The excitement continues to build for this weekend’s AFC Championship game between the New York Jets (5th seed) and the Indianapolis Colts (1st seed). The Jets are coming off of a shocking playoff victory over the San Diego Chargers, while the Colts took care of business at home against the Baltimore Ravens. The game will be played on Sunday at Lucas Oil Stadium (3:00 pm EST).
In an effort to provide some different perspective on the game I collaborated with Indianapolis Colts Examiner John Oehser to cover some of the hot topics for both teams. My interview with John is outlined below – be sure to check out his interview with me as well.
Tyson Rauch – New York Jets Examiner: Much has been made about the Colts pulling their starters in the week 16 match-up with the Jets. Do you think this has motivated the Colts any more or is this media creating stories?
John Oehser – Indianapolis Colts Examiner: Realistically, this is mostly a media-driven story. Not that some Colts players weren’t bothered by not being able to finish that game, but the reality is it has been almost a month since the Colts 29-15 loss to the Jets at Lucas Oil Stadium on December 27, and any motivation of revenge of payback is insignificant to the motivation of making the Super Bowl. The Colts are making their eighth consecutive playoff appearance, and the team’s veterans have had the gamut of postseason experiences – from winning the Super Bowl following the 2006 season to being eliminated in the first round last season to losing in the title game following the 2003 season to being upset as the No. 1 seed following the 2005 season. The point is that the Colts know that just because you have a chance at the Super Bowl one year doesn’t mean you’re going to get there and win it in another year. That’s the motivation Sunday – a chance to make it to a game that you don’t always get a chance to make.
TR: The Colts have struggled to run the ball this year, what do you attribute that to?
JO: A couple of reasons. The most notable is that they have not at times run-blocked as well as they would have liked, although to be fair, they are drastically better this year than they were a year ago. The statistics don’t indicate it, but the Colts have run well at critical times this season, often running effectively in four-minute, clinch-the-game situations as well as in short-yardage and in the red zone. Colts RB Joseph Addai had a particularly good season in the red zone. The Colts were disappointed that they didn’t run the ball effectively in the second half against Baltimore, and that gave the Ravens a few more opportunities than necessary to get back in a game the Colts led relatively comfortably throughout the second half. The biggest reason the Colts haven’t run particularly effectively this season, though, is that they don’t emphasize the area much. They have been efficient offensively and feel that for the most part, they have been effective when they have had to. Bottom line: despite being 32nd in the NFL in rushing, they don’t feel they have been bad running most of the season and certainly have been effective enough most of the season.
TR: What, if anything, do you think the Colts learned from the week 16 game against the Jets?
JO: Probably more than one might initially think. The Colts game-planned for the Jets and became familiar with their personnel and strategy, and since that was less than a month ago, there wasn’t a whole lot of re-learning necessary this week. The Colts also likely learned a great deal from blocking the Jets’ often-complex blitzing schemes. The Jets try to confuse offenses with a lot of pre-snap changes and post-snap blitzes, and Colts QB Peyton Manning’s forte is getting the Colts in the right offenses and beating single coverage for big plays. The Jets without question will have more looks and changes Sunday, but having prepared for and seen the scheme up close so recently has to be a help.
TR: Do you think the Colts defense will be able to shut down the Jets running game?
JO: They may not shut it down, but the Colts typically have fared well against offenses that are one-dimensional. The Ravens controlled the line of scrimmage and ran effectively against the Patriots in the Wild Card round and the Colts held them to 87 yards on 19 carries last Saturday. The teams that typically have hurt the Colts this season and others are ones that have a quarterback who can make plays downfield, players who are enough of a threat to force the Colts to worry about the pass and not sell out against the run. The other factor here is whether the Colts can get an early lead. If the Colts do get an early lead and can force the Jets to pass, that gives Pro Bowl DE Dwight Freeney and Pro Bowl DE Robert Mathis the chance to all-out rush the passer and that could create situations in which the Jets don’t have an opportunity to run. Overall, based on this season, it would be surprising if – considering the Colts’ team speed and ability to swarm and penetrate – if the Jets can control momentum offensively by simply running.
TR: What do you think the backlash will be if the Colts come up short on Sunday?
JO: Not as much as many nationally might believe. While there was backlash when the Colts opted to pull starters and not pursue 16-0 against the Jets in December, a lot of that has died down. There will be those who are upset if they lose, and the decisions late in the regular season would be brought into the conversation, but overall, the end-of-season stuff has become more and more of a sidebar issue in recent weeks. Realistically, the “backlash” probably would have come if the Colts had lost to the Ravens, particularly if they had looked rusty doing so. There has been a lot of criticism in recent seasons for the Colts resting starters late in the season, and although doing so didn’t cause the past postseason losses, there were those who believed it did and who would have tied in any loss in the first playoff game this year to past losses and used it as evidence of a trend of bad late-season decision-making. The vibe after beating Baltimore was that the Colts were rested and that it was hard to argue with the Colts’ late-season strategy in terms of how it prepared them for the postseason. At this point, it feels more like a regular postseason around the Colts. If they win Sunday and win the Super Bowl, there will the expected celebration, and if they lose there will be disappointment and despair, but not the backlash that would have come with an opening-game postseason loss.
TR: Thank you for your time John, I think we both agree that this will be an exciting game. I will provide a full preview of the game from the Jets perspective on Friday.
In Rex the Jets trust