Rex Ryan is brilliant, but Peyton Manning is even smarter.
During his tenure as the defensive coordinator with the Baltimore Ravens, Ryan consistently fielded an aggressive, bullying defense that befuddled and simply overwhelmed opponents. Under his direction, they never finished any worse than sixth-best in the NFL.
But after accepting the job as the New York Jets head coach a year ago, he inherited players from a previous regime and had to quickly size up who would be able to adapt to his defensive scheme and who he would need to reel in to fill the gaps.
The talent search for the right athletes with the right mentality to transform the Jets into a stout defense should have taken at least a couple of years, but Ryan made three key acquisitions when he pulled in former Ravens safety Jim Leonhard, linebacker Bart Scott and defensive lineman Marques Douglas. Adding one player to each of the three defensive groups--the secondary, linebacker corps and defensive line--drastically reduced the learning curve for the rest of the defense, providing instant tutors who not only understood Ryan's scheme, but also how to demonstrate it to their new peers.
Manning hasn't been rattled by Ryan's aggressive defenses.
Andy Lyons/Getty Images
With the Jets preparing for the AFC Championship game against the Colts this weekend, Ryan's brilliance is evident. But will it be enough to take down the league's only four-time MVP--a player who has repeatedly bested even Ryan's most tenacious defenses during his previous seasons with the Ravens?
Peyton Manning has been challenged by--but outplayed--Ryan's defenses in six out of seven games prior to this season, including one playoff game. He's completed 62.5% of his throws, tossed 13 touchdowns, just four interceptions and has been sacked 11 times during those matchups.
And get this. Four of Indianapolis' six consecutive wins over Ryan and the Ravens were by double-digit margins, including the most recent ones of 24 and 28 points.
But in fairness to Ryan and the Jets, Manning isn't playing the Ravens this weekend. He and his teammates disposed of them last weekend. So how did the veteran quarterback fare against New York during his limited playing time back in Week 16?
Well, had it not been for a spectacular kickoff return by the Jets for a touchdown--an event that doesn't come along very often for NFL clubs--Manning likely would have left the game with a double-digit lead of 15-3 instead of 15-10. During the first 34 minutes of play, he completed 66.7% of his passes for 192 yards, moving the chains with 11 of his 14 pass completions.
During that same stretch, the Jets offense managed to score a single field goal. Their potent rushing attack behind a highly talented offensive line was limited to 54 yards while they managed just 69 more through the air.
But what should be an even bigger concern for New York is that the foundation of their success, their very physical and wildly unpredictable defense, yielded three scoring scoring drives to the Colts during six offensive possessions--and with roughly 25 minutes of game time still remaining.
Another troublesome thought is that the Jets offense didn't score a touchdown until the Colts had shelved practically their entire starting defense in the fourth quarter. And even then it took an 11-play, 6-minute drive against to put that lone touchdown on the board.
With the way the Colts offense performed against the Jets defense without starting left offensive tackle Charlie Johnson and No. 2 wide receiver Pierre Garcon--in addition to losing running back Joseph Addai halfway through the first half--it's going to be tough for New York to even keep this one close.
And I say that despite the fact that I picked the Jets to defeat both the Bengals and the Chargers over the past two weeks.
With a fully healthy squad, the Colts offense should be capable of posting at least 24 points during this contest. So unless the Jets offense gets substantial help in points production from their defense or their special teams, they'll be hard-pressed to keep pace. Indianapolis' home field advantage, playoff experience, a speedy, swarming defense and a potent offense powered by the smartest quarterback in the league gives the Colts a big-time edge.
But if Ryan's Jets somehow manage to pull off the upset at Indianapolis this Sunday, I'll be among the first to applaud their gritty and audacious performance. Knocking two of the league's top quarterbacks--San Diego's Philip Rivers and Manning--out of the playoffs in consecutive weeks while opposing them with a rookie quarterback would be a feat that no one could ignore.
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