Six days ago, head coach Rex Ryan opened up a week's worth of media hype for today's Jets-Patriots AFC Divisional Round showdown with the following declaration:
"This week is about Bill Belichick against Rex Ryan."
The statement was in direct reference to the Patriots' 45-3 rout of the Jets at Gillette Stadium back on Dec. 6 as Ryan believes he didn't put his men in a favorable position to succeed and that he has to elevate his coaching this afternoon at Gillette Stadium.
And while that might be true, the commander-in-chief will also have to get terrific outings out of his three colonels — coordinators Mike Pettine, Brian Schottenheimer and Mike Westhoff — if they hope to continue their advance next weekend in either Pittsburgh or Baltimore.
Last weekend in America's heartland, Pettine got his defense to control one of the NFL's great warriors in Peyton Manning. But now another future Hall of Famer QB, Tom Brady, and a band of revolutionaries await the impending attack.
"A big part of it is the ability to disguise presnap and not let them know what you're in," said Pettine. "I think against Indy, we did a good job of that. Our disguise was almost being very vanilla and then went to a lot of our stuff postsnap, and I think we'll need to do more of the same this week."
But the actual plan of attack will be much different. The Colts run the majority of their plays out of similar formations whereas the Patriots run the same plays out of a myriad of different formations and personnel groupings.
"The Patriots are — not in a bad way — a flavor-of-the-week type offense," Pettine said. "They're going to come out with some things that you have not prepared for and have their basic stuff out of it, but it's a different look, whether it's a personnel grouping or different formation. That's where you need to have the ability to adapt in-game."
After holding the Colts to 16 points and limiting them to three field goals on their four scoring possessions, Pettine's troops will be asked to slow down a Brady-led offense that averaged 37 points on the Patriots' eight-game win streak to close the regular season.
"We cannot look at ourselves defensively and say, 'We are going to win this football game,' " Pettine said. "It's got to be a team win — whether it's time of possession, eating up the clock or scoring points.
"A lot of times these games will come down to efficiency in the red zone, whereas we were able to hold Indy to 0-for-1 in the red zone and our offense [two touchdowns in four opportunities] had some production. I think that's a huge part of this game. Again, you can't look at it and say we are going to totally shut this offense down. Our whole thing is, don't get the ball thrown over our heads, be on point and tackle well."
Schottenheimer hopes his unit can start fast after going scoreless over the first 30 minutes on Wild Card Weekend. The Jets are notorious for their slow opens and the Patriots defense feeds off playing with the lead. The Pats' 38 takeaways and 25 interceptions led the league and Jets QB Mark Sanchez hasn't tasted success yet in New England, throwing seven interceptions and having completed just 46 percent of his passes in two blowout defeats in Foxboro.
"The five years I've been here, very rarely do they ever make mistakes, so you have to play clean. You have to execute," said Schottenheimer of the home club. "Mark has to know that if something breaks down, it's better to pull it down and run or throw it away than to try to force the throw. Their young defense has really thrived on taking the ball away. A lot of it is that they've been up big on so many people that teams are having to throw it, but this is an excellent group that we're getting ready to play and very well-coached."
Conventional wisdom says the Jets will be well-advised to stay on the ground, considering they just rushed for 169 yards against the Colts, averaged 144 yards against the Pats in two games and can keep Brady on the sideline by chewing on the clock and moving the chains.
"This group is awfully disciplined. We're going to be balanced and then we're going to go with whatever is working," Schottenheimer said. "We know that they'll have something different for us. They played us a ton of man-to-man last game. They played right up in our face and challenged us to throw. Obviously, the game got away from us a little bit. It remains to be seen. We'll throw some things out there early and see how it plays out. Hopefully, we're running a lot late because that means we have a big lead."
The Jets, who annually have one of the top special teams units in the league under Westhoff, will play in hostile territory and won't receive a warm welcome from spectators.
"I don't like anybody anyway, so it's easy for me," Westhoff said. "It's just a fight. I respect everybody. I respect our game and how we play it."
Battle plans have been drawn, but adjustments will be made. After 101 meetings since 1960 — in fact, the series is even at 51-51-1 — two longtime rivals are headed to the same gridiron and never has more been at stake.
As Ryan said on Friday, "This is without question the second-biggest game in the history of the franchise."
As Ryan also said about going head-to-head with his counterpart on the Patriots: "Quite honestly, I don't care if Belichick outcoaches me if we win the game. I'll sign up for that. But I do think it'll come down to that. I've said it the whole week. And I'm confident."
And as Westhoff said about today's game, set to kick off around 4:30 p.m. EST:
"You have to bring your 'A' game, but we're going to bring it — we're going to bring it. I don't think there is any question about it."