Week Two: A home opener for a play-off team, with one of the best quarterbacks in the league, coming off a heavy week one loss and facing a Jets' team coming off a comfortable win against a poor team in their home opener. Haven't we seen this before? It's almost an exact repeat of last year's week two clash against the Packers. As that game showed, even if you do match up well with an opponent and can get a lead on them, there's always a chance of the other team getting back into the game when their quarterback is good. The Jets will be underdogs here, but can they win?
After the jump, I break down the positional groupings (BGA-style!) to try and highlight what the Jets need to look out for.
Andrew Luck is widely regarded as one of the league's better quarterbacks, but he's at that point in his career where people are starting to pick out some weaknesses in his game. PFF ranked Luck outside their top ten quarterbacks in the league, but he's probably going to be the highest paid player in NFL history when he gets his extension next year. Maybe some of this is justified and maybe some of it is an overreaction to their blow-out loss in the postseason. I wonder if it's just become fashionable to nitpick him just recently since he's a guy everyone has been praising effusively since he entered the league.
Luck is usually pretty ruthless against the blitz, but that wasn't the case against the Bills in week one as he completed just nine of 23 passes. He has good mobility though and can convert first downs with his legs, which could be a warning sign for the Jets after they let Johnny Manziel escape the pocket several times on Sunday.
Veteran Matt Hasselbeck would step in if Luck went down. This is Hasselbeck's third year with the Colts and he has thrown just 56 passes since 2012 when he started five games with the Titans.
The Colts offensive line is not one of the league's best, but they do have a solid pass protector on Luck's blindside as 2011 first round pick Anthony Castonzo has developed into a reliable player.
The situation at right tackle is less certain. Last year's second round pick Jack Mewhort was the starter at left guard in 2014 but is now the right tackle. He did start one game at right tackle last year, but that was the last game of the regular season and he moved back to guard for the postseason.
Against the Bills, the main problem was interior pressure. The starters are Lance Louis at left guard, Todd Herremans at right guard and Khaled Holmes at center. Holmes was thrown into the fire at the end of last year and held his own, barely. He struggled to anchor the line against Buffalo. Louis and Herremans have a lot of experience but both struggled last year. Louis started games at both guard spots for the Colts last season and the 32-year old Herremans was having a down year in Philadelphia before ending up on injured reserve with a torn bicep in November.
The Colts' bench includes three players who started 25 games between them for the team last year: 2014 UDFA Jonotthan Harrison (10 at center), Hugh Thornton (eight at guard) and Joe Reitz (one at guard and six at tackle).
With the Trent Richardson experiment long since abandoned, the Colts gave a somewhat surprising three-year deal to 11th year veteran Frank Gore. It remains to see how much Gore has left, but he wasn't very effective on Sunday. Still, he did rush for over 1,100 yards last year, his eight thousand-yard season in the past nine years (with the only miss in that span being 2010 where he missed five games and fell 147 yards short).
Backing up Gore, rookie Josh Robinson didn't make much of an impact last week either, but he is a promising youngster who finishes his runs well. Rookie Tyler Varga is listed as a fullback but he was actually used more as a back-up tailback in preseason. The Colts will motion their tight ends into the backfield sometimes though.
TY Hilton is the Colts' best receiver, having caught over 80 passes for the second straight season in 2014, racking up a career-high 1,345 yards. Hilton did practice over the weekend after it was initially reported he might be out for a couple of weeks with a bruised knee.
If Hilton can't go, perhaps Andre Johnson will step up. Like Gore, Johnson is a once-great player who may not have much left. Last week, he was targeted 10 times, but accounted for just 24 yards. Another possibility for a bigger role will be Donte Moncrief, who caught six passes for 46 yards and a score against the Bills. Last year's third round pick has a nice combination of size, athletic ability and hands. One final option will be rookie speedster Phillip Dorsett - who the Jets apparently might have drafted instead of Devin Smith if he was still on the board. Dorsett has big play capabilities.
For the Colts, their tight end play is crucial to their success. They run a lot of two tight end sets with Dwayne Allen and Cody Fleener providing match-up problems for their opponents. While Allen is more of a blocker and Fleener a pass catcher, each had eight touchdown receptions last year. Fleener has great chemistry with Luck, having been one of his favorite targets at Stanford. Look out for him lining up on the edge of the offensive line but remaining in a receiver stance instead of putting his hand in the dirt.
Jack Doyle, a 2013 undrafted free agent, provides more blocking from the tight end position coming off the bench.
The Colts' defensive line took a hit when Arthur Jones was placed on injured reserve with an ankle injury a couple of weeks ago. Jones, who got a $30 million contract as a free agent last year, had started nine games at defensive end. They did a veteran presence in the shape of former Dolphin and Ram stalwart Kendall Langford though. The Jets were interested in Langford back in March, but I'm sure he wouldn't be starting for them. In fact, would he have even made their roster?
