During my training camp tour, I saw the bus that Rex Ryan autographed with a message stating the Jets were headed to the Super Bowl. They made the playoffs as a wild-card team, not the division champion, but are in the tournament.
The Jets get thrown right back where they left off last season, facing the Colts at Lucas Oil Stadium, where Ryan's team lost last year's AFC title game. Ryan wants revenge, and he's talking a blue streak while the Colts quietly go about their preparation for the rematch.
The Colts finished with a four-game winning streak, averaging 29.5 points a game. During the streak, they faced Chris Johnson twice, Maurice Jones-Drew and Darren McFadden, and were able to coral the run well enough to get the job done. The Jets really want to get the ground game going, but it could be tough, especially if they fall behind.
The Jets have shifted their offensive philosophy with Mark Sanchez in his second season. He throws close to 10 more times a game this season than last, which might come in handy from an experience standpoint if the Jets have to mount a rally.
Here are four pressing questions heading into the matchup.
1. How will Jets attack Manning?
It's no secret the Jets attack on defense. The season-ending injury to safety Jim Leonhard had a negative effect on the pressure packages. Since he got hurt, the team is down about 10 percent in their pressure calls, but they still want to bring the heat 70-plus percent of the time on third down. This can be a very high risk-reward philosophy against Peyton Manning.
In years past, teams backed off pressure calls against Manning. However, the Saints didn't back down from the aggressive defense in the Super Bowl. I'm sure Ryan looked long and hard at that game film. This year, Manning is completing about 60 percent of his passes against pressure calls, yet it appears to be a lot more of the short variety as he is averaging less than six yards per attempt against the blitz. In the AFC title game, he averaged a whopping 9.67 yards an attempt vs. the Jets and had 377 yards through the air. Ryan will bring the heat!
2. Can New York block Freeney, Mathis?
The Jets' offensive tackles have their hands full with D'Brickashaw Ferguson on Dwight Freeney and either Damien Woody -- who has returned to practice -- or Wayne Hunter on Robert Mathis. Freeney and Mathis each had the majority of their sacks at home. The Colts only reach into the blitz bag of tricks about five times a game and rely on the front four to get there most of the time. I worked with Colts defensive coordinator Larry Coyer, and he might have a few more pressure calls in a game like this, especially in second-down situations or to move the Jets out of field goal range. Coyer can be very aggressive in his play-calling. Sanchez has to play with a reset clock in his head with a slightly shorter amount of time before the buzzer goes off telling him to get rid of the ball.
3. How will Colts adjust?
We all know Manning is more than a quarterback. He's a coach on the field and on the sideline. What sometimes goes unnoticed is the brilliant job he does making halftime adjustments after he has seen what the opposing team has to offer. Last year's playoff game is a good example. New York was up 17-13 at halftime and needed a late second-quarter touchdown pass to be that close. Manning led his team to 17 points in the second half, and the Colts earned a trip to the Super Bowl.
When you take a look at 2010 and second-half scoring, no team put up more points in the third quarter than the Colts. When you combine it with their fourth-quarter scoring, Indianapolis generated 244 second-half points or an average 15.3 in the final 30 minutes of games.
4. Can Indy keep stopping the run?
It seems that every team comes to Indianapolis with the idea of running the ball to keep Manning off the field. The Jets ran it 29 times in the AFC title game, but only averaged 3.0 yards per carry. That won't get it done this time. The Colts reduced the Raiders' second-ranked rushing game to 20 carries for 80 yards. They turned their division hopes around by reducing the Jaguars' rushing attack to an average of 3.0 yards on 22 carries. It is going to take great discipline for the Jets to stick with the ground attack if they fall behind.
I like the Jets and probably would have picked them to win if they had ended up playing at Kansas City. But Manning at home is too much to overcome.