By Tom James
INDIANAPOLIS — The Indianapolis Colts expect a heavy dose of the New York Jets running game during Sunday’s AFC Championship Game, which is scheduled for a 3 p.m. kickoff at Lucas Oil Stadium.
New York had the National Football League’s top-ranked rushing attack, led by Thomas Jones, Shonn Greene and Leon Washington. While Washington is injured and sidelined for the remainder of the year, the combination of Jones and Greene have proven to be a formidable duo during the postseason.
Indianapolis, though, has displayed an improved run defense this year. Although it’s an area that has caused the Colts and their fans headaches in the past, the team’s run defense has been able to slow down such runners as Tennessee’s Chris Johnson, Baltimore’s Ray Rice and Jacksonville’s Maurice Jones-Drew.
Johnson, the NFL’s leading rusher this year with 2,006 yards, averaged just 73.5 yards in two meetings with the Colts. Rice, meanwhile, had 138 total rushing yards (an average of 69 yards per game) in both of his appearances against Indianapolis. Jones-Drew did the best of the three, going for 207 yards in two games and averaging just over 100 yards per outing.
More importantly, Indianapolis won all six of those games against the Titans, Ravens and Jaguars. Colts coach Jim Caldwell and several of his team’s defenders expect to see something of a mix of what Baltimore and Jacksonville tried to do this season.
“There actually are probably more similarities than differences [between the Ravens and the Jets]. I think they both are real power-oriented, downhill running games. They both employ their tackles sometimes as their tight ends. They’ll over shift and sometimes give you an unbalanced line. Those things are similar. Obviously, the styles of back are just a little bit different. Ray Rice is a bit different than Jones and certainly different than Shonn Greene, but they are all very capable runners,” Caldwell said this week.
“Shonn Greene is maybe one of the most powerful runners that we’ve seen. He’s a big, downhill back that can really do a tremendous job of carrying the load an entire game and gets stronger as the game goes on. Obviously, Jones is multitalented. But I do see a lot of similarities, in terms of what they do from that standpoint. They will employ a little bit more wildcat and utilize [wide receiver Brad] Smith, who is a weapon unto himself. So they do give you a few problems there.”
Middle linebacker Gary Brackett sees the same similarities.
“They are a physical group of guys. Obviously, their offensive linemen are very savvy. Those guys have been healthy the whole season. They are leading the league in rushing, I think because they are not afraid to run the ball, no matter what the score is. It seems like they are still running the ball, so its definitely something we want to get stopped,” Brackett said.
“Very similar [to Baltimore’s running attack]. Actually, their plays are very similar. I think what they do is they cutback a little more I would say with Shonn Greene. He’s doing a good job cutting back, making people miss, and that’s a tribute to some of his longer runs.”
• The Edge returns — Former Colts running back Edgerrin James will be one of two co-captains for Indianapolis on Sunday.
The Colts announced Thursday that James and former United States Army soldier and Medal of Honor recipient Sammy Davis will handle the pregame duties.
Davis, a native of Dayton, Ohio, joined the United States Army from Indianapolis. In November, 1967, Davis was an artillery cannoneer private with the Ninth infantry division assigned to South Vietnam. He was awarded the Medal of Honor by President Lyndon B. Johnson in 1968. Davis is the only Vietnam era Medal of Honor recipient from Indiana. He also received a Silver Star and Purple Heart.
James was the fourth overall pick by the Colts in 1999. He is the franchise’s all-time leading rusher, totaling 9,226 yards and 64 touchdowns rushing in his seven years with the club.
A four-time Pro Bowler, James led the league in rushing his first two seasons in the NFL. He set a club rookie rushing record with 1,553 yards as a rookie in 1999, and set the club rushing mark with 1,709 yards in 2000. James, who played with Arizona from 2006-08 and with Seattle in 2009, has 12,246 rushing yards, 11th in NFL history.
• New York defenders think they can get to Manning — The Jets firmly believe that they can put pressure on Colts quarterback Peyton Manning.
‘‘We’re not afraid to compete against the Colts, we’re excited to,’’ coach Rex Ryan said earlier this week.
His players — notably safety Kerry Rhodes and cornerback Darrelle Revis — agree.
‘‘Our defense is a hybrid-type system where he has had trouble before,’’ Rhodes said. ‘‘[Manning] can get a little erratic if you can get pressure on him. He doesn’t like to get hit. If you get pressure on him, he gets to talking to his linemen and they’re a little edgier or rattled.”
Revis said that the Jets didn’t show Manning everything, defensively, when the two teams met in the next-to-last game of the regular season Dec. 27.
‘‘We didn’t show him that much,” the NFL Defensive Player of the Year runnerup said. ‘‘I think the coaches saved a lot of things. When you look at this game plan, we have a lot of things that we’re going to do to him.”
Ryan, though, knows that completely stopping the Colts signal caller won’t be easy.
“We understand how to keep people out of the end zone for the most part,” the Jets coach said. “Now Peyton does a better job — they score about as well as anybody. So it’s a huge challenge. If we’re going to keep Indianapolis from scoring 14 points, that’s even a stretch for me to say. But I know one thing: We’re darn sure going to try.”
• Jets already selling AFC championship shirts — The title game has yet to be played but the New York Jets website is already accepting pre-orders for 2009 AFC Championship gear.
Hats, t-shirts and sweatshirts can be purchased at www.jetsshopchampions.com.
• Injury list — Rookie cornerback Jerraud Powers (foot) was injured in last week’s AFC divisional playoff win over Baltimore. His status for the Jets game remains in question. Powers missed a second day of practice on Thursday.
“He [hurt] his foot during the course of the [Baltimore] game. You may have seen him limping around a little bit during the action. But he was able to get through it. I’m not certain what he’ll be able to do for us this week. We’ll just have to see as things go along,” Caldwell said Thursday.
“[He’s continually getting treatment], and [making] certain that he can get better as quickly as [he] possibly as he can. [Jacob] Lacey is the guy that goes [if Powers can’t play]. Obviously, he and Kelvin [Hayden] will man the corners, and we’ll rotate Tim Jennings in there as well”.
Lacey was recently named to Pro Football Weekly’s 2009 NFL All-Rookie team, along with wide receiver Austin Collie and punter Pat McAfee.
“That’s one of the things that I think through the years has kind of helped us. The injuries we certainly don’t want, but sometimes there are unintended positive consequences from injuries. You have young guys that have an opportunity to step in and get a bit more experience,” the Colts coach said.
“So, [at] this time of year, if you do have an issue like we’re having right now, that we’re certainly not putting a guy in there who has not been in a ballgame.”
Tight end Dallas Clark returned to a full practice routine on Thursday. Clark had seen limited work on Wednesday due to illness. Safety Antoine Bethea (back) had another day of limited practice time, but he is expected to play Sunday.
The team’s injury list included running back Joseph Addai (shoulder), defensive end Ervin Baldwin (shin), middle linebacker Gary Brackett (calf), safety Melvin Bullitt (shoulder), offensive tackle Ryan Diem (elbow), defensive end Dwight Freeney (foot), rookie linebacker Cody Glenn (back), defensive tackle Antonio Johnson (shoulder), offensive tackle Charlie Johnson (foot), defensive end Robert Mathis (knee), offensive guard Jamey Richard (shoulder), tight end Jacob Tamme (ankle), offensive tackle Tony Ugoh (knee), placekicker Adam Vinatieri (right hip) and wide receiver Reggie Wayne (knee).