Indianapolis Colts 26 – New York Giants 21

Game Overview: I trashed my initial “Game Overview” for this game. In that overview, I stated that the better team did not win, that the Giants beat themselves. If it weren’t for the three dropped interceptions, the seven legitimate offensive penalties (two were bogus), the two turnovers, the missed field goal, and the inability to get off the field on third down, the Giants would have easily won.

But you know what? These are all problems the Giants had last year and they haven’t gone away. In other words, these problems are what keep the Giants from being an upper echelon team. They have not proven to be an aberration, but the norm and until the Giants prove otherwise on the football field on a consistent basis, the team should be considered an also-ran, not a Super Bowl contender.

If the Giants don’t drop those interceptions or commit all of those dumb penalties, or they don’t turn the football over or they get off the field on third down, the insanely atrocious offensive pass interference penalty called on Tim Carter doesn’t matter. I’m through with blaming the officials for Giants’ defeats – it makes one sound like a Redskins’ fan.

It’s also time we start really taking a long hard look at Tom Coughlin and Tim Lewis too. While Coughlin certainly has dramatically improved the overall talent and level of play of this team since he has arrived, the same old problems still haunt these Giants. The penalties are simply ridiculous and refuse to go away – especially the false starts. And tactically, within the Colts game, Coughlin cost the Giants valuable time on the clock by calling his last timeout at the wrong moment – time management was an old Jim Fassel problem as well. Lewis’ defenses have had had problems getting off the field on third down ever since he arrived in New York. Quiet frankly, I am really beginning to question his coverage and pass rush schemes.

It’s far too early to panic and it is extremely unwise to form conclusive judgments based on one game. But if these disappointing trends continue, then we have all overestimated the Giants.

Overall Offense: The Giants only had the football three times in the first half. They moved the football well on all three drives, but only one resulted in points (a touchdown). There was a missed 40-yard field goal and a 4th-and-5 pass to Burress that was well defended. The Giants had the ball six times in the second half with the results being a long drive that resulted in a touchdown, a three-and-out, a botched exchanged that resulted in a turnover, a long drive that resulted in a touchdown, an interception, and a desperate last-minute attempt to drive the field and win the game. Obviously, the turnovers were huge and the botched exchange was completely self-inflicted (HB Tiki Barber admitted that he ran the wrong way). In all, the Giants out-gained the Colts 433 yards to 327 yards. The passing yards were close, but the Giants had a big advantage in rushing yardage (186 to 55). The Giants did not allow a single sack to one of the strongest pass rushing teams in the NFL.

Quarterback: It’s time to stop making excuses for Eli Manning (20-of-34 for 247 yards, 2 touchdowns, 1 interception) as well. Manning was just as inconsistent as he was last year, despite the fact that he was provided with excellent pass protection and an outstanding ground game. There were superb throws, but there were also wildly inaccurate throws that cost the Giants dearly. Manning is not and will not be a bust. He’s going to be a decent quarterback. But the #1 pick in the entire draft and a guy you give up the barn for is supposed to be more than a decent player. It’s still early in the season (and more importantly in his career), but it is very disconcerting to see his accuracy still being so significant an issue in a game where he wasn’t under a lot of pass rush pressure.

The Giants’ first drive of the game stalled when he forced a ball to Tim Carter that should have been picked off on 3rd-and-5. On 4th-and-5, his pass to a well-covered Plaxico Burress was knocked away. Manning’s lack of accuracy on the second drive was appalling. He badly underthrew Burress on a 3rd-and-8 pass that should have resulted in an easy 63-yard touchdown – only a fantastic catch by Burress kept this drive alive. Then he threw a high pass to an extremely well-covered Jeremy Shockey that fell incomplete despite the fact that he had Jim Finn all alone along the left sideline. His very next throw was thrown into the turf by the feet of Amani Toomer. Three really bad passes in a row. The drive ended with a missed field goal.

