Indianapolis Colts 20 – New York Giants 12
Game Overview: Fingertips – Look no further than the opening kickoff if you’re searching for a one word summary of a mistake-filled and forgettable evening at MetLife Stadium. Fingertips. Colts rookie kicker Brandon McManus lobbed the opening boot off the crossbar in the Giants’ end zone, just out of reach and over the fingertips of rookie returner Michael Cox. It wouldn’t be the first time the Colts were just out of reach of their maddeningly mistake prone opponents.
Andrew Luck looked every bit the #1 overall pick of a year ago, completing 9 of 13 passes for 107 yards and 2 TDs, leading his Colts to scores on three straight possessions while the new look 3-4 defense minus pass rushing great Dwight Freeney, hassled Giant quarterbacks with 6 sacks. Reliable veteran WR Reggie Wayne proved that his fingertips were just fine with an impressive one-handed grab late in the first quarter and a failed Aaron Ross interception (that glanced off his fingertips) turned into six as Wayne followed the bouncing ball right into the end zone.
Chuck Pagano’s team, embarrassed on the road at Buffalo a week ago, rebounded by holding the potentially lethal Giants offense to zero touchdowns and a paltry 3.9 yards per play. More often than not on this night, the Colts were simply too much up front for the Giants aging and injury- riddled offensive line.
Apparently the Giants coaching staff finally watched the same tape we did, moving David Diehl to guard after his worst effort as a pro and inserting rookie RT Justin Pugh to the starting lineup only a week removed from a concussion that kept him out for nearly 1/3 of camp. David Baas’ MCL injury will precipitate some movement up front, but make no mistake, this was a demotion and a full-time changing of the guard at RT and the end of an era. Our little T-Rex is here to stay, let’s hope his puny little arms are up to the task of keeping up with an offense that has all the potential to be one of the NFL’s most dangerous this season.
Short Dino-Arms aside, injuries may have been the story of the night as WR Victor Cruz suffered a phantom heel injury that has his status in doubt for the season opener in Dallas. Ditto for C David Baas, who completed a litany of offseason surgeries only to have his left leg rolled up on and put his immediate future in doubt.
Quarterbacks: Eli Manning’s numbers were fair, 8 of 17 for 91 yards, but he had an ugly interception late in the first quarter on a 3rd and 1 that looked to be everyone’s fault. Manning’s pass was clearly intended for Hakeem Nicks on an inside release, the trouble is that new TE Brandon Myers was more like Michael Myers, showing up right where and when you don’t want him to with disastrous results. OK, perhaps a pre-season INT isn’t disaster but it’s never too early to predict doom and get the “Fire Gilbride” crowd riled up and in mid-season form. I like starting the overwrought over-analysis right away and be in mid-season form by the opening kick in Dallas. Chances are a new TE, a WR who skipped OTA’s and has missed significant practice time and a QB who hasn’t had time to work with them are to blame here. Eli did have a near touchdown flat out dropped by rookie WR Kevin Hardy, but a little more consistency out of this group isn’t too much to expect at this stage.
David Carr played the way David Carr plays in the preseason, meh. His numbers weren’t atrocious, he managed to hit on 7 of 11 passes for 57 yards, nothing to complain about and nothing to get excited about. Rookie QB Ryan Nassib is almost impossible to evaluate playing behind the team of Matadors that the Giants trot out in garbage time. Nassib managed 48 yards on 2 for 6 passing, both screens to Michael Cox, but again Nassib had no protection at all due to some of the worst backup OL I’ve seen this team trot out in years. If the names McCants and Capers show up on the final 53, be afraid, be very afraid.
Running Backs: Probable starting HB David Wilson showed off the burst that has Giants fans eagerly awaiting a full season of the fastest running back this franchise has seen (Herschel Walker doesn’t count, he was fading and old in his time here and don’t even breathe the words LeShon Johnson). Wilson managed only 34 yards on 8 carries but his 21 yard burst on the second play from scrimmage provided a glimpse of the explosion he provides on a simple counter play. Wilson added a nifty 16 yard reception on the Giants 15 play scoring drive in the 2nd quarter, breaking two tackles and scrambling for extra yards after contact.
