Ok, I'll admit it. I'm REALLY excited! Just three days till my beloved Colts walk into the Meadowlands and take on the defending NFC East champs, the New York Football Giants. This also marks the very first game preview I've ever written for Stampede Blue. In these previews, I'll try and focus on match-ups that will favor or handicap the Colts. I'll talk about what I think they will do, what the opponent will do, and how other factors may or may not affect the game (weather, stadium, crappy ref crew, etc.). So, without further ado, I give you the Colts v. Giants preview:
Week One: Indianapolis Colts at New York Giants
Location: Giants Stadium (The Meadowlands), East Rutherford, NJ
Kick-off time: 8:15 pm EST
Broadcast: NBC Sunday Night Football
Though they do not play in the same conference or division, the Colts and Giants have a long and gloried history together. Perhaps the greatest football game ever played was between the Colts (then in Baltimore) and the Giants back on December 28, 1958. This was the NFL Championship game (before they called it the Super Bowl) played at legendary Yankee Stadium. The game went into overtime, and was won by the Colts 23-17 on a TD run by FB Alan Ameche. The game rocketed pro-football into the spotlight, and it cemented Unitas' status as the best of all time.
Yes, Unitas is better than Montana, Elway, or anyone else. That's not even debatable.
Fast forward to the present, and the presence of the Manning boys playing QB for these two storied franchises only adds to their clubs' long legacies. Peyton Manning has solidified himself as a first ballot Hall of Famer. He is considered the best in the game. Even Unitas was awed by Peyton's ability. He has taken a Colts franchise marred in losing and turned it into the envy of many NFL clubs. Meanwhile, in New York, Eli Manning is building up his reputation as a great young QB. In just his second season, he guided a flawed Giants team to an NFC East title and a playoff birth. The game Sunday is the first time these two brothers will face each other.
But this game is more than just Manning v. Manning. In fact, the whole Manning v. Manning thing is quite silly. Football games are not won by QBs. They are won by teams. This is a national TV game, and both clubs want to perform well. The Giants see the Colts as a measuring stick, a team that, if defeated, confirms for them their status as an elite team. The Colts see the Giants as an obstacle. To win in Giants stadium is hard enough. To win on a national stage is even harder.
- Key match-ups:
Colts offensive line against Giants defensive line
The Colts o-line has something to prove after their disastrous showing against the Steelers in the playoffs last January. They were so porous against Pittsburgh's blitz they made the levees in New Orleans look like the Great Wall of China. They are going up against a Giants d-line with two outstanding defensive ends, and a young rookie that has tremendous potential.
I'm speaking of Michael Strahan (another first ballot HoFer), Osi Umenyiora, and the rookie Mathias Kiwanuka. Each of these ends can dominate even the best tackles one-on-one and get to the QB. They are also outstanding against the run. However, the Colts o-line get the advantage because of the Giants situation at DT.
To put it bluntly, the Giants DTs suck hard.
The Giants first round pick from 2004, DT William Joseph, has lost his starting job to a fourth round rookie, Barry Cofield. In fact, the Giants might just start two rookies at DT. This means that the Colts will have opportunities to run the ball with Dominic Rhodes and rookie Joseph Addai. If the Giants blitz (which in all likelihood they will), this means one-on-one coverage on WRs Marvin Harrison and Reggie Wayne. TE Dallas Clark will also have single coverage with a LBer, and no LBer in this league or on God's green earth can cover Clark one-on-one without help. If the Colts o-line holds up against the blitz, Manning will pick apart the Giants secondary. The key is controlling Strahan and Umenyiora. Colts LT Tarik Glenn is one of the best in the league. The key battle is RT Ryan Diem against Michael Strahan. Another match-up is how well OGs Jake Scott and Dylan Gandy read and block the Giants' blitzing.
Giants QB Eli Manning against the Colts cover-2 defense
Eli seems to have made big strides with his accuracy during the off-season. He looked better delivering the football in pre-season, and in his third year you are starting to see him take control of the Giants offense. His grasp of it will do him well against a Colts defense that is, quite possibly, the fastest in the league. The Colts employ a cover-2 defense that often gets pressure on the QB with just the front four. As great as Strahan and Umenyiora are, Colts DEs Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis are just as great. The Colts will work Pro Bowl safety Bob Sanders down in the box to control Tiki Barber, meaning the Colts will do anything to rattle Eli Manning. They know he's pumped for this game, but Dwight Freeney said it best, commenting on all the Manning v. Manning hype:"If they're not going to bring the (spot) lights to us, then I'll just ride (Eli's) back the whole game and wave at the camera. That'll be fun," Freeney said on Wednesday.The Giants improved their o-line in the off-season, but it doesn't look enough to halt the relentless Colts' pass rush. Look for NY to use screens and draw to Barber to get the Colts to back off.
Special teams play
I could write this as a key factor each and every week because special teams is just THAT important. However, in the Meadowlands, it takes on even greater significance. The swirling winds in East Rutherford affect everything from punts to kickoffs to FGs. If Adam Vinatieri is truly healthy enough to play, we might just see why he was signed in the off-season. Vinatieri is very good at kickoffs, and he is one of the best bad weather kickers ever. The Giants have a fine kicker themselves in Jay Feely, but he has been known to miss key FGs in the past (like his misses against the Seahawks last season).
The big match-up is the kick coverage units. The Giants have David Tyree, and he is an outstanding STer. Colts coverage units in the pre-season were dreadful. They signed guys like Dan Klecko to help with ST coverage. Field position is very important when playing in the Meadowlands. If the Colts lose the field position battle, they will lose the game.
Well, there you have it. After the game, we'll recap and analyze the contest, as well as see if my key match-ups were indeed key (or if I was just blowing smoke out of my butt). This is a great game to start NBC's Sunday Night Football, but very little of this game is Manning v. Manning. In fact, this game has more riding on defense and special teams play than it does on QB play.
But defense and ST are boring, and don't sell tickets. Manning v. Manning sounds better, and is easier to sell.
Since SB Nation has no Giants blog (yet), I recommend you checking out Giant Football Blog, a blog dedicated to the NY Giants and run by jim4117. Over there, you can get a good feel for how the other side views this game.
Here's to a clean game, and the start of Colts football.