The Colts went up against last year's NFC East champs on their home turf and in front of a group of fans who aren't the least bit shy about cheering for their team in practically every way possible. And they're heading home with a win and a share of first place in the AFC South race.
The obvious concerns after
watching this game had a common denominator -- running the ball. The Colts
struggled mightily to do it, and they struggled mightily to stop it.
Let's talk about the latter problem first, stopping the run. Before people pronounce the Indy defense of incapable of stopping the run for the rest of this season, don't overlook the fact that Tiki Barber (18-110) rushed for over 1,800 yards last year. That was second in the NFC and just 20 yards shy of last year's MVP, Seattle's Shaun Alexander. I don't know about you, but I wasn't noticing a bunch of missed tackles, I was noticing well-executed blocking schemes by the Giants and a running back who knew how to exploit those generous gaps. That said, the Colts will still have to look for some solutions as the Giants averaged 6.6 yards per rush because of that execution. One of those solutions probably has to do with a guy named Corey Simon, who wasn't able to play on Sunday because of his continued recovery from a training camp knee injury.
I had to admit, at times I found it odd that the
Colts were shuffling their defensive linemen around so much. When Freeney was out,
Robert Mathis slid over to RDE while Josh Thomas worked in Mathis' LDE spot. Freeney
lined up on the left side on occasion. What was that all about? The Colts are
pretty successful with Freeney on the right and Mathis on the left. Why switch
them up? DT Raheem Brock is already working full-time at
a position that he only played part-time last season, so I'm not sure they saw a
big payback from all the switching around.
For the past couple of years some folks have complained that the Colts don't blitz enough. Well, I saw some blitzing going on during Sunday night's action, and I'm not sure it helped all that much at first glance. I'm going to go back and look at the tape to see if I feel the same way after a closer look. It worked very well for them during the preseason, but I'm anxious to see what happened this week.
I can tell you this, I didn't walk away from this game feeling that the defense was as tough to work against as I thought they were the past two seasons. It's only one game, but something just felt different as I watched them. It certainly wasn't lack of effort or lack of popping the Giants in a physical way when they had the chance. Those guys were playing their hearts out in a hostile environment. But something still just didn't seem right. A big thumbs up goes to Bob Sanders for smacking into Tiki Barber every chance he got. He finished with a team-leading 8 tackles, including 7 solo efforts. Gary Brackett made a couple of nice ankle-grabbing stops along with 7 total tackles. And I thought Marlin Jackson looked much more comfortable out there, putting a few licks on folks while also making 7 tackles. Maybe playing the nickel back spot isn't such a bad thing for him.
As far as running the ball, I thought the preseason futility was simply a problem with the two top backs not getting enough reps. But they continued to have problems Sunday night. Is it the backs? Is it the line? Or both? I'm not sure, but even Peyton Manning acknowledged that the Colts running game isn't quite clicking yet. "It's something we need to fix," he said after the game. Rookie Joseph Addai had a pretty nice debut though as an NFL rookie. He finished with 3.7 yards per carry on his seven attempts and pulled in three catches for 22 yards. Dominic Rhodes had 16 carries and finished with an average of just 1.8 yards per carry plus three catches for 14 yards. I'm sure there will be plenty of analysis of film this week to see if the holes weren't there or whether he just wasn't seeing them or getting to them quickly enough.
Fortunately, Peyton Manning came prepared to play. He finished up completing 25 of 41 for 276 yards, 1 TD and 1 INT. Perhaps most impressive was the way he stepped up into the pocket at the right time or quickly figured out he'd better start rolling out so that he could keep plays alive. He completed a number of passes on the run or as the pocket was collapsing on him. He'll likey be frustrated by offense's inablity to convert some more redzone opportunities into TDs rather than having to settle for field goals though. Marvin Harrison was his top target of the day with 9 catches for 113 yards. The longest completion of the night was a 34-yard effort to Reggie Wayne.
Adam Vinatieri was certainly a joy to watch. His field goal consistency was terrific, including a nice 49-yarder that would have been good from further out. He had plenty of leg in it. Dallas Clark was another player who stood out. Not only did he make a nice catch in the end zone for a score, he came up with a key catch in the fourth quarter that allowed the Colts to chew up clock at a time when it was desperately needed.
After watching Darrell Reid hustle down the field on
kickoffs Sunday night, I realized that he really has good quickness for a
288-pound lineman. He's going to step up and be one of the leaders on those
coverage units if he can continue to show that kind of effort. Rob Morris
certainly appears to be the guy who is going to lead the way this year on those
coverage units though. He made five of the team's eight special teams tackles.
Last year's leaders -- Robert Mathis and Gerome Sapp -- averaged just under two
per game with 29. Gilbert Gardner, Marlin Jackson and Darrell Reid made the
On kickoff returns, Terrence Wilkins sure was consistent. He returned four kickoffs and posted a healthy 27.8 yards per return. In the same role, Dominic Rhodes averaged 20.9 yards last season.
The Giants really hurt themselves Sunday night with penalties. They were flagged 10 times for 64 yards while the Colts had just 3 for 20. That was really the difference in this game. New York moved the ball very well, but they continued to hurt themselves with penalties that really hurt. Plaxico Burress' two first-half penalties subtracted a net of 28 rushing yards, and the illegal snap call with just 17 seconds left in the game dropped the clock to just seven seconds. Those were big in a game that ended up being decided by five points.
The Colts did a nice job with their third-down efficiency, converting 68.8% against a pretty good defense. And despite all the hype over the four terrific pass-rusing defensive ends in this game between the two defenses, it was bit ironic that there was only one sack on the night, and it wasn't made by any member of that fearsome foursome. The Colts didn't even get credit for a quarterback hit all night. The Giants earned three, but none were by Michael Strahan or Osi Umenyiora.
Congratulations go out to Antoine Bethea, who did a nice job in his debut as a pro. He was the only rookie starter for the Colts and he handled himself capably out there with six tackles and a pass defensed. He undoubtedly will regret not getting over a bit quicker to help Nick Harper on that one touchdown pass to Plaxico Burress, but Bethea should be pretty pleased with how he played overall.
The Colts that were declared inactive for this game included quite a few that were expected due to their injuries: LB Freddie Keiaho, DT Corey Simon, RB Dede Dorsey, and TE Ben Hartsock. WR Brandon Stokley was going to be a game day decision due to his continued recovery from a high ankle sprain, and the decision was made to deactivate him. The two other players that weren't active were rookie DB Tim Jennings and LB Tyjuan Hagler.
We'll be taking a look at this game from a number of angles early this week,
providing you with more detailed analysis and stats. Be sure to check back daily
for our postgame features and the start of our Colts-Texans pre-game coverage.