The Colts' future is bright though, with two rookies in the starting line-up. David Parry, a fifth round pick, starts at nose tackle and Henry Anderson, a third-rounder, starts at end. The pair were both drafted out of Stanford, so they are used to playing together. I think these will develop into good players, Anderson sooner rather than later, but hopefully these are match-ups the veterans on the Jets offensive line will be able to take advantage of at times.
The Colts did recently trade for Cleveland's Billy Winn, who started 18 games in three seasons for the Browns so that's another veteran who might now be ready to contribute for them.
Zach Kerr, an undrafted free agent who was a rotational back-up last season, is the only player still on the roster out of the seven defensive linemen that got reps last year. The other two reserves are an undrafted rookie, TJ McGill, and another undrafted player from 2013, Earl Okine. Kerr is the only defensive lineman on the team listed at heavier than 310 pounds (334).
A potential big X-factor in this game could be the return of Robert Mathis. Mathis missed all of 2014 with a torn Achilles tendon but he had a monster year in 2013. If he can go, even in a situational role, this could be a big boost to the Colts' chances. Apparently, he's a game-time decision.
Even without Mathis, the Colts have a deep stable of linebackers and while they lack star power, they are anchored by a 2014 pro bowler in D'Qwell Jackson. Jackson is a good all-round, three-down linebacker, but maybe has lost a step in coverage at 31.
Another pro bowler, albeit not since six years ago, is Trent Cole who will play on the outside. The Colts gave Cole $16 million over two seasons and he falls into that same category as Gore and Johnson in terms of being a great veteran player, albeit one who, at 32, might not have much left. Cole is expected to help bolster the pass rush but didn't do much against the Bills, as the Colts had no sacks or quarterback hits. He was still productive last season, although he slumped down the stretch.
The other two starters are veterans Eric Walden and Jerrell Freeman. Walden, who was excellent in the postseason last year, plays the strongside and is productive against the run, as a pass rusher and in coverage. Freeman isn't very good against the run, but but graded out as the 2nd best ILB in coverage in 2014 according to PFF as he broke up five passes and displayed good open field tackling.
While the Colts have some nice depth behind these front four, they didn't use them much against the Bills. Jonathan Newsome, a fifth round pick last year, came off the bench all season but then started in the AFC Championship Game. Former first rounder Bjoern Werner has shown some promise against the run but he only played three snaps last week. Veterans Nate Irving and Sio Moore also have plenty of starting experience.
The Colts have one of the league's best corners but their depth is really shaky at the moment with a series of injury issues. They have three cornerbacks on injured reserve and although all three are rookies, one of them is third round rookie D'Joun Smith, who was just added to the list with a designation to return this week. In addition, two more cornerbacks have been ruled out for tonight.
Vontae Davis is easily their best cornerback and made his first pro bowl appearance last season. He drew the assignment of shadowing Sammy Watkins last week and pitched a complete shut-out. However, ex-Jets and current Bills receivers coach Sanjay Lal seemed to suggest that Watkins was open quite a bit, they just didn't need to throw it to him.
Greg Toler is listed as the other starter but did not play in the opener and has also been ruled out for tonight's game. Toler didn't have a great year last season, with 11 penalties to lead the team. In his absence, veteran Darius Butler had a rough game, giving up six catches for 119 yards and a score on six targets. He is also out. While it should be a boost to the Jets that the number two and three corners are both out, it's possible neither is a particularly big loss because it was a potential area of weakness anyway. However, the depth behind those two lack any kind of experience.
Inexperienced youngster Jalil Brown entered the game in the nickel with Butler reverting to the slot last week. He's now going to be forced into the starting line-up. The third corner will be Sheldon Price, an undrafted free agent from 2013 who has never played a defensive snap in the NFL. The only other cornerback on the roster is undrafted rookie Eric Patterson, who didn't make their final roster out of camp but was re-signed a couple of days ago. The trio did do pretty well in preseason - Brown started the second game and held up pretty well against the likes of Miles Austin and Jordan Matthews - but they are completely unproven in real game action.
At safety, Mike Adams is another 2014 pro bowler, but he had a rough game against the Bills with four missed tackles. At the other safety spot is Dwight Lowery who Jets fans will be more than familiar with. Lowery started 18 games for the Jets between 2008 and 2010. Maybe Lowery will get some reps in the slot if others struggle there. A rookie - Clayton Geathers - is the third safety.
While Moncrief and Dorsett are listed as the kick and punt returner respectively, back-up slot receiver Griff Whalen got some work fielding punts last week after Dorsett struggled and Varga got some kick return reps.
As far as the kicking game is concerned, kicker Adam Vinatieri and punter Pat McAfee are about as established a tandem as you'll find anywhere around the league. Vinatieri did miss his only attempt last week though, albeit from beyond 50 yards.
The Colts' best special teamer in terms of kick coverage is back-up safety Colt Anderson. He was 7th in the NFL in special teams tackles last season.
I'll be back tomorrow to recap the game.
Stats from PFF were used in the completion of this article.