INDIANAPOLIS – After a Sunday full of charm, thrills and emotion, the Indianapolis Colts face something quite different this week. They fly straight into chaos.
The New York Jets are a dysfunctional mess, plagued by injuries and the Tim Tebow sideshow, still run by the unflappable if befuddling Rex Ryan. They're living down to outsiders' low expectations. With Darrelle Revis injured, they're ripe for the picking by talented quarterbacks.
Dare it be said the Colts – the rebuilding Colts – face the new concept of needing to watch for overconfidence this week?
What a difference a month makes. Before the season, the general consensus was the Colts would be lucky to beat last year's 2-14 record and might contend for another No. 1 draft pick. Today, people are projecting them to be a possible playoff contender.
That's what makes this game one of those tricky ones. The Colts have been on the road only once, in the opener against the Bears. And there's no way to really know what to expect from Team Chaos, the Jets.
“That was a big focus in our meeting (earlier this week), how we're going to handle the road business trip – from the travel part of it to the game part of it to the crowd noise part of it,” Colts interim coach Bruce Arians said. “We didn't handle it extremely well in the second half against Chicago, although we had very few pre-snap penalties and did a pretty good job with our silent count and our snap count offensively.”
The Colts (2-2) are a different team today than that season opener in Chicago. They're without coach Chuck Pagano, of course, still in the hospital. But they've also grown in several ways, with quarterback Andrew Luck gaining confidence and NFL experience and players such as receiver T.Y. Hilton, tight ends Dwayne Allen and Coby Fleener, linebacker Jerrell Freeman and cornerback Cassius Vaughn growing and improving.
Luck's success the past three games has come at home, where the crowd is quiet (except for that rather large contingent of Packers fans) and helpful to offensive flow.
The crowd at MetLife Stadium, restless as it might be with the Jets' 2-3 start, will want to rattle the young quarterback. The fans will want to bring a little chaos of their own.
“Communication-wise, if it's loud, you have to maybe do silent counts,” Luck said. “Make sure the wide receivers hear everything if you're in a no-huddle situation. I have enjoyed playing on the road. I think it's great to go into different atmospheres.”
The Jets are banged up, most notably with Revis out of the lineup, leaving the job of shutting down opposing No. 1 receivers to Antonio Cromartie. The Colts would ideally like to use the running game to help set up more looks in the passing game, but knee surgery has knocked running back Donald Brown to the sidelines. Whether the Colts can generate a run game with Vick Ballard, Mewelde Moore and Delone Carter remains to be seen.
“Whatever Coach Arians calls, that's what we're going to run,” Luck said. “I realize some plays are called out of necessity, situational football. I wish we could rush for 250 yards every game and throw for 300. You realize that's not the case. Whatever it takes to get the win, that's what every guy in this locker room would do.”
On the flip side, the Colts would like to put prompt chaos from Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez's plays. It'll be tougher this week with outside linebacker Robert Mathis injured, however.
Sanchez is being pushed – at least in the media's hype machine – by Tebow for the starting quarterback job. Both are likely to play against the Colts, although Sanchez remains the starter.
“I think the biggest gauge of looking at a quarterback's performance is to check the won-lost record,” Ryan said. “Again, we've played five games and our record is not what we wanted it to be.”
The addition of Tebow has added a new dimension (it's called hyperbole) to the Jets offense.
Ryan said Tebow remains a “tremendous competitor” and “good football player” and they have no plans to shy away from using him in certain situations.
“Timmy has played already and you don't know how much is going to come. You never do,” Arians said. “If it's successful, you're going to get a bunch of it. If you shut it down, you back to the other. So you have to be ready for Mark and that passing game and the run game, and you also have to be ready for the Wildcat.”
Ryan, meanwhile, is feeling some heat to get the Jets moving in the right direction. After leading them to back-to-back AFC Championship games, it appears the Jets have regressed the last two seasons.
Ryan was asked during a conference call if he's not quite as funny and engaging as he used to be.
“I guess that could be, but it's nothing a win can't fix,” he said.
A Colts win, on the other hand, could increase the chaos in New York, and raise the expectations even higher in Indianapolis.