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Indianapolis Colts 28 – New York Giants 27
The last time Eli Manning and the Giants played in Indianapolis, it was against the New England Patriots in Super Bowl XLVI. Fast forward almost 7 years later and Eli Manning is still the quarterback, the lone representative from that Super Bowl winning team still on the roster. Two new coaching staffs, a new General Manager, and countless players have gone through the revolving door since that night in early February. It almost seems like that game against Tom Brady and the Patriots was a lifetime ago, as a lot has changed since then, mostly for the worst.
Their opponent was the team that plays its home games there, the near-playoff bound Colts. This organization hasn’t finished above .500 since 2014, saw their franchise QB go down with a serious throwing shoulder injury, and got nixed at the last second by Josh McDaniels in a coaching search. But 2018 has been a year to remember, as they came in winners of 7 of their last 8.
After a lackluster loss to TEN, the Giants came out firing on all cylinders. They quickly jumped out to a 14-0 lead thanks to a balanced offensive approach that saw Eli Manning spread the ball out across the board. Saquon Barkley’s 1 yard run and Manning’s 3 yard pass to Scott Simonson were the early scores. Combined with 5 pre-snap penalties by IND in the first quarter, this one had domination written all over it.
IND started to pick up chunk gains via the passing game but Andrew Luck tried to do a bit too much as they approached the red zone. He aimlessly threw the ball near the end zone without a Colts receiver in the same zip code. Safety Curtis Riley came down with it for his 4th interception of the season. The Giants offense began to sputter, however, as the IND defense crowded the box and prevented the running game from taking off.
IND put together a 12-play drive that took up most of the remaining time in the 2nd quarter. They spread the ball out, attacking the NYG linebackers in coverage and eventually got into the end zone via an easy 1-yard touchdown by rookie RB Nyheim Hines. NYG took the ball back and marched down the field to get 3 more points on the board. They went in to halftime possessing a commanding 17-7 lead and due to get the ball back after halftime.
The NYG offense continued to struggle early in the second half. They punted the ball to IND following their first drive and Luck led the offense right back downfield. It took just 7 plays to gain 85 yards, capped by a 2-yard pass to Dontrelle Inman to bring IND within 3. They often say the first 2 possessions of the second half go a long way in determining the outcome of a game. IND, despite being down 3, clearly had the momentum.
This is where Manning stepped up and showed, once again, there is enough left in the tank. He went 5/5 for 79 yards, connecting with four different receivers. He got the ball down to the goal line and took a QB sneak past the goal line for the Giants’ first touchdown since their second drive of the game. They took back a 10-point lead.
The IND offense continued to stay hot, as they picked up chunk gain after chunk gain. The NYG pass rush was struggling to disrupt Luck and the back seven couldn’t stick to anyone in coverage. It took just a 7 play drive for them to get back within 3, this time via a 3-yard touchdown run by Marlon Mack. Two plays prior to that score, an Olivier Vernon sack-fumble that was recovered by BJ Hill was negated by a Janoris Jenkins hold in coverage. Even though NYG led the entire game, it had a close-to definite feel that Luck and Colts were in control.
The 4th quarter started off with a 12-play NYG drive that saw them get inside the 10-yard line, but had to settle for a 27-yard field goal by Pro Bowl kicker Aldrick Rosas. The two teams then traded possessions with the margin at 6. With IND starting a drive near midfield with under 4 minutes left, Luck led them piece by piece all the way inside the 5. A 1-yard pass to Chester Rogers put them ahead for the first time with under a minute left.
On Manning’s third pass of their last-ditch attempt to get in field goal range, he threw a deep pass into double coverage that was intercepted by safety Malik Hooker. That was all she wrote.
NYG loses 28-27.
-Eli Manning: 25/33 – 309 yards – 1 TD/1 INT. Manning also scored a 1-yard touchdown on the ground. Manning, up against a red-hot defense that had a lot to play for, came up with one of his better games on the year without his top target, Odell Beckham. He spread the ball out. He was accurate short, intermediate, and deep. And he was completing a lot of passes on the move. A very solid game for a guy who will be debated all offseason long in relation to his future with the team. I’ll say it now. Unless NYG trades for an established QB, Manning will be the opening game starter next year. He has earned it.
-Saquon Barkley: 21 att / 43 yards – 5 rec / 34 yards. The IND defense came into today with one focus; do not let Barkley beat them. They had 8 defenders in the box more often than not on 1st and 2nd down, something we haven’t seen yet this year. In addition to that, their run defense has been one of the best all year. Barkley just couldn’t get going and the interior offensive linemen didn’t do him any favors. He did drop a pass and there were two runs where he chose the wrong running lane. The past two weeks have been the least productive we’ve seen in his rookie year and it could end up really hurting his Rookie of the Year chances if it trickles into the finale.
