrible
matchup against Revis on Saturday night. In the 2009 AFC Championship
game, Wayne registered three catches for 55 yards and might have a lesser
performance this time around.
Garcon put up 11 receptions for 155 yards
and a touchdown on 15 targets against Dwight Lowery, who has since been demoted
and moved to backup free safety. He faces a much stiffer challenge this
week in Cromartie, but he must be able to get around the talented quarterback
and manage to catch the ball if the Colts are going to be able to strike down
The issue is that the Jets have not allowed passing offenses to gain chunks
of yardage on them despite their propensity to blitz. Cromartie has only
allowed offenses to complete 22.81 percent of their passes to his side of the
field in the deep passing game, which is best in the league.
only 8.09 yards per attempt to his side and safeties Eric Coleman and Brodney Pool bracket the deep middle, yielding only 9.47 yards per attempt. All of
this is against an Indianapolis offense that ranks in the bottom half of the
league in terms of completion percentage in the deep passing game.
The yards will not come easy and it is possible that New York will blitz
Manning, bolstered by the confidence that their secondary — even if undermanned
— will be able to cover his receivers. The problem there, as Ryan has
discovered, is that blitzing everyone gives Manning the ability to lead his
receiver to an open field with the right read and the right throw.
is able to sit back and trust a four-man rush, then Manning will probably not
have the time or patience to wear down the Jets defense. This is a bad
matchup for the Colts pass catchers, so the season will come down to whether or
not Ryan handicaps himself and plays right into Manning's hands.
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Peyton Manning has a long history of success against Rex Ryan defenses. Will he keep it up against the Jets on Saturday night? Brad Keller takes a look.