"Sometimes when you hit the quarterback the whole team feels it" - Rex RyanThose would have to be the most telling words spoken during the Divisional round of the NFL playoffs.
The Chargers certainly felt Philip Rivers' pain as they were pounded into submission and the relentless pressure applied by the Jets ended their Super Bowl hopes.
In order to win this game New York had to turn it into a brawl. They did just that, but there was nothing sweet or scientific about Rex Ryan's game plan.
Anybody who has ever laced up the gloves knows that, while it's the haymakers that make the headlines, the body blows are what set up that eventual kodak moment.
In much the same way, New York used an aggressive attacking defense and a steady run game on offense to wear San Diego down and knock them off of their game. Shonn Greene's 53 yard, fourth quarter TD run served as the final knockout punch.
So can the Jets keep their improbable (or not, since I picked them to play in the AFCC in the preseason) playoff run going against the Colts?
Indianapolis, for their part, had little trouble handling Baltimore in the Divisional round. One of the Raven's few highlights consisted of an eight minute opening drive that allowed them to tie the game at three.
It was all downhill from there for them, thanks in no small part to Baltimore's four turnovers. Ed Reed even managed to fumble the ball during an interception return in the third quarter.
While Peyton Manning played his typical solid, efficient game (30 of 44 for 246 yds), the Colts defense stepped up against the Ravens. Specifically the run defense, which was considered a weakness coming in came up strong, holding Ravens runners to just 87 yards.
Any pretense that Baltimore had of beating Indianapolis was put to rest when Manning connected with Reggie Wayne for his second touchdown just before halftime.
Keys to the Game
The striking thing about this game is the similarities it represents to both teams' divisional round matchups. Indy has a lot in common with San Diego, while New York has much in common with Baltimore.
Both the Colts and Chargers have a high scoring passing offense led by a MVP caliber quarterback that makes up for a anemic running game. Also, both of them rank toward the bottom of the league in run defense, but are pretty solid against the pass. The ability to strike quick through the air is the strength that defines these teams.
At the same time, both the Jets and Ravens have used an efficient running game to compensate for less effective passing games led by quarterbacks that have at times struggled. In addition, each of them have top ranked defenses, which has allowed them to slow the game down and keep the pressure off their offense.
In essence, both of these teams represent better versions of their respective opponents from the previous week.
In order for the Jets to keep the miracle run going, they will need to dictate the game with their defense and control the ball by running effectively, so that Mark Sanchez doesn't have to win the game. They'll need to pressure Manning and hope Darrelle Ravis and company can force a couple turnovers on defense.
Conversely, the Colts will need to dictate the game with their offense, scoring quickly and avoiding turnovers in order to build an early lead and force the Jets to play catchup. That's probably their best strategy to eliminate the advantage the Jets have with their running game.
If the game turns into a battle between Sanchez and Manning it will be over by halftime just like last week against the Ravens. However if the Jets can turn this into a low scoring, grind it out type of game they stand a decent chance of pulling off another upset.
Indianapolis fans have just barely gotten over the Colts pulling their starters during the week 15 game against the Jets instead of going for an undefeated season. They will really lose their minds if the Jets, who wouldn't have made the playoffs if they had lost that game, came back to beat them in the playoffs.
New York, on the other hand, is playing with house money. They've got nothing to lose at this point, because they were never supposed to be here in the first place. That lack of respect and underestimation is what has fueled their unexpected success.
While I doubt the Jets can count on three missed field goals like in the Chargers game or the two misses they benefited from against the Bengals, that's the sort of blind luck that has kept them alive when they seemingly have had no business winning.
Now they are on the cusp of being this year's version of that team that gets hot at the right time and rides that momentum all the way to the Super Bowl.
A lot of people (unjustly) gave them little chance to beat the Bengals, pretty much nobody (including me) expected them to beat the Chargers, and you'd be pretty hard pressed to make a logical case for them to beat the Colts.
However, take the eight points the bookies are giving, because the Jets won't need them. Rex Ryan's defense is going to carry New York all the way to the big game this season.