The Jets today have their next shot to get back on track and their last shot to salvage their three-game homestand this afternoon at MetLife Stadium. And one question that comes to mind this morning is this:
Who are these Colts?
They are not your Indianapolis older brother's Colts, that's for sure. Those were the horseshoes of Peyton Manning. The last time the Jets played Indy without Manning at quarterback, it was 1997. The last time any NFL team played the Manning Colts was the 2010 AFC Wild Card Game, won, needless to say here, by the Jets.
Andrew Luck has a similar stature at 6'4", 234 pounds to now Broncos savior Manning at 6'5", 230. He is not Manning, starting with his age as the first pick of the 2012 NFL Draft. But his impact on the game — and today on the Jets — could be similar if the Jets aren't prepared.
"He's a guy that I think is just a rare QB, the Peyton Mannings, the Tom Bradys, those types that only come along so often," defensive coordinator Mike Pettine said. "He's the kind of guy that, even though he's a rookie, you can't treat him like one. You have to give him unconventional coverages and change the looks and make sure you self-scouted going into the game, to make sure that he can't draw a beat on where you are. If you present him with an easy look, he knows exactly where to go with the ball."
And that would more than likely be to WR Reggie Wayne, who is a part of your Indianapolis older brother's Colts. Wayne is in his 12th season with Indy, all wearing No. 87, all highly productive. And Season No. 12 could be his most productive ever. He's on pace to have 240 passes thrown his way, to catch 144 of them for 2,024 yards.
And because the new offensive system of Luck, head coach Chuck Pagano, and interim coach Bruce Arians moves Wayne all over their formation, it won't be a simple matter of lining up the focused and fired-up Antonio Cromartie on him wherever he goes. It will take a team defensive effort — albeit a defense without Darrelle Revis, placed on injured reserve finally on Friday — to keep the Colts in the corral.
Reminiscent of a Nemesis?
But while Wayne is still a mainstay on offense, and Dwight Freeney on defense, much else has changed. TE Dallas Clark? A Buccaneer. WR Pierre Garcon? A Redskin. WR Austin Collie? Still a Colt, but on IR. RB Joseph Addai? On the street. RB Donald Brown? Injured and left home. DE Robert Mathis? Now a linebacker, like Freeney, in a 3-4 defense, and also left home.
Head coach Rex Ryan sees the hint of another Jets nemesis in today's foe.
"With Arians, it's an offense that is very similar to Pittsburgh," said Ryan. "Obviously when Bruce was there, Pittsburgh had a lot of success. One thing that jumps out is the play of Reggie Wayne. Reggie is doing a lot of dirtywork, too, kind of like Hines Ward used to do. ... And luck can shake guys like Big Ben does a little bit. He can extend plays, and that's something we have to do a great job of understanding."
Perhaps understanding that the Colts of yesteryear not only provided the Jets with some bitter defeats but also with some of their most satisfying victories will buoy the efforts of the Green & White today. Jets Nation remembers well their team's first win over Manning, by 44-6 in 1998, and their last, by 17-16 in that 2010 wild-card game. There was the mind-blowing 41-0 rout in the '02 AFC Wild Card Round. And the 29-15 win over the then-14-0 Colts who controversially rested some of their frontliners in '09.
But we know where all this talk about the old and new Colts is leading, don't we? Today has less to do with the opponent and more to do with what the Jets will make of this so-far injured season. Will they take the small springboard from their signs of life against the Texans and propel themselves forward into the last 11 games of this regular season? Will they make progress toward health and vibrancy and relevancy as a football team, or progress toward a season that goes through the motions?
Already the health front appears at least a little more promising, amid the injured-receiver-a-week pace this season, as TE Dustin Keller and WR Stephen Hill appear prepared to return to the operation.
For Mark Sanchez, the return of Keller can't come too soon. In 54 games together, the QB and TE have combined for 190 receptions (3.5 per game) for 2,327 yards (43.1 per game, 12.25 per catch) and 14 touchdowns.
Ready to Take On the New Colts
"It's been frustrating for me, and it's been frustrating for Mark also," said Keller, who came out of the Carolina preseason game with his hamstring injury and aggravated it in the opener vs. Buffalo. "I think we're finally past that and we can get back to working together again. I hope I can make a difference, whether it's catching passes for drawing defenses off so other guys can catch passes. Either way, I'm ready to play."
Is the Jets' ground game ready to contribute? It has been a struggle so far. Their rush yards per game is 25th in the NFL, per carry is 30th. Shonn Greene is averaging 2.9 yards per carry, broken down unofficially to 0.8 yards before first contact and 2.1 after first contact, both career lows if they are sustained over the season.
Offensive coordinator Tony Sparano took the sluggishness of the ground game on himself.
"I think obviously we can create more space. I can do a better job trying to create space myself," Sparano said of the blocking schemes in front of Greene, Bilal Powell, Joe McKnight and Mr. Wildcat, Tim Tebow. "Obviously, we have to do a better job. We need to be able to rush the ball better than we're rushing the ball right now. It's something that I need to be doing a better job with."
Perhaps against the Indianapolis run defense, 25th in yards allowed per game, 26th in yards per carry.
A better job is required by all to turn the Jets fully in the right direction and to turn the frisky Colts of Andrew Luck home with a loss.
"They're going to come in with a high confidence level and be ready to roll," Greene said. "They're feeling pretty good about themselves and that always makes for a dangerous team. We have to look forward to that challenge and we have to prepare to get ready to take that on." "For us, we only focus on one week and that's this week right here against the Colts," said Cromartie. "Right now, what we're looking at is we're one game back from being in first place. The biggest thing is we have an AFC game coming up. We have to make sure that we come in and try to win this game at home and just take care of what we need to take care of from that point on."