Five keys for Monday vs. Giants

Colts will try to shore up defense after blowout loss at Pittsburgh in primetime road game on national stage.

The Indianapolis Colts (5-3) will look to bounce back from a humbling loss at Pittsburgh on Monday night at the New York Giants (3-4) in East Rutherford, N.J. Here are five Colts keys:

1. Be smart on defense — Beyond the pass-rush problem, the Colts looked lost defensively at times against the Steelers. When they tried to play zone, even with more defenders than receivers, cover guys were too soft in allowing pass catchers to find weak spots. If there’s one guy running in your area, it makes sense to follow him. The Colts will try to blitz Giants quarterback Eli Manning, that’s the visitors’ M.O., but this is a West Coast offense predicated on quick-hit, short-range pass plays. The Giants will be anticipating the aggression and try to use that against the Colts. That means Colts defenders must be wise to where plays could go, not over-react to misdirection or ignore screens. Coaches harp on defenders understanding their responsibilities. This will be vitally important against the Giants.

2. Ball security (again!) — The Colts have turned it over six times in three losses. They have 15 turnovers, one more than all of last season. Head coach Chuck Pagano says ball security is preached every day, in every meeting and every practice. OK, then at some point guys have to get the message. That includes quarterback Andrew Luck, who despite his obvious success as the NFL’s No. 1 passer still makes too many risky throws. And he stares down his receivers too often. He did that on the pick-six at Pittsburgh. Luck typically learns from his mistakes, but he has nine interceptions and is going against the NFL’s No. 2 team in that category. Playing it safe sometimes makes sense. Not all the time, sure, but know when to not take the chance. Risk vs. reward, Andrew.

3. Utilize those tight ends — Wide receiver T.Y. Hilton has been outstanding, but part of the Colts’ success has been Luck’s ability to complete passes to nine different pass catchers. The Giants have struggled to cover tight ends. Dwayne Allen has six TD catches, but he can be a target more often than he has been. Tight end Coby Fleener is also overlooked at times, and should be counted on to make more plays. The return of wide receiver Reggie Wayne helps, and rookie wide receiver Donte Moncrief has proven he deserves more snaps. But throwing to the tight ends should be an emphasis in this game.

4. Get off the field on third down — While the Colts are still No. 1 in third-down defense, the Giants run a different kind of offense. When functioning properly, the Giants get modest chunks of yards consistently and put themselves in advantageous third-down situations. The Giants are 14th in converting third downs, so it’s still a work in progress. If they get in third-and-long, that favors the Colts’ blitzing defense because pass plays with longer routes require more time to execute. If the Giants have manageable third downs, the Colts will likely look to stop the run first and crowd the box for short-range passes. That could leave the defense susceptible to the deep ball, so it’s imperative the cornerbacks are solid in man coverage. Better play from the cornerbacks than what was displayed at Pittsburgh enables the Colts to pressure and crowd the Giants up close. And, ideally, get stops on third down.

5. Give Luck time, own the clock — It’s always a priority, ensuring Luck has a clean pocket so he can find the open man. But the Steelers got too much pressure on him. And the Giants have a talented pass rusher in Jason Pierre-Paul. After him, the Giants have struggled to find some consistency in the pass rush, so the Colts should be able to give their quarterback time. Do that and the Colts will move the chains and put up points. The Colts are still No. 1 in time of possession at 34 minutes, 51 seconds. Monopolize the clock and defenders wear down. That’s been obvious in the Colts’ victories. They need to get back to owning the clock, which also means getting production from running backs Trent Richardson and Ahmad Bradshaw. The latter has been exceptional. Richardson has had his moments, but still hasn’t put up gaudy numbers. He’s returning after missing the last game with a hamstring injury.

Phillip B. Wilson can be found on Twitter (@pwilson24), Facebook and Google+.

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