Not to be outdone, HB Andre Brown had a tough 36 yards on 8 runs, continuing to show his power finishing runs and the short area quickness that fits this offense well. Rookie Michael Cox had an impressive 36 yard kickoff return in the 2nd quarter and hauled in 48 yards on 2 catches.
Wide Receivers: WR Victor Cruz pulled up lame in the end zone, causing salsa lovers everywhere to suffer a little heartburn until the X-rays came back negative. Prior to that Cruz drew a long pass interference penalty that set up an early red zone chance (yeah I said red not green, Coughlin’s not the boss of me!), proving again how dangerous he is even when he’s not catching the ball. Finally, the Nicks has come back to MetLife! Sort of. At times frustrating this offseason, WR Hakeem Nicks looked OK in his return from injury #274 to his lower body. Nicks pulled in 2 passes for 40 yards but looked tentative to me out there. The suddenness that makes Nicks so dangerous in his routes did not show up, but an off season of rust and not much time practicing may be more to blame but it’s something to keep our eyes on. Nicks was noticeably slower and more deliberate on both of his catches, color me slightly worried. Technically I have to mention Ramses Barden who had 4 catches but more head scratching plays again. On two of his grabs he was inches short of a first down and did nothing to reach for it either time. Carr threw a back shoulder fade to the 6-6 Barden who continued running out of bounds (NFL Rule Alert: Catching ball out of bounds is frowned upon) and made almost no effort.
Reuben Randle chipped in with 2 catches for 17 yards and new Giant Louis Murphy pulled in 3 balls for 20 yards on top of an ill-fated end around that gained a whopping six feet.
Tight Ends: TE Adrien Robinson may turn into a threat at TE in time, but his mistake loomed large on the Giants offensive performance on their opening drive. With a long 4th and 1 from the Colt 7 yard line, Robinson lined up left of LT Will Beatty with TE Brandon Myers to his left in a Jumbo set. At the snap, Robinson incorrectly tried to block down on DE Corey Redding who was already washed out by Beatty, which left a huge gap for LB Kelvin Sheppard to fire through and force RB Andre Brown wider than he wanted to go. Robinson should have reached the second level to seal off the backside LB but instead stepped inside, looked lost and did nothing on the play. For everyone upset at the play call, it was a good call with a good grouping matchup that the Giants just lost because Robinson completely missed his assignment and allowed penetration into the backfield. Just for a capper, Robinson threw in a false start late in the 3rd quarter to help snuff out another drive.
Offensive Line: Before we get to the ugly, let’s start with the good, it works at parties when you want to pick up a woman and it works when analyzing offensive line play. You work your way down and it feels less painful as the rejection seeps in. (For the record I am married and have no recollection of said events in my past). OT William Beatty doesn’t get the credit he deserves but his block on DE Cory Redding that sprung Wilson’s run was one of beauty. With Brandon Myers lined up to his left, Beatty was blocking the play side hole on the counter and waited for Redding to pick a side. Once Redding tried going right, Beatty sealed him off that way, creating a running lane for the darting Wilson to jet right through. Moving a big bodied DT playing end in a 3-4 isn’t easy but Beatty used Redding’s aggressiveness against him to position himself perfectly for the block and the biggest ground gain of the evening. It is one small move in one small play in a pre-season game, but it shows Beatty’s smarts and his familiarity with Wilson’s running style is improving. That’s a big plus for this running game getting back to where it needs to be. Beatty absolutely collapsed the right side of the Colts DE on the long pass interference penalty on the opening drive, but the ugly was that his man fell into LG Kevin Boothe’s man who rolled up on Baas’ left leg and put his early season in jeopardy. For good measure Beatty mushed CB Greg Toler after his 1st quarter interception.
