NFL Game Scripts Week 3: New York Jets @ Indianapolis Colts

The New York Jets Jets have had one of the worst starts to the season in the league, and there aren’t signs that things will get better any time soon. The Indianapolis Colts took a week to consolidate their identity on offense, and had success moving the ball in Week 2 against the hapless Vikings. With a possibly even easier matchup in Week 3 for Indianapolis, what chance do the Jets really have?

Indianapolis Colts Offense vs. New York Jets Defense

The Run Game

Indianapolis Colts New York Jets
Sep 13, 2020; Jacksonville, Florida, USA; Indianapolis Colts running back Jonathan Taylor (28) runs with the ball as Jacksonville Jaguars linebacker K'Lavon Chaisson (45) defends during the third quarter at TIAA Bank Field. Mandatory Credit: Douglas DeFelice-USA TODAY Sports

With a strong OL, the Colts are a run-first offense, although are happy to pass often too. While they may be middle of the pack in terms of rush yards over the first two weeks, Indianapolis took a step towards a more balanced offense in Week 2. With Jonathan Taylor becoming the feature back in the absence of Marlon Mack, their offense became a little more diverse with the former’s more physical style, and his ability as a receiver. Although QB Philip Rivers doesn’t leave the pocket often, Taylor and occasionally backup Nyheim Hines can do enough as RBs.

While the Jets allowed the second fewest rushing yards in 2019, they are among the worst teams so far in 2020. They have been strong through the middle, but were exposed to runs on the outside in Week 2 especially, as the 49ers had multiple runs of 40+ yards down the sideline. The Colts should follow the same approach and send Taylor on runs on either side of the tackles, especially with the ability of LG Quenton Nelson to get to the second level as a blocker, or pull to the outside and create a hole. While they will still send Taylor up the middle at times to keep the LBs inside, the Colts will be able to get large runs in all four quarters by using their outside zone scheme. Despite Nelson’s effectivenes, the Colts will target the right side of their own line too to get Taylor running at the Jets’ weak side. With TE Jack Doyle often lined up on the right, the Colts can give Taylor extra protection from tacklers.

New York will be confident in their DL to slow down Taylor and limit big gains up the middle. They will rotate their LBs to have big bodies on the field to try and withstand Taylor’s physical style so that extra tacklers can help bring him down. While LB Tarrell Basham will often be assigned to track Taylor heading to the outside, the Jets could look to also use Alec Ogletree a little more for his coverage skills, so that if Taylor becomes a receiver they have him covered. However, if the DL are not able to win their matchups and force Taylor to the outside where they can focus their LBs a little more, the Jets will be forced to keep them balanced and leave space on the edge. Safety Bradley McDougald will be brought into the box regularly in the first quarter, but as the Colts start to attack downfield more, he will be sent back to help cover again, leaving more space for Taylor to attack in the second half.

The Passing Game

With WR Parris Campbell injured in Week 2, it may open the door for Michael Pittman Jr to see extra targets in Week 3. While TY Hilton will predominantly run vertical and downfield routes to try and get behind CB Pierre Desir, Pittman Jr can then run corner and in/slant routes against Brian Poole, providing a target on intermediate throws. As the game progresses Pittman Jr can then run more deep routes, allowing Hilton to start working the middle of the field, forcing the Jets to decide to either continue double covering him, or defend the big plays downfield. The Colts will use a few 3 WR sets, but should focus on more 12 personnel in this one, as they should be able to move the ball on the ground and run out the clock in the second half.

In their 12 personnel, TEs Doyle and Mo Alie-Cox are used differently. Doyle is a bigger red zone target, and usually remains as a blocker when the Colts are in their own half. Alie-Cox has been a bigger receiving threat downfield, and will run out-n-up corner/post based routes to get underneath the Safeties and be a target outside the hash marks.

The final weapons the Colts will use are Taylor and Hines out of the backfield as Rivers’ check-down options, adding yards after the catch. However, in the fourth quarter, there will be less of this and Indianapolis will focus mostly on shorter pass plays to avoid turning the ball over on riskier downfield throws.

While the Jets should use Ogletree as a defender against the RBs more than they have so far, they have matchup difficulties in their secondary. Poole may be tasked with guarding Alie-Cox in the second quarter and onwards, while CB Quincy Wilson instead handles the slot against a third WR. Either way, the Jets will blitz more often in the second quarter, but as they start to give up more big plays will drop more players in coverage instead.

