FLORHAM PARK, N.J. – Rex Ryan needed to set something straight about Peyton Manning.
He's a great player, sure, but he's no touchdown-tossing robot. Not even a rocket-armed superhero, or some indestructible force.
"We act like he's not human, but he is," the New York Jets coach said Wednesday. "He can make mistakes."
But not many. And, that's the thing that sets the Indianapolis Colts quarterback apart from most.
"It's like he has a photographic memory," safety Dwight Lowery said. "You have to be able to switch things up and show him different things because if you come out and show him the same thing over and over again, he's going to pick you apart."
The Jets (11-5) know that firsthand after doing a good job of handling Manning early in the AFC championship game last year, before the Pro Bowl quarterback adjusted and carved up New York's defense in the second half of a 30-17 victory. There he was, yelling things out at the line of scrimmage as he always does, and foiling Rex Ryan's game plan.
"He called out everybody and what they were doing on that defense," Lowery said. "It's a chess match with him."
The Jets will need to make all the right moves to beat the Colts (10-6) on Saturday night at Indianapolis. They're No. 1 task might also be their toughest: They need to get in Manning's face, early and often.
"He needs to know you're there, that the pressure is there," defensive end Mike DeVito said. "If you let him sit back there and make it a seven-on-seven, then it's a problem."
Even during a season in which he has lost some of his top targets in Dallas Clark and Austin Collie to injuries, Manning has been as dangerous as always. He has thrown 33 touchdown passes against 17 interceptions, and has been sacked just 16 times.
"He's just got great pocket awareness and he knows when things are coming, where blitzes are coming from," DeVito said. "He's the whole show over there. It's one of those things where if you can put pressure on him successfully, you can change the whole outcome of the game. Their offense is all about timing and when his timing is off, it throws everything totally off."
Much easier said than done, of course.
Ryan is recognized as one of the game's top defensive minds, and even he has had little success against Manning. Since 2005, when Ryan became Baltimore's defensive coordinator, the Colts are 5-1 and Manning has 12 touchdown passes and only two interception against him.
"I don't have really a good explanation for it," Manning said.
And, neither does Ryan, but he's not alone.
"I'm not the only coordinator or the only guy that Peyton's ever destroyed," Ryan said. "I think it's written like I'm his punching bag or something. Mine's at least got some arms on it. Some of these other guys he plays against, they've got no arms on it. But I plan on swinging back and we'll see if that works out this week."
Ryan's right. Manning has made a career of making plenty of highly regarded defenses look feeble during his 13 years in Indianapolis.
"I think that's part of a quarterback's responsibility is to be able to read defenses," Manning said. "Certainly, that's part of your job, and your job is to try and get the ball into those guys' hands in order for them to make plays."
New York finished third in overall defense after being No. 1 last season, and is still not considered a dominant force. Most of that comes from the Jets' inability to get consistent pressure on quarterbacks, despite being ranked eighth in the league with 40 sacks — eight more than last season.
"This game is really going to come down to the front four," said linebacker Calvin Pace, second on the team with 5½ sacks. "I know we've taken some criticism in not necessarily getting the sack numbers that probably we should have, but we'll have to step our game up with the front four. And, it's not just blitzing as much, but rushing four guys and trying to get to Peyton."
It's not necessarily all about the sacks, either.
"There's more ways to affect the game," linebacker Jason Taylor said. "You can put in a couple of tapes throughout the season and see how teams have done it without necessarily knocking him down."
A three-game stretch in which Manning threw 11 interceptions would be a good start. In those games — losses to New England, San Diego and Dallas — Manning was sacked just once. So, what happened to him there?
"I don't know," Ryan said with a smile, "but I hope he revisits that time."
A lot of it has to do with disguising defenses and not repeating formations too often. Otherwise, Manning will remember things from earlier in the game — as he did in the AFC championship — and there's no easy way to combat that.
"Maybe hit him in the head real hard," Ryan said, laughing. "That could be one way. We haven't tried that yet. You've just got to play the game with him."