RT David Diehl started poorly and continued that way all night. On a 2nd and one on the Giants 2nd possession he was tossed backwards by DL Ricky Jean Francois and a solid 2nd and 1 run turned into miserable failure faster than you can say T-Rex. Diehl got tossed aside by rookie DE Bjoern Werner on another red zone play that short circuited a drive. You all watched this game, I won’t beat a dead horse but Diehl is certainly ready for the glue factory at this point. I could almost hear him whispering “Oil Cann..oooiiill cannnn” as player after Colt player used him like a turnstile at a Justin Bieber concert. (They couldn’t rush past excitedly giggling fast enough). You’re a good man David Diehl, I have respected your toughness and team first attitude for years but, your best days at tackle are long gone. As of this writing, Diehl is now the LG and Boothe moves to center, I would look to whoever is behind Diehl at LG to have a shot to unseat him if he doesn’t acquit himself in a less athletically demanding spot.
Unproven backup center Jim Cordle did a fair job in Baas’ absence, but his inability to even hold his ground on a 2nd and 7 from the Colts 9 killed any chance David Wilson had of scoring or converting. Again the play was blocked well across the board but it was one badly missed assignment that wasted the effort of everyone else on the play. Overall Cordle did well enough given his limited work with the starters but LG Kevin Boothe may be the better long term option should Baas be out for an extended period. (Update: After writing Boothe has been moved to center for now). Fellow backup Matt McCants was putrid at LG, I see no way he makes this team honestly. If an offensive line is a construction site, left guard is the guy who holds the Stop and Slow sign as traffic passes. If you can’t do that, you probably need to find a new job and McCants has gone from LT to RT now to LG and he was awful.
First round pick Justin Pugh debuted at LT and negated his man on nearly every play. Just from this one outing you can see why teams would question his stubby arms and size, he doesn’t look the part. Watch him play though and you may not see elbows but you won’t see the man he’s assigned to making a peep, he simply swallows up whoever lines up across from him. (Several nicknames occurred to me, the Pelican, Hungry Hungry HipPugh, and the Anti-Diehl – they all stink). Technically Pugh gave up a sack on a 3rd and 7 late in the 3rd quarter but once again Adrien Robinson did nothing lined up at H-Back and David Carr was running away from a missed Brandon Mosley block.
Defensive Line: A second straight of week of solid DL play should be a sign of things to come. Starting at LDE, Mathias Kiwanuka blew up the first play from scrimmage and toyed with LT Anthony Castonzo on 3rd down, ruining any chance the Colts had of running the ball on their first drive. Kiwi looks bigger and more comfortable than he’s been in his time here and it’s only been two weeks, but don’t be shocked if #94 has a big year on this defense with the injuries to JPP and Justin Tuck at defensive end. New DL toy Cullen Jenkins continued his solid play, proving tough to move at either DT or DE against the run. DE Justin Tuck, who ended up hurt again, looked just OK to me. Similar to Nicks, Tuck looked a bit unsure of his footing out there which is a sign of a guy not quite healthy or not yet trusting his body after a series of injuries. Tuck did swat away a 3rd down pass and had a few pressures but he’s not quite there yet but seemed to be rounding into form.
The other ex-Eagle DT, Mike Patterson made his impact felt near the end of the first half, knifing into the backfield to force a poor throw which led to a Jayron Hosley interception and snuffed out a 4th potential scoring drive for the Colts in the first half. DT Linval Joseph was solid up front as was DT Shaun Rogers and there was even a Marvin Austin sighting! No I’m not watching Outside the Lines re-runs, he really made a play the box score even says so!
Rookie DT Johnathan Hankins started the second half with a bang, holding the point on a run for nearly no gain on the Colts’ first possession and did a solid job overall but was pushed aside on two plays I saw simply because he got too high off the snap. Hankins has impressed me though, despite his mistakes his physical play shows up and he is a high effort guy who should be a key DL contributor as the Giants seek to re-establish the line of scrimmage. DE Adewale Ojomo did his best Charles Jefferson impression, clearly someone trashed Ojomo’s Trans Am before the game. On the Colts’ penultimate drive, they ran 4 actual plays (one was a punt, one a penalty) and Ojomo made the stop on every single one, finishing with a team high 5 tackles. I don’t know what he does during the first 3 quarters, but Ojomo sure does bring it in mop up pre-season time.
