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Will Jets defense learn from past mistakes?

FLORHAM PARK, N.J. - Blitz, but not too much, because he'll hurt you if you blitz too much.

Disguise your fronts, but not too much, because he'll hurt you if you're too concerned with keeping your defense a secret.

Don't bother selling out against the run, but be careful, because he'll hurt you if he gets his running game going.

There are any number of ways Peyton Manning can make the Jets pay, as they learned in the AFC Championship a year ago. The Jets defense had Manning and the Colts on the ropes in the first half of that game, only to see Manning adjust and lead his offense to 24 unanswered points and a Super Bowl berth.

That the Jets had a taste of playing Manning and the Colts under such a pressure-packed situation can only help the Jets going into tomorrow night's wild-card game. Manning will do what he always does, which is try and confuse his opponent with his pre-snap routine while also trying to catch the defense giving away something.

But the Jets, despite a few new faces and a bit less swagger than its defense had going into last season's AFC Championship, feel like they've learned a bit.

"I don't know if you'll necessarily fool him, and we're not looking to just fool him, sometimes it's the rest of the offense as well," defensive coordinator Mike Pettine said. "A lot of their routes are based on the receivers and quarterbacks being on the same page, so I think if you can do some things that can at least cause some confusion for the receivers or the tight ends or the back or the linemen in protection.

"He's the best in the business, so it's tough sledding to think you're going to be able to do that to him on a consistent basis. As far as the other extreme, if you just line up and say here's where we are, this is what we're playing, then you're going to get torched."

A bit like the Jets defense, Manning had his struggles this season when he lost top targets Dallas Clark and Austin Collie to injury. It took some time, but Jacob Tamme has fit into Clark's spot at tight end and Blair White has filled Collie's role at receiver, giving the Colts four trustworthy receiving targets again.

The emergence of Tamme and White means the middle of the field is again a focus for the secondary. Brodney Pool and Eric Smith, neither of whom started last year's game (Pool wasn't even a Jet), will have their hands full at safety.

"He wants to throw it over the middle to those guys to keep the heat away from [Reggie] Wayne and [Pierre] Garcon," Pool said. "We have to be ready for whatever he's got."

And then there's the Colts' running game. It's no coincidence that Joseph Addai returning to health after missing eight games and the addition of Dominic Rhodes helped key the Colts' four-game win streak to close the regular season; a team without a 500-yard rusher may need the run game to keep the aggressive Jets defense from overcommitting to the pass.

"I do know this about Manning: If he can run the ball, he will," Trevor Pryce said. "He doesn't want to throw it as much as he has."

Protection will also be a huge factor. David Harris had two sacks and a forced fumble in the first half of last year's showdown; the Colts and Manning made their adjustments and he wasn't touched the rest of the way.

Even if some pressure package is working for the Jets, they can't get comfortable. "He's too good to rush the same people every time," Harris said. "We have to change it up."

This is still a top-10 defense, despite the major meltdowns against the Patriots (45 points) and Bears (38) over the final month. Perhaps the most important factor for the Jets in facing Manning is confidence.

"We've still got it, don't worry," Sione Pouha said. "We haven't lost that."

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