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Tuesday, January 4, 2011
Updated: January 5, 3:36 AM ET
Jets' 'Other Guys' must rise to occasion

By Johnette Howard
ESPNNewYork.com

FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- Compared with nicknames like "The Doomsday Defense" or "Monsters of the Midway," a handle like "The Other Guys" doesn't inspire the fear that some other NFL defenses have caused over the years.

But if the Jets are going to get by Colts quarterback Peyton Manning in their playoff opener Saturday night, it probably won't be because of big plays from Darrelle Revis and Antonio Cromartie, the lockdown cornerback tandem the team put together by acquiring Cromartie almost immediately after Manning shredded the Jets' defense in last season's AFC Championship Game.

Teams threw so little at Revis this season that he admitted Tuesday his biggest challenge in some games is "I get bored."

The Jets are going to need The Other Guys in their secondary -- Dwight Lowery, Drew Coleman, Marquice Cole and this new starting safety tandem of Brodney Pool and Eric Smith -- to avoid getting picked apart by Manning, who led the Colts to a 30-17 comeback win last January that put them, not the Jets, in the Super Bowl.

Dwight Lowery and Pierre Garcon
Dwight Lowery (21) couldn't stop Pierre Garcon when the Colts took the lead for good on a third-quarter TD in the AFC title game.

New England's Tom Brady took the same basic approach to attacking the Jets in the Patriots' 45-3 rout last month.

The Colts/Pats formula is to spread the Jets out with three or four receivers, see whom Revis and Cromartie take, then try to expose whomever else New York has in pass coverage. Is that the book now on how to beat the Jets' defense?

"Yeah, you could say that," Lowery said Tuesday. "That's what teams have been trying to do. It's matchups they want. And sometimes it's worked. Sometimes it hasn't.

"The difference is, not all teams have Peyton Manning at quarterback."

Lowery remembers exactly what he thought when Manning started to figure out what the Jets were doing in last season's AFC title game. Lowery plays mostly safety or as an extra defensive back in passing situations for the Jets now, but back then he was the surprise starter at cornerback against Indy ahead of Lito Sheppard. The Jets' defense got off to a terrific start. It was disguising its defenses and mixing its calls up. The Jets' blitzes were working and even their front seven was getting pressure on Manning.

But there was a point shortly before the half when Lowery says he lined up opposite his receiver, looked in at Manning and thought, "Uh-oh. He knows. He knows."

Knows what?

"Everything the defense had coming," Lowery said.

"Not a good feeling," Lowery added, smiling weakly.

Last year, coach Rex Ryan's top-ranked Jets defense was the only one that blitzed opponents more in the regular season than eventual Super Bowl champion New Orleans. But after the Jets' early-game success in that AFC title game -- two quick sacks and a fumble recovery -- Manning began to figure out what his opponents were doing on Indy's last drive before the half.

The Colts were trailing 17-6, with the ball on their own 20 and just over two minutes left.

They needed just 58 seconds and four plays -- one of them a beautiful, 46-yard rainbow of a pass from Manning to rookie Austin Collie, who beat Lowery on the play -- to finish a quick-strike touchdown drive. And the Colts looked rattled no more. Indianapolis was still down by four but the feeling Manning had just created -- among the Colts and even the Jets -- was this game is over.

"I felt the momentum shift and then I don't think it really mattered where the ball was, we were going to struggle stopping them," Ryan sighed.

The stats tell just how hard Manning was on the Jets' Other Guys: He threw at Lowery 14 times and completed nine for 124 yards and one TD. He completed five of the seven passes at the Jets' Coleman for 77 yards. He was 2-for-2 going at Sheppard for an average of 21.5 yards a play. Manning threw just five times at Revis though he was shadowing Colts star receiver Reggie Wayne the entire game, and the quarterback completed three of those passes. But they went for only 49 yards.

And how about the blitz, which had started the game so encouragingly? When the Jets brought six or more pass-rushers, Manning closed out the game 8-for-10 for 160 yards and a touchdown. The Colts scored on four of their last five drives.

What stunned the Jets -- then and now -- was that Manning was able to see more than just the extra pressure coming. Lowery says if they showed Manning something just once, he'd go to the sideline, look at an instant photo of the Jets' alignment on the play and make the adjustment the next time he saw it. He was able to accurately call out every player and his assignment -- "21 is dropping. 57 is coming. 44 is the 'Mike'" -- before the snap.

Cole, still shaking his head in admiration Tuesday, said, "It was just ... weird. I mean, I've never seen anything like that. From anybody. Even Brady will only call out who the Mike [middle linebacker] is. Manning was calling out what everyone was going to do."

Peyton Manning
When they realized Peyton Manning had figured them out, the Jets felt the momentum shift.

Lowery added: "Imagine that now. If you're a defender, your whole job is compromised. ... You can't change the call. You know that he knows. You know that he knows not only that pressure is coming, but where it's coming from. And you know the ball is coming at you, because you're one-on-one with a receiver and, yeah, you may have safety help, but that safety is 15 or 20 yards away."

Lowery still thinks the game might've gone differently if the Jets hadn't lost nickelback Donald Strickland just before the half with an injury.

"He was a big part of the game plan," Lowery said. "When he was in there, he allowed us to do a lot. Without him, we tried to do things we were doing before but we weren't communicating and they scored before the half -- Boom! ... Before Strickland got hurt, it was more of a game. It was more challenging. After that we had to play things more vanilla. And vanilla doesn't work against Manning."

Would Strickland have made a difference? He isn't even with the Jets anymore.

The Jets have talked a lot this week about how they have different and better personnel than when they last played the Colts.

And many people have noted how the Colts will be without Collie and tight end Dallas Clark, who are both out for the season with injuries.

But Lowery just laughed softly at the reminder of whom the Colts are missing.

"They still have Manning," he said.

Cole -- another of The Other Guys -- knows what to expect come Saturday night: "A lot of work."

"The ball is coming our way," he said.