On the third and final drive of the half, there was another very high pass to Burress that was incomplete. But Manning did deliver an accurate pass to Burress on his 34-yard touchdown. The first drive of the second half was very good for Manning. He made a very nice throw to Toomer for nine yards and his 15-yard touchdown lob to Shockey was simply a perfect throw – the kind of throw we’re all hoping to see from Eli on a consistent basis. The next drive ended on 3rd-and-6 with a wildly inaccurate pass intended for Barber (the announcer said this might have been tipped, but I couldn’t tell). On the third possession of the half, right after the Colts’ turned the ball over, Manning’s deep pass to Burress was way off the mark and thrown out-of-bounds.

On the Giants’ last scoring drive of the game, I liked the fact that Manning threw two passes away instead of trying to force something. But he also threw behind Tim Carter on one play for an incomplete pass. Still, there were a couple of nice completions to Shockey and Eli did a really nice job of coming off his primary receiver and looking to his left to hit Barber in stride with a perfect pass – this was really a nice play.

What made me the most angry about Manning’s performance was his simply atrocious throw right after the bogus pass interference penalty. The pass was terrible and easily picked off. And it came at absolutely the worst moment of the football game – indeed it cost the Giants and real decent shot at victory. It was the type of play you expect from some journeyman quarterback, not the first pick in the draft. And it is the type of play Manning made in the playoff game last year. (On a side note, I hated the play call – why send your two top wide receivers deep down the field in a critical 3rd-and-11 situation? That’s not a high-percentage play).

Wide Receivers: Plaxico Burress (4 catches for 80 yards, 1 touchdown) is the best wide receiver the Giants have had ever since I’ve been watching the team. His circus catch of a deep errant throw for 37 yards on 3rd-and-8 was one of the best catches I’ve ever seen a Giant make. Burress batted the ball back to himself and brought it into his body with one hand. Burress later scored from 34 yards out in a jump ball situations despite being perfectly covered on the play. Burress committed one legitimate block-in-the-back penalty that erased a 25-yard run by Brandon Jacobs. But the crackback block called on him was bogus…both players were square and hit each near the shoulder pads. Burress is a major factor as a blocker in the running game, as evidenced by his two blocks on the 22-yard end around by Chad Morton.

Amani Toomer (5 catches for 41 yards) was disappointingly quiet for much of the game. He was flagged with an inexcusable false start.

Tim Carter was a non-factor, though his legitimate 19-yard reception that was called back with one of the worst officiating calls I’ve ever seen could have been a major play in this game. His drop of Manning’s pass on the final desperate drive was inexcusable.

Surprisingly, Michael Jennings caught a pass for six yards early in the game.

Running Backs: FB Jim Finn was devastating as a lead blocker against his former team. Time and time again, I saw him clobber a defender at the point-of-attack. He was a big factor in the big rushing game. However, Finn was also flagged with an inexcusable false start penalty.

Tiki Barber (18 carries for 110 yards; 5 catches for 61 yards) ran wild on the Colts. It was a superlative effort – EXCEPT he self-admittedly did not hear the correct play call on the botched exchange that resulted in a turnover at the moment of the game where it appeared that the Giants were going to take charge. It may have cost the Giants the game. Other than that huge mistake, Barber was outstanding, running with great vision, balance, elusiveness, and acceleration as both a runner and receiver.

Brandon Jacobs (8 carries for 54 yards, 1 touchdown) was fantastic. He brings an attitude and toughness to the offensive football team. As has been pointed out, the fact that a man so big can move and cut the way he does is astounding. He breaks tackles, makes people miss, and runs over people. Barring injury, he’s going to be a star in the NFL. Jacobs did drop one pass however.

Chad Morton looked sharp on a 22-yard end around early in the game.