-Sterling Shepard: 6 rec / 113 yards. With Odell Beckham out for 3 games, it’s been an opportunity for Shepard to show he more than a complimentary asset. The previous 2 did not work out well for him, as he combined for 4 catches / 51 yards. However in this one, he stepped up big time. 5 of his 6 catches were in the first half when the NYG offense was really flowing, but he was quiet in the second half. Those 5 catches all resulted in first downs and that is one of his strongest attributes to his game. He finds the chains and stays tough in traffic. Very hard guy to cover short and intermediate but I do think there is some untapped upside with him that won’t be seen unless he is with a better quarterback.
-Bennie Fowler and Cory Latimer, two veterans who bring quality size and speed to the table, each had a catch for a first down. Fowler’s resulted in 26 yards, and when I see plays like that, it makes me think he may be worth bringing back for 2019. He can do some things.
-Evan Engram: 6 rec / 87 yards – 2 att / 26 yards. Engram has really broken out these past 2 weeks and reminded everyone what he can do if given enough opportunities. I’m still not sold on him being an every down tight end, as he once again finished with a below average grade as a blocker, but the speed/burst/agility he has with the ball is downright scary for opponents. He is one of the main reasons why I think this offense has a ton of potential in 2019 as a whole.
-Scott Simonson and Rhett Ellison were both on the field equally. They struggled to impact the running game, as they both finished with below average grades as blockers. However, they combined for 5 catches on 5 targets for 35 yards. Simonson scored his first touchdown of his career on a short rollout pass from Manning in the 1st quarter.
-Nate Solder, who’s play has stabilized in recent weeks, graded out as the best OL in this game. He allowed 1 pressure and was the cause for a TFL, but otherwise he did a nice job neutralizing the blindside pressure. He still doesn’t get a good enough push as a run blocker, especially when he has to move laterally. Not a big deal, but I did find it noteworthy he was getting moved back when Barkley was trying to hit his gaps.
-Chad Wheeler has steadily been below average throughout the second half of the season. I really hoped he would go in the other direction but I think his tape is going to lead the team to looking for a new right tackle. He allowed 2 TFL and a pressure in this one.
-Really rough day for this trio. Rookie Will Hernandez, who has been the best lineman on this team all year, had his first negative grade since early in the year. Denico Autry and Margus Hunt really gave him problems with their oversized frames combined with fast feet, similar to Calais Campbell in week 1. He allowed 2 pressures and didn’t sustain his blocks long enough in the running game.
-Jamon Brown, who is being proclaimed as a savior the line, had his worst game in a Giants uniform. He allowed 2 pressures, 1 TFL, and was penalized twice. While I do think he can be considered for the starting RG spot in 2019, he has not by any means cemented his name there. When he’s on, he is certainly a difference maker. But the inconsistency he shows game to game is exactly what made the Rams toss him onto the road.
-OC John Greco got the start with Spence Pulley missing the game with a bad calf. His lack of ability is still there. Greco graded out as the second worst blocker of the day, allowing a pressure, a TFL, and recording a block-in-the-back penalty.
-Olivier Vernon, a name that will be debated in the coming months when it comes to his status with the team, was very active. He didn’t blow up the stat sheet but he made a couple lateral-hustle tackles against the run in addition to 2 pressures. He also had a sack-fumble negated by a Janoris Jenkins hold.
-Kareem Martin and Lorenzo Carter split snaps at the other edge spot. Neither were very effective but Carter did record 2 pressures. It’s been exactly what I expected out of Carter for his rookie season. He makes plays that stem from his length and speed, but there isn’t enough power or skill to his game just yet. This offseason will be huge for him when it comes to physical and mental development.
-Dalvin Tomlinson and BJ Hill has a solid showing against the interior of the IND offensive line. They were both stout for most of the game, although they were completely taken out of the picture on both of IND’s goal line rushing touchdowns. Tomlinson added a pressure and a TFL and Hill had a pressure as well. These two are solid pieces to the puzzle that will be important moving forward. The question still remains, however. Do they need a more capable run defender between them on first and second down?
-With Alec Ogletree out, BJ Goodson was given the opportunity to be the leader of the defense. He responded with one of his best games of the season. He finished with 6 tackles and 2 TFL. Nothing special there but considering IND ran the ball just 16 times, you can’t expect a ton from a middle linebacker. The reason I called this a standout performance by Goodson was his range in man coverage against the pass and his blitz-production. Goodson made a few plays on crossing-route passes where his speed and reaction stood out. He had 2 pressures and his ability to impact the game on multiple levels stood out here. I still think there is a high ceiling left with this kid.