What should we expect to see on Sunday?

The Colts will be run-heavy in this game, especially in the second half as they close out the game. With Hilton and Pittman swapping roles around halftime as the deep threat and the intermediate target, TE Alie-Cox will benefit from space on the outside. The RBs will get a few early opportunities as receivers, but not much after the Colts build a lead. The Jets need to be disruptive early at the risk of leaving space in the second level, and will need more athletic and coverage-based defenders on the field into the second quarter to try and stay in touch on the scoreboard.

New York Jets Offense vs. Indianapolis Colts Defense

The Run Game

The Jets wanted to run the ball more than they’ve been able to so far in 2020, and have the second fewest rush yards over the first two weeks. RB Frank Gore can be useful in a rotation at this point of his career, and while he had a few runs for several yards in Week 2, is not a home-run hitter. Rookie La’Mical Perine should instead see more snaps this week, especially as he offers substantially more as a receiver with his speed and shiftiness. The Jets should also utilise additional two-back sets, using Gore as a blocker or runner up the middle, and Perine as a scatback to run on the outside, as well as be a receiver on wheel, angle and curl routes out of the backfield.

The Jets’ OL is another problem that makes it hard for them to run the ball. Gore should see work in the first half to add a few yards at a time, but will be used less in the second half as the Jets will likely play from behind. Gore’s ability will give him 3-4 yards at a time on most runs, but his OL won’t create many rushing lanes for him. Instead, Perine will then be given chances to break it to the outside, especially trying to get past LB Bobby Okereke, and avoiding Darius Leonard. The Jets need to get Perine going early, and will perhaps look to him before Gore in case he can have success, resulting in the Colts backing off a little.

Indianapolis, however, have the benefit of Leonard moving to either side of the defense to track Perine. Anthony Walker will stay home to take away runs up the middle, shooting the A gap at times to make tackles in the backfield. With their LB corps, the Colts shouldn’t need to make too many adjustments throughout the game against an underwhelming Jets’ rushing attack.

The Passing Game

Indianapolis Colts New York Jets
USA Today

With their weak interior OL, the Jets have struggled passing the ball in their first two games, with the second-fewest pass yards (394), second-fewest yards per attempt (5.9), and 10th-worst completion percentage (62.7%). Meanwhile, the Colts have allowed the fewest passing yards (245) and fourth-fewest yards per attempt (6.2), thanks in part to their DL. New York will want to use a quick passing game so that Darnold isn’t constantly under fire. The return of Jamison Crowder to run a range of routes from the slot will help that, with Chris Hogan also suitable to use on slants and out routes. Breshad Perriman could be sent deep often to keep the Jets’ options open, although Darnold will need time for the play to develop.

TE Chris Herndon serves as a decent receiver over the middle, and should be used on crossing routes with Crowder to give Darnold easier reads against the Colts’ LBs. As stated above, Perine can function as a receiver out of the backfield, but to spread the Colts’ defense out should also be split out wide a few times. With Perriman running deep, Crowder and Herndon over the middle, and Hogan and Perine to the outside, the Jets can give Darnold plenty of options and quick release passes.

The first quarter will see attempts at passing deep to Perriman, Crowder and Herndon down the hash marks, but by the second quarter a spread offense should replace the deep passes. Using Herndon, Gore and even Hogan as a blocker, including on screens for Perine, would further help New York get some semblance of a passing attack, but they need to use this before half time and the score gets away from them.

Indianapolis will be salivating at the chance for DT DeForest Buckner and DE Justin Houston getting to tee off from the beginning against Darnold behind this OL. Although they could choose to blitz their LBs as well, this will be done sparingly in the first half, especially if the DL is getting the job done. With nickel defense as their base, the Colts already have the right alignment against a spread offense, and will be happy to give up short passes if it means the Jets are struggling to move the ball. With Buckner and Houston getting home enough, Indianapolis can then use their LBs in coverage more and give Darnold fewer passing lanes.

What should we expect to see on Sunday?

The Jets will start with little creativity on offense, looking to run up the middle, pass deep, and find themselves on third and long often. By the second quarter, their offense should resemble a more spread-style scheme, with increased use of Perine as a receiver and extra blockers. Indianapolis will trust their man coverage nickel defense, and also their DL and LBs to get to Darnold while taking away passing options. The Colts could close the Jets out of this one early, and New York have few means to get themselves back into it.

Owen Ravenna

NFL Analyst