Tight Ends: Jeremy Shockey and Visanthe Shiancoe blocked well. Shiancoe did not have a catch and Shockey was shut out during the first half. However, Shockey (5 catches for 59 yards, 1 touchdown) made a number of key receptions in the second half, including his 15-yard touchdown. Unfortunately, Shockey looks like he will once again be nursing an ankle/foot injury all season again. He was badly limping much of the game. Worse, Shockey’s decision not to get out of bounds on the last desperate drive was an inexcusable mistake and really led to the Giants having no real shot at the end of the game. A truly boneheaded play. Shockey also had an inexcusable false start early in the game.

Offensive Line: In my book, the star of the game was LT Luke Petitgout. A close second was RT Kareem McKenzie. Both these two did an outstanding job of pass protection against two of the most dangerous pass rushers in the NFL. Overall, the offensive line performed exceptionally well, even when RG Chris Snee (ankle) was forced to leave the game and Rich Seubert took his place (indeed, Seubert made a lot of key blocks in the game). The run blocking was outstanding – helping the team to generate 186 yards on 28 carries (a 6.6 yards-per-carry average).

The two biggest negatives were LG David Diehl’s inexcusable false start. This was the most costly one of the game in my opinion as it turned a 3rd-and-1 situation into a 3rd-and-6, leading directly to a three-and-out. This killed the offensive momentum the Giants were generating in the third quarter. OC Shaun O’Hara also double-clutched the football at the end of the game, pushing the Giants back five yards and erasing 10 seconds from the clock – a huge play in the game as well.

Overall Defense: Same old problems: can’t get off the field on third down and can’t hold onto sure interceptions (three potential picks – anyone of them which could have changed the outcome of the game). While the Giants’ defensive scheme was successfully able to keep the high-scoring Colts’ offense from lightening up the scoreboard, it only forced one turnover and two punts. In the first half, the Colts scored points on all four of their offensive possessions. While the run defense was outstanding, the Giants’ pass coverage was not impressive.

Let’s make one thing clear. The Giants did not blitz much in the first half, but when they did in the second half (sometimes even sending six players), Peyton Manning and the Colts burned the Giants. So the pass defense was not sharp either when the Giants blitzed or did not blitz. And let’s give credit to Peyton Manning, he made a number of fantastic throws under duress to keep drives alive.

I am no expert, but my gut tells me that there is something schematically wrong with Tim Lewis’ third-down zone coverage. Yes, there are lots of new defensive backs on the roster this year and they are still learning how to play together, but this is a problem the Giants have had since Lewis has been in New York. Time and time again, quality quarterbacks find the openings too easily in the Giants’ zone defense on third down. The Colts were an unacceptable 11-of-16 (69 percent) on third down, despite the fact that there was decent pass pressure on Peyton. I also don’t like giving the receivers a free release on what seems like every play. For a finesse-oriented offense like the Colts, the Giants should try disrupting the timing by jamming the receivers (at least jamming the tight ends).

And a scheme that did not work at all on Sunday night was the Giants rushing three-down linemen and then blitzing a fourth linebacker (usually Mathias Kiwanuka, but on a couple of snaps LaVar Arrington). This did not fool the Colts, and worse, the fourth rusher delayed his dog so long that he had no hope of getting close to the quick-firing Manning.

Of course, what really probably determined the outcome of this game were the three dropped interceptions. Each came on first-half scoring drives. Had these errant throws been held onto, the Colts may not have scored in the first half and the Giants would have had at least one defensive touchdown.

Defensive Line: Ironically, the tackles outplayed the ends. Barry Cofield was extremely disruptive as a run defender in the first half of the game. However, his miss of the halfback in the backfield on 3rd-and-1 directly led to three points by the Colts on their opening drive. Fred Robbins and William Joseph both flashed on the pass rush, with Robbins picking up a sack and forcing a holding penalty. Robbins also did a great job of sniffing out a screen pass and causing a 3-yard loss. I thought Joseph played well, both getting decent heat and playing the run well.

