About three hours before kickoff, Jake Query set the stage with his final question during my weekly radio appearance on WNDE’s “Query and Schultz Show.”
He asked what I needed to see from the Indianapolis Colts after the first quarter of Monday night’s game at the New York Giants to be assured the team would be OK. Without hesitation, I said the defense getting stops on third down.
After the first quarter of the Colts’ 40-24 victory on Monday Night Football, the Giants had only one first down and were 0-for-3 on third down. And on the first play of the second quarter, they failed to convert on third down.
The Colts were only ahead 3-0 at that juncture, but I thought it was merely a matter of time before they started scoring. Most importantly, a defense that had been passed to death by Ben Roethlisberger at Pittsburgh eight days ago was getting heat on Eli Manning.
The visitors were getting stops. The coverage was excellent, except for a missed assignment on a tight end that resulted in the only first down.
The Giants had five three-and-outs in the first half. The Colts led 16-3 at MetLife Stadium.
Andrew Luck lit up the Giants with three third-quarter touchdown throws to assure this would be his first MNF victory. That gets the Colts quarterback a lot of pub, and rightfully so, but the defense is what we needed to see to gain some confidence in this team.
By the end of the third quarter, it was 37-10. Game over.
Outside linebacker Erik Walden didn’t play, but Andy Studebaker was solid as his replacement. And when it was time to release the hounds, outside linebacker Jonathan Newsome was even better than that. The rookie from Ball State sacked Manning twice, and the second forced a fumble that Sergio Brown scooped up and returned to the Giants’ 4 to set up Luck’s final TD pass.
Undrafted rookie defensive tackle Zach Kerr also got to do a dance after he sacked Manning. We worried about what would happen if the Giants kept six and seven blockers in, as the Steelers did with great success, to stuff the Colts’ blitz. But the Colts’ pass rush wouldn’t be denied, and they were blitzing from all over the place, early and often, relentless.
That’s how this defense will have to get the job done for this team to have a chance against the best opposition. And what goes hand-in-hand with that was the secondary coverage. We saw Vontae Davis and Greg Toler defend receivers well with tight coverage. They were tested, and more often than not, the Giants were denied.
That helps the pass rush. And on this night, because of the pressure, Manning threw a few high floaters as if he were hoping for a completion, counting on his receivers to win battles. That’s a lot different than “Big” Ben zipping darts to wide open guys.
It helps that the Giants dropped their share of passes, sure. But after seeing the Colts give up 51 points to the Steelers, you had to see something in the way of encouragement this night … or else we would be resigned to expecting big-named quarterbacks to make these guys look silly every time. And that would mean certain doom come the playoffs.
Don’t get me wrong, Tom Brady is next. And the Colts will be thinking about the Patriots for two weeks as both teams enjoy a bye. We’ve all seen how Brady is zipping the ball around lately — he just drubbed his old buddy Peyton Manning on Sunday, made the Denver Broncos look silly.
And Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski is healthy. He’s making big plays. Is is too soon to beg Colts defensive coordinator Greg Manusky to double team this guy on every play? I mean, Denver tight end Julius Thomas had his way with the Colts in a three-TD opener. We don’t need to see a repeat performance. Double “Gronk” and make the Patriots use the other guys as much as possible.
But, alas, I’m getting ahead of myself. That’s two weeks from now.
For now, we can be somewhat encouraged by how the Colts responded to an ugly loss. That’s what I hoped to see on Monday night, something on defense, to be encouraged.
We saw it.
Phillip B. Wilson can be found on Twitter (@pwilson24), Facebook and Google+.