- Rich Cimini, ESPN Staff Writer
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FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- This is a must-win for the Jets, based on the premise, "If they can't beat the Colts, who can they beat?"
The rebuilding Colts (2-2) are a motley mix of new (led by rookie QB Andrew Luck) and old (holdovers from the Peyton Manning era). They were an inspired team last week, storming back to stun the Packers and dedicating the win to their leukemia-stricken coach, Chuck Pagano. It remains to be seen whether the "Chuckstrong" emotion can travel.
Much like the Jets, the Colts are missing key players on offense and defense -- leading rusher Donald Brown (knee) and leading sacker Robert Mathis (knee). They've dropped nine straight on the road; the Jets (2-3) are trying to avoid their first three-game home losing streak since 2009. It'll be interesting to see the number of no-shows at MetLife Stadium. Kickoff is 1 p.m.
What to watch for:
1. The Sanchez-Tebow drama: This is must-see TV, with the slumping Mark Sanchez playing for his job. If a quarterback has to be in that situation, he'd want to be facing the defensively challenged Colts, whose suspect secondary has allowed a 102.8 passer rating.
Sanchez's favorite target, TE Dustin Keller, is expected to return from a four-week hamstring injury, providing an over-the-middle security blanket. Sanchez won't find a more benign defense than the Colts -- only three takeaways. With Mathis out, the offensive line doesn't have to worry about the Twin Terrors on the edge. OLB Dwight Freeney, still not 100 percent after a high-ankle sprain, is the only pass-rushing threat. If Sanchez suffers another poor game and the Jets lose, Rex Ryan will have to think long and hard about turning to Tim Tebow.
2. Running on empty. If the Jets' dormant running game doesn't come to life against the Colts, they might want to junk the Ground & Pound philosophy. (Joking. Sort of.) The Colts, in their new 3-4 scheme, are yielding 4.7 yards per carry (almost as bad as the Jets). After facing four of the top run defenses in consecutive weeks, the Jets' offensive line should be able to win their matchups across the board -- assuming C Nick Mangold (ankle) plays. They should attack the undersized Freeney, who has played only 16 snaps against the run, according to ProFootballFocus. Look for more of RB Joe McKnight, as the Jets move slowly away from Shonn Greene.
3. Good Luck. The kid is all right -- actually, better than all right. The coaches are so confident in Luck that they allowed him to operate the no-huddle on 80 percent of their offensive snaps last week. Previously, they ran only nine plays out of no-huddle.
Luck is big, strong and athletic, capable of escaping pressure -- a league-high nine scrambles for first downs, according to ESPN Stats & Information. He reminds the Jets of Ben Roethlisberger, and they will employ the same coverage priniciples they use against Big Ben. They can't let down against Luck, who already has two game-winning drives in the fourth quarter. They can't do what the Packers did, which was allow Luck to play pitch-and-catch with WR Reggie Wayne.
4. Al-Cro-Traz Island. Ever since surrendering a TD catch to the Steelers' Mike Wallace in Week 2, CB Antonio Cromartie has been playing the best ball of his career. In fact, he has the best "burn" rate in the league (41.4 percent), according to ProFootballFocus.
This week's challenge is Wayne, an oldie but goodie thriving in the post-Peyton era. To say Wayne is Luck's favorite target would be an understatement; he's tied for the league lead with 56 targets in only four games. He still has the ability to get deep; he leads the league with 19 catches of 10+ yards, per ESPN Stats. Wayne, who used to line up in the same spot in the old system, moves around the formation. They use him in the slot and in bunch formations, which could make it harder for Cromartie to be aggressive at the line.
5. 'D' for dominate. The Jets' defense, getting pushed around for the better part of a month, needs a bounce-back in the worst day. They should be able control the Colts, who will start rookie Vick Ballard at running back. If they can't shut down Ballard, a fifth-round pick from Mississippi State, it will be a long, long year. The Colts' line also is vulnerable is pass protection, especially LT Anthony Castonzo, who has allowed three sacks and 12 QB hurries, per ProFootballFocus.
3dField Yates and Rich Cimini