Let's take the debate over whether the Indianapolis Colts made a mistake by not trying to go 16-0 off the table.
In consultation with an AFC East team's assistant coach who has studied both teams thoroughly, I have assembled a list of five reasons the Colts might regret pulling Peyton Manning and other starters from their Week 16 game against the Jets, which helped New York capture a playoff spot that ultimately led to Sunday's rematch:
1. More heat on Manning
The Colts could have eliminated a good, big, physical, blitzing defense that is not an ideal matchup for their offense. When the Colts come to the line, they do what all NFL teams do and have their center, Jeff Saturday, identify the middle linebacker. From there, they decide whether they will block the linebacker with a back or the line, and the line will slide its protection left or right.
"But what the Jets do is they have what they call a 'walk-around,' where you've got one guy down in a stance and everybody else is clustered in the middle," the AFC East coach said. "And then they just spread out and go. So on third down, that makes it harder for the offense to determine their blocking scheme because they don't know which way to go."
If the Jets succeed in getting pressure up the gut, Manning will be forced out of his comfort zone in the middle of the pocket and be more prone to mistakes.
2. A physical affair in store
The Colts could have eliminated a good, big, physical offensive line that is not an ideal matchup for their smallish defense that, by design, relies heavily on lateral movement and depends on quickness within its front seven to get penetration. On top of that, there's the NFL's top-ranked rushing attack that works behind that line.
"They play an aggressive, assault, attack defense," the coach said. "It's a slanting defense, so everybody's run fit has to be exactly perfect. If not, there are going to be gaps that the Jets' backs can exploit. And when you get a guy going sideways, you can push that guy all over the field and create seams."
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3. Momentum building for Sanchez and Co.
The Jets were just starting to get hot. Although they had lost to Atlanta, 10-7, the previous week, they were beginning to play better and with more consistency. The defense and running game were well established as being playoff-worthy. Rookie quarterback Mark Sanchez was starting to come into his own and gain more confidence.
As Sanchez told reporters this week, "The communication between (offensive coordinator Brian) Schottenheimer and myself and (quarterbacks coach Matt) Cavanaugh and the guys in the huddle, took a turn for the better during that game. We really started talking about situations and just reiterating the importance of the football, playing the field position battle when we have to, knowing that we have a great running game and we can rely on it, and when we do throw it's important to be accurate. All of these things started to ... I don't want to say click, I don't want to feel like I've arrived; there are a million things I need to work on and improve on ... but things did start to get more comfortable and maybe slow down a little."
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4. Jets have confidence
"Believe me, what they've been telling themselves all week is, 'We went there, we won, we got in the playoffs, we overcame,'" the coach said.
5. Bulletin board material for Ryan
The controversial circumstances surrounding the Dec. 27 win have become a rallying cry for the Jets. Colts fans and media booed and complained loudly because Indianapolis didn't try for perfection. And to the Jets, that's another way of saying that the only reason they won is because the Colts allowed them to win.
"You know (New York coach) Rex Ryan has pounded it into the heads of his players, 'They gave us the game, they disrespected us, they're dissing us,'" the coach said. "It's set up perfectly for him to say, 'It's us against the world.'"
That only feeds into the Jets' ultra-loose, we're-playing-with-house-money approach. Said Scott, "We understand it's tough sledding, but we're not afraid to fail. When you're not afraid to fail, it gives you a better chance of succeeding."
Both teams have been able to gain a fairly significant amount of information from each other from the Week 16 game.
At first glance, it's easy to assume that the Colts might have gotten more because, having clinched a No. 1 playoff seed two weeks earlier, they weren't necessarily using the fullest extent of their game plan. However, the Jets' defenders maintain they were able to learn quite a bit from their up-close view of Manning and his various gesticulations at the line of scrimmage to call and/or change plays (or fake doing both) for the better part of three quarters.
In addition, they studied a great deal of videotape of the Colts before the game, with particular focus on how they operated against Baltimore's defense -- which is very similar to the Jets' scheme because Ryan was the Ravens' defensive coordinator from 2005-08 -- on Nov. 22. The Jets also have been able to study videotape of the Colts-Ravens divisional-round playoff game.
"We're going to take a lot from our previous game against them," Jets defensive lineman Marques Douglas said. "Number one, we kind of had a feel about how they were going to hurt us. And seeing Baltimore playing some of our schemes, seeing how they tried to hurt Baltimore (in the playoffs), we can get a lot from watching that film."