For the Jets secondary, Saturday is “Go Time.”
The Jets have kept the memory of last year’s AFC championship fresh in their mind, underscored by the fact that nearly every personnel move they made to the defense this offseason was designed to combat the result of that game. Perhaps it is a bit “personal” as head coach Rex Ryan said earlier this week, or perhaps it was born out of the necessity to revamp a defense that last year was dominant but somewhat inconsistent. So the Jets set out this past spring to add more pieces to the puzzle, trading for an elite cornerback in Antonio Cromartie, using a first round pick to draft Kyle Wilson and signing the talented if not enigmatic safety Brodney Pool.
The Jets were bruised from the January loss where Peyton Manning threw for 377 yards and three touchdowns.
“It was definitely something that they talked about as I was coming here, me and D.T. [secondary coach Dennis Thurman] talked about,” Brodney Pool said. “It was something where they wanted to change what had happened in that game, the sort of thing where you don’t want to have it happen when you’re in situations like that. It was a situation that they wanted to prevent from happening again.”
And with apologies to the ‘Jersey Shore,’ the MTV reality series, “The Situation” here isn’t an overly tanned juicehead who fancies himself as a ladies man. For the Jets on Saturday, “The Situation” is Peyton Manning.
Manning, in fact, is a unique quarterback in the history of the league, part coach and part slinger. His ability to audible and watch reads for matchups is what exposed the Jets secondary last January in their playoff loss. This time around, boasting a player like Cromartie with Pro Bowl credentials and additions like Pool and Wilson is meant to limit Manning’s downfield options. If the Jets can get consistent pressure on the Colts quarterback, then they’re hoping to make Manning look human by giving him nowhere to throw.
Something they didn’t do last year and something they haven't done on a regular basis this year.
“We took our bruises from that game, we felt like we didn’t play as well as we could have,” safety Eric Smith said. “He is so good at reading things, picking things apart, that if you make a mistake on Manning, he will get you.”
Stealing the old adage from "SportsCenter," there is no way to control Peyton Manning, you can only hope to contain him, but the Jets are nevertheless willing to put their best foot forward on Saturday. Ryan joked on Wednesday that the Jets will, “maybe hit him in the head real hard” in an effort to slow Manning down. All kidding aside though, the Jets are using their heads to try to stop perhaps the most cerebral quarterback in the history of the game.
This week, Wilson estimates that he is spending an extra hour each day watching the Colts game film in the privacy of his own home. Others are following suit. Pool and Smith are watching extra tape together at the team’s practice facility, having spent 90 minutes together on Tuesday and about an hour on Wednesday, simply watching the Indianapolis offense in the film room.
Ryan said that the Jets plan on “Swinging back” against the Colts on Saturday and won’t be passive in their pursuit of shutting down a player in Manning who is arguably a MVP candidate this year, having thrown for a gaudy 4,700 yards. The revamped secondary, says the Jets head coach, gives his team a chance at revenge.
“I think we match up better this year than we did last year. The proof will be in the pudding,” Ryan said. “I just really think we can match up better.”
The surprise for both teams is the rematch in Indianapolis is happening much sooner than expected. Last year, the two teams met just one game before the Super Bowl and this year, they clash again but as wild card teams in the opening game of the playoffs. No matter for the Jets, who simply want revenge. The additions to the secondary, Smith says, were designed because “We understand that, one way or another, the road to the Super Bowl goes through Indianapolis at some point.”
“We’re built better for this game than we were last year, the pieces we have back there work well in this situation,” Smith said. “So we have the talent, and now it’s up to us to make it happen.”