Colts' domination of Manning Bowl II goes deeper than Peyton
The low-key Colts take great pride in seldom losing back-to-back games
In fact, Indy hasn't endured an 0-2 since Peyton Manning's rookie year ('98)
The Giants had no answer for Freeney and Mathis, Indy's top pass rushers
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INDIANAPOLIS -- Five things we learned while watching the Colts dismantle the Giants 38-14 Sunday night in a rather anticlimactic Manning Bowl II at Lucas Oil Stadium ...
1. Peyton Manning said he can't remember the last time Indianapolis had more rushing attempts than passing attempts in a game, but it sure wasn't last week in Houston. In their 34-24 loss to the Texans in the opener, the Colts ran the ball 10 times and threw it a whopping 57, matching Manning's career high in the process.
Indy came out determined to flip that script, and the Giants played right into the Colts' hands by starting the game with a lot of five- and six-defensive back looks on first and second downs. Indianapolis immediately took advantage, running a healthy 23 times for 124 yards in the first half, while taking a 24-0 lead into the break. According to the team's public relations staff, that was the most first-half runs by Indy since 1991, and fourth-most first-half rushing yards over the 20-season span. Joseph Addai had 80 yards on just 13 attempts in the first half, while second-year running back Donald Brown stepped up and contributed 44 yards on 10 rushes.
By comparison, the Colts threw the ball just 18 times in the first half, with Manning completing 13 for 154 yards and a pair of touchdowns. By game's end, the disparity had grown to 43 runs for 160 yards, with Indy throwing a relatively