Michael Strahan created more pass rush pressure in the first half than the second. Perhaps not playing much in the preseason caught up to him and he may have wore down. He also missed a sack on Peyton early in the game that would have been big. And he self-admittedly did not play his zone correctly on the touchdown pass to the tight end in the first half. Strahan was strong in run defense. Before Osi Umenyiora left the game with cramps, he caused a few pass pressures, but not enough for a player of his caliber. The Giants needed a better game from Osi.

Justin Tuck got one good pass pressure from the defensive tackle position, but was disappointing overall. Mathias Kiwanuka looked sharp on the pass rush, but was weak against the run and the Colts were able to generate some key late yardage on the ground in his direction.

Linebackers: Not a good game. Antonio Pierce did not play as well as hoped. He correctly read a pass from Manning, jumped the play, but dropped what should have been a defensive touchdown.

LaVar Arrington was far too quiet. While he made a couple of nice plays against the run, I was shocked to see him being more than adequately blocked by a WIDE RECEIVER on at least two plays (and on one of these plays the receiver knocked him on his ass!!!) Arrington also missed an early tackle on a 4-yard run. He did have one good pass rush.

Carlos Emmons had problems against the run in the second half. Perhaps he got worn down as well.

All of the linebackers blitzed sporadically throughout the game and none of them could get to Manning.

Defensive Backs: I’m more down on the schemes than I am the players. I know folks will point to Corey Webster and say he played like crap, but I think it is important to keep in mind the caliber of his competition (Marvin Harrison) as well as recognizing that there were a lot of plays where Webster did a nice job on Harrison. My biggest problem with Webster is that he dropped a sure interception along the sideline on the play right before the Colts’ second field goal. Of course, he gotten beat pretty badly on the 20-yard reception at the beginning of the fourth quarter that gave the Colts a first-and-goal at the 1-yard line (plus he committed a facemask penalty on the play).

Sam Madison was OK. There were good plays and bad as well. He gave up a 34-yard completion to Reggie Wayne, but also had good deep coverage on another play to Wayne. My biggest criticism of him – and this might be a problem all year – is that he is not a good run defender. Opposing teams are going to test Umenyiora/Kiwanuka, Emmons, and Madison on the weakside all season.

Nickel corner R.W. McQuarters came up with a superb interception when covering TE Dallas Clark down the seam.

The safeties did not play well. One would be hard pressed to remember or spot a positive play by Gibril Wilson, Will Demps, or James Butler. Butler dropped an easy interception in the endzone right before the first field goal. Wilson really screwed up by biting on the play-action fake on his blitz of Manning on the goal line on the play where Strahan was beat by Clark for a touchdown.

Special Teams: The Giants were not impressive on special teams in the preseason and this unfortunately has continued on into the 2006 regular season. PK Jay Feely’s 40-yard missed field goal was a huge ball-buster in the first half. Combine that with his bad miss on an attempt in the preseason, and the Giants’ place-kicking situation is far from sound. Feely wasn’t real impressive on kickoffs either – with his kicks being low and short – and his weak kickoff right before halftime helped to get the Colts into field goal position despite the fact that there was less than 30 seconds left on the clock.

Kickoff coverage was not good with the Colts starting drives at the 34-, 38-, 27-, and 30-yard lines. It was the second return that helped to set up the very harmful field goal right before halftime.

P Jeff Feagles only punted once – for 49 yards. The Colts’ returner only picked up one yard on this return.

The Giants’ kick and punt return games did nothing. Chad Morton was held to 18.7 yards per return on six kickoff returns. He only gained 12 yards on two punt returns. In my opinion, while Morton is better suited to punt returns than kickoffs, the biggest problem was he had no blocking on his kickoff returns. Colts’ special teams players blew past Giants’ blockers like they weren’t even there.

The Colts clearly out-played the Giants on specials.

(Box Score – Indianapolis Colts at New York Giants, September 10, 2006)