8:30 PM EST, ESPN – Line: Indianapolis -3
A pair of teams looking to rebound from disappointing defeats meet tonight at MetLife Stadium, as the New York Giants host the Indianapolis Colts on Monday Night Football. After riding high via a five-game winning streak, the Colts (5-3) came back down to Earth last weekend at Heinz Field in a 51-34 drubbing at the hands of the Steelers. Before they even knew what hit them, the visitors trailed 21-3 at one point in the Second Quarter; on the day Indianapolis’ defense was torched for a ridiculous 639 yards, including a whopping 522 through the air, as the Secondary allowed six passing touchdowns. Now you know you’re in trouble when you put up 448 yards and still get outgained by 191 yards. Even in defeat, Andrew Luck was stellar, as the third-year Quarterback completed 26-of-45 attempts for 400 passing yards, three touchdowns and a pair of interceptions. However, Chuck Pagano’s charges couldn’t get the ball rolling on the ground; after falling behind by such a large margin, they largely abandoned the run, attempting a scant ten carries for 63 yards.
It was indeed a large step back for a defense that has improved by leaps and bounds over the past three years. Anytime a team transitions to a 3-4 scheme, the change can take some time, particularly in the case of the Colts, who ran Tony Dungy’s Tampa Two scheme for ten years. However, through eight games Indianapolis has allowed 23.4 points (16th overall) on 352.2 yards (15th overall), including 252.9 versus the pass (21st overall) and another 99.3 versus the run (9th overall). In fact, just last week, they had shutout AFC North-leading Cincinnati in a 27-0 victory; the hosts relegated the visiting Bengals to a mere 135 yards of offense on just eight First Downs. And that’s what makes the Steelers debacle so disappointing; while the offense remains prolific, the defense has not yet proven that it can slow down the better offenses of the league. Pittsburgh’s Ben Roethlisberger was barely pressured, completing 40 of his 49 attempts for 522 yards, the fifth-highest total in a single game in NFL History. Playing without last year’s sack leader Robert Mathis, who is out for the term with an ACL Tear is troublesome enough, but injuries to the likes of Fili Moala (knee) Erik Walden (quadriceps), Arthur Jones (ankle), D’Qwell Jackson (toe), and Vontae Davis (knee) have left this unit without a bevy of starters and dangerously thin. Strong Safety LaRon Landry is eligible to return after serving a four-game suspension for a failed drug test, giving Pagano’s defense an imposing presence in the Secondary.
Fortunately, there is this kid named Andrew Luck under Center, and in case you’ve been living under a rock for the last three years, he’s really, really, really good. The former No. One Overall Pick has continued his rapid development this season, posting career-highs in Completion Percentage (64.8%), Yards per Attempt (7.9), and Total QBR (72.8), all the while leading the league in both Passing Yards (341.4) and Touchdown Passes (22). He’s also proven adept with his feet, rushing for another 134 yards and a pair of scores. However, the concern is that he has had to shoulder too much of the burden offensively; in fact, Luck has accounted for 78.9% of the Colts’ offense, the most of any Quarterback in the AFC. Pagano needs more production out of the ground game, particularly Trent Richardson and Amhad Bradshaw, who have rushed for 729 yards collectively, along with four touchdowns. It hasn’t been a matter of carries for these guys, for Indianapolis’ backfield has carried the ball 231 times, the eighth-highest total in the league, yet has averaged just 4.0 yards per attempt, the twelfth-worst number in the NFL.
Meanwhile, after a Summer of sizable change, the Giants (3-4) once again have the look of a middling team, even though they have made a number of strides throughout the first half of the campaign. While injuries have ravaged this team on both sides of the ball, New York has still managed to stay within striking distance in the NFC East. After all, with Dallas and Philadelphia both sustaining heavy injuries under Center, the opportunity to sprint past the competition has presented itself. However, that will be easier said than done; even though the Giants emerge from their Bye Week well-rested, a muderer’s row awaits with the Colts, Seahawks, 49ers, and a rematch with the Cowboys all on tap this month. With that said, three out of those four contests will take place in the Meadowlands, setting the stage for a potentially huge second half of the season.
In the offseason, Tom Coughlin hired Ben McAdoo as his new Offensive Coordinator with the intent on implementing the West Coast Offense he had run in Green Bay. The plan was to maximize the performance of one Eli Mannning, who has regressed over the last two seasons under Center. In 2013, the eleventh-year veteran led the league in interceptions (27), while his Completion Percentage plummeted to 57.5% along with a dreadful 36.53 Total QBR, the worst such figure of his career. And as is so often the case in today’s NFL, a team only goes so far as their Quarterback will take them; last New York bottomed out on the offensive side of the ball, averaging just 18.4 points (28th overall) on 325.5 total yards (28th overall), including 242.2 yards (19th overall) on just 5.9 net yards per pass (19th overall). But perhaps that’s not the whole story, for under McAdoo’s watchful eye, Manning is enjoying a career resurgence. Through seven games, the two-time Super Bowl MVP is completing 64.9% of his passes on 6.24 net yards per attempt, while averaging 224.7 yards per game, with fourteen touchdowns to just five interceptions. In fact, his 78.45 Total QBR is the highest of his career.
Unfortunately, the re-tooled offense has yet to trust have it’s full complement of pieces, as this group continues to be beset by injuries. With Victor Cruz out for the season with a torn Achilles, and First Round Pick Odell Beckham Jr. missing the first five games with a nagging hamstring, Manning hasn’t had much consistency with his weapons. Even the Backfield, which was significantly overhauled over the Summer has experienced it’s ups and downs. After a career year in Oakland, Rashad Jennings was acquired via Free Agency with the expectations of becoming the featured Tailback and the focus of the running game. While effective when on the field, Jennings has succumbed to a lingering knee injury that has now cost him each of the past two games, which has quickly proven his value; in the five games in which he was healthy the Giants’ ground game averaged a healthy 121.0 yards, as Jennings accounted for 79.2 of that figure, but since then the offense has been able to muster 95.0 rushing yards. Rookie Andre Williams has struggled in transitioning to the NFL, averaging just 3.1 yards per carry.