Linebackers: Toot Toot! After week one, many of us on BBI thought MLB Dan Dan the Drywall Man Connor should be given the nod after an iffy outing by Mark Herzlich and indeed he got the start. Connor only notched 3 tackles, but was much more active and aggressive than his predecessor. Connor’s instincts and quickness should upgrade the Mike position over the departed Chase Blackburn as he learns this defense. Connor should be one of your early sleepers for most surprising newcomer, (assuming you all keep a ballot like I do for funsies) he should do well in a 4-3 with so much size in front of him to keep him clean. If Marty Funkhouser is reading this, please move Jacquian Williams ahead of Paysinger sooner rather than later. Paysinger is fine cleaning up the garbage, but he simply waits too long for plays to develop and ends up hanging on for tackles downfield rather than attacking at all. Certainly his job isn’t to abandon his zone immediately but 52 looks like he needs some more aggression on running downs. Jacquian Williams simply shows up when you watch the game, notching two tackles and holding the POA of a handful of runs when he was down in the box. Third starter Keith Rivers wears #55 and appears to be rather fit. (Author’s Note: I refuse to over analyze the play of any more former top ten picks who do nothing to stand out – I’m talking to you David Carr, Aaron Curry and Keith Rivers- so I will merely give them the effort they gave the Giants on the field).
LB Aaron Curry plays for the Giants now, though I saw no evidence of that outside of giving up an outside run to…Matt Hasselbeck. Yeah, apparently that hot nutty chick from “The View”, her husband plays football, who knew? Anyway, that chick’s husband ran right past Curry as he bit on a dive fake, a recurring issue for this Fewell led run defense that we will not discuss here…yet.
Defensive Backs: CBs Jayron Hosley and Aaron Ross are neck and neck for most plays just missed thus far. Ross coughed up an interception falling backward that turned into a Reggie Wayne TD, and for good measure yanked Wayne’s facemask (with his fingertips) for a free 15 yards later on. Hosley broke well on a ball just over his…fingertips that T.Y. Hilton snagged for 18 yards and four plays later got turned around briefly as Luck’s pass just went over his…fingertips for a Hilton TD that put the Colts up 17-3. That’s 4 plays, about 7 fingertips, two TDs, one 15 yard penalty, an 18 yard gain and countless Giant fans with shaking heads (that’s SMH for you Twitterheads). Hosley did snatch up an INT late in the first half and did a solid job as a gunner on punt coverage.
Thankfully CB Prince Amukamara is no longer homesick about leaving Zamunda and is, in my opinion, on the verge of being a top 5 CB in this league. I said as much over the summer after his play late last season, and his play so far has backed that up. Always a physical guy, Amukamara had to overcome some rookie jitters and nagging injuries but #20 is finally playing as he did as a standout at Nebraska – with a fierce competitiveness for every ball and every tackle.
Special Teams: K Josh Brown went 4 for 4 with a long of 47 yards. Expect few nervous moments from Brown, he’s as dependable a kicker as there is in the league and still has plenty of power in his getaway sticks. Aside from RB Michael Cox bringing a kickoff out 36 yards, the return game was nothing to write home about, but with this many rookies around a mistake free night is a win on special teams. P Steve Weatherford was boringly efficient, which is a good thing, averaging 43.8 yards on 6 boots. Dear Michael Cox…BREAK DOWN on punt and kickoff coverage, or you’ll keep flying past the returner. Oh and my wife and niece think you’re totally cute so don’t get cut (they aren’t over losing DJ Ware yet).
Author’s Corny Addendum: Given my personal events of this summer, I have to comment on the Chuck Pagano story that was highlighted during this telecast. I lost my father in law to a 5 year battle with cancer and it was the hardest few weeks of my life watching someone I love succumb to that disease. That said, seeing how Pagano fought back and never once complained, all the while staying there for his team when he could was truly an inspiration. Cancers sucks, but in my experience with it over the past few years, it unveils fight and mettle in people you never knew existed. It is a scourge that we may never solve, but it won’t ever solve the unyielding human spirit to fight.