-Tae Davis got the start again. He led the team with 7 tackles and he recorded the lone sack of the game for NYG. Impressive game for the UDFA. He has certainly taken his rookie lumps and this game was no different. Luck attacked Davis in coverage all afternoon and the IND ball carriers took advantage of his over-pursuit. He missed 2 tackles on the day and was neutralized on running plays.
-Janoris Jenkins leveled off his play after a rough game a week ago. He broke up a pass but was also flagged for a hold on a play where the Giants pass rush forced a fumble.
-BW Webb, whom has exceeded expectations as the team’s starting corner this year, had his worst game of the year in this one. In his few matchups against TY Hilton, he got torched downfield. He couldn’t get enough contact at the point of attack and he just couldn’t keep up downfield speed-wise. He was also flagged for pass interference in the end zone that eventually led to an IND touchdown.
-Grant Haley played nearly every snap in the nickel role with IND throwing the ball so much. He continues to struggle against receivers that have a significant size advantage but his hustle and quickness can make things happen. He has been a pleasant surprise for the past 2 months and has a nice base to build off of this upcoming offseason.
-Curtis Riley came down with his 4th interception of the year. Looking at his numbers on paper, there will be some who see him as a definite for this roster in 2019. While I do like the speed and aggression he brings to the table, he has shown on more than enough occasions he isn’t the guy you want protecting the back side of the field. Michael Thomas, however, has been a solid strong safety since Landon Collins went down. He did miss 2 tackles in this one, but I trust him to get the job done. He made a couple of smart read-and-react plays that don’t show up on stat sheets.
-K Aldrick Rosas :2/2 (Made 40, 27). 18 consecutive made FGs for the Pro Bowler. I was really hoping he would get a shot at a 55+ yarder to win the game. That could have capped what has likely been the best season by NYG kicker in franchise history.
-P Riley Dixon: 3 Punts – 48.3 avg / 47.3 net. Not many know this, but Dixon has been one of the top 7-8 punters in the NFL this year. His net average is a very solid 41.7 yards on the year.
-QB Eli Manning, WR Sterling Shepard, LB BJ Goodson
-OG Jamon Brown, OC John Greco, CB BW Webb
3 THOUGHTS ON IND
-The Colts offensive line went from bottom 5 to top 10 in a matter of a year. The two main reasons? Two rookies. 1st rounder Quenton Nelson and 2nd rounder Braden Smith. These two, ironically, were the top 2 OL on my board in the 2018 Draft. They have been steady improving each week and even though they took some rookie hits early in the year, this OL has the look of a dominant group in the coming years.
-Darius Leonard, a LB I graded to be a top 10 overall prospect in the 2018 class, has been nothing short of dominant all year. This is the new age LB who is hard to find, but they are out there. Height, length, speed, an ability to impact plays on all three downs. He has all the range you can ask for, coverage ability of a safety, pass rush capabilities via short area burst, and enough stoutness against inside run blockers. Does NYG need to find one of these guys in the draft? Well they may already have him: Landon Collins.
-All the talk about Patrick Mahomes, Jared Goff, Carson Wentz….etc. Who is the next top dog in the NFL at the QB position? It’s Andrew Luck then everyone else. I mean it. This guy is the best combination of throwing power, accuracy, and decision making. He makes plays with his legs. He is tough to take down in the pocket. And he stays mentally stable as good as anyone I have seen. He plays within the system, he takes what the defense gives. Now that Luck has a formidable offensive line, he should have an easier time staying on the field. Luck is about to take over the league.
3 CLOSING THOUGHTS
-The Giants have one game left, at home, against a team that won’t be in all-out mode. Is this the perfect opportunity to get a start for Kyle Lauletta under his belt before entering an offseason that will be filled with long-term QB debate? The knee jerk answer is yes. But like I said when he was drafted, is Lauletta the guy that is going to determine how NYG handles the position? No. I think this guy is a career backup. Is there a chance he is more? Sure. But you can say that about every young backup QB in the league. Lauletta getting a start may be more about fans wanting something fresh more than him actually being capable.
-At this time last year, the Giants were just praying for the season to be over. There was nothing to be excited about. There was nothing to watch, really. However here we are in a similar, no-shot-at-the-playoffs type situation while division rivals are gearing up for postseason play. But we can all agree this team is indeed better than a year ago with more long-term potential than a year ago. The offensive line is better. The playmaking on offense has shown more. The schemes seem to have more dependability. There are several holes to be filled but we knew that would be the case anyway.
-This may be the last we see of a few of the higher paid players. Olivier Vernon and Janoris Jenkins come to mind first. Should NYG keep these two? Well if there is any thought of them competing in 2019, I say you keep them. They may be overpaid, but I still think they are better than what you are going to find on the market. Let’s not forget one thing – the NYG pass rush improved as a whole once Vernon came back. My vote is to keep him here.