The Giants have a very cohesive offensive line and one of their strengths — in addition to the talent level along the line, especially on the interior — is the fact that they've been together for a few seasons and have been relatively injury free. But, to call them one of the better lines in the league would be giving them too much credit.
They are another group that collectively qualifies as "good" but they are certainly not elite. Eli Manning was sacked 32 times last season and New York finished in the bottom half of the league in rushing yards per game and yards per attempt. Then again, the Texans finished 30th in the league in yards per game and yards per attempt, so it could be that the Indianapolis defense is a good cure for an ailing running game.
Against the Panthers in Week 1, the Giants averaged only 3.3 yards per carry and center Shaun O'Hara and guards Chris Snee and Rich Seubert struggled to push the Carolina defensive tackles off the ball. Antonio Johnson, Daniel Muir, and Gary Brackett need to atone for their atrocious performance up the middle in the second half of last week's game.
There is no doubt that they've been thinking about it all week and are waiting for an opportunity to make a statement. But, New York's interior linemen are probably anxious to get a shot at the soft middle of the Colt defense, so the men that want it more are going to prevail.
The Giants also like to run sweeps and off-tackle plays, so Robert Mathis and Dwight Freeney need to be prepared for a fight as well. They like to get Ahmad Bradshaw on the edge in particular so that he can use his speed and vision to stretch the defense out, create a seam, and hit it with authority.
Right tackle Kareem McKenzie and left tackle David Diehl are better run blockers than they are pass blockers, but they do an adequate job in pass protection. Diehl isn't as quick in his backpedal as he used to be and he may need some help from a tight end or running back. Manning was sacked 32 times last season, so he can be gotten to and the noise from the home crowd will give Mathis and Freeney a slight edge at the snap in a set of matchups where they already hold a significant advantage in terms of speed and athleticism.
Hakeem Nicks had a big day against Carolina in Week 1 with four catches for 75 yards and three touchdowns, but he is not the only weapon New York has at its disposal at the receiver position. Steve Smith had a breakout season in 2009, with 107 receptions for 1,120 yards and seven touchdowns.
Nicks was Manning's preferred receiver last season, but Eli spreads the ball around almost as well as his older brother. In any given week, Smith could have a week like Nicks did against the Panthers, or Mario Manningham could have the big game. Nicks is a bit "nicked" this week and may miss Sunday's game, as well.
The most dangerous aspect of this receiving corps is that, while each of the three primary targets has his specialty, they're basically interchangeable. The focus on one particular player and the production that he enjoys is based primarily on matchups week-to-week.
The Colts can counteract that by playing sound Cover 2 defense, keeping everything in front them, making sure Jacob Lacey, Jerraud Powers, and Kelvin Hayden chuck their man at the line, and making sure that the linebackers fill their zones and enforce their territory with violence.
Neither Antoine Bethea nor Melvin Bullitt can be committed to the box because of how well the Giants throw deep off play action and how many options they have to catch the deep ball. If Indianapolis plays sound fundamental defense, they should be able to limit Eli Manning's effectiveness. They just need to stick to their assignments and make sure they don't over commit to stopping the run and giving the Giants plenty of opportunities over the top.
New York is committed to running the ball and would not have given up that aspect of their game plan even if the Colts hadn't had such a catastrophic collapse in their run defense last week. Even given that Indianapolis once again seems very vulnerable to the run, the Giants will most likely not change their strategy.
They will use both of their talented backs — Ahmad Bradshaw and Brandon Jacobs — to gain yards on first and second down in order to put Manning into a manageable situation on third down. Jacobs and Bradshaw both have the potential to break a long gain — Bradshaw in particular — but they are more consistent performers than boom-or-bust players. New York's backfield will wear down a defense with singles and doubles and will readily take a home run if they are given enough daylight, but they are not looking for 231 yards and three touchdowns.
They will try to set up play action by pounding the ball at the Colts and attempting to lull the Indianapolis defense into a rhythm. The Colts defenders — Brackett, Bethea, and Bullitt in particular — need to be aggressive, but stay aware.
In order to slow the Giants running attack down and force Manning into third and long situations, the Indianapolis defenders need to maintain their gaps, penetrate inside, and protect and extend the edges while taking away cutback lanes. The further Bradshaw and Jacobs run towards the sideline, the better the odds that they will run into the pile before the crease opens up in an attempt to get something out of the play. Clint Session and Philip Wheeler need to engage the lead blocker and push the play towards the sideline and wait for support on the back end.
Above all, the Colts defenders need to wrap up their man and bring him to the ground. Poor tackling — trying for a collision instead of a tackle — hurt Indianapolis as much as anything against Houston last week and Bradshaw and Jacobs are hard runners that will absorb that contact and keep going.
Although Eli Manning is still trying to climb out of his brother's long shadow, he does have a championship to his credit and he has progressed as a quarterback, completing over 60 percent of his passes the last two seasons and throwing for over 4,000 yards in 2009.
He will never be the statistical juggernaut and superstar that Peyton Manning is, but he is a very efficient and effective quarterback. He knows what he needs to do and he executes the Giants game plan with precision.
Once Eli Manning finds his comfort zone, it is very difficult to get him out of it. He averaged 8.8 yards per attempt against the Panthers in Week 1 and threw for three touchdowns, with the Giants scoring 31 points.
He was not pressured often by Carolina and was only sacked once. He settled into his comfort zone and did not get pulled out of it, even though he threw three interceptions.
Once he is rattled, though, it is equally difficult for him to find his comfort zone. Blitzing Eli is about as intelligent a strategy as blitzing Peyton, so the Colts will not be able to rattle him by consistently bringing extra defenders. The run defense needs to their job first. If they can put New York in situations where they face a third and six or longer, then Freeney and Mathis can pin their ears back and come after Manning.
If the Giants consistently face third and four or third and three situations, Manning will start to get comfortable and will have a wide array of ways that he will be able to attack a wounded Indianapolis defense.
Put him in a position to fail, hit him early, hit him hard, take him out of his comfort zone. That is the only way that the Colts are going to beat Eli Manning and the Giants. It will take a team effort, but it is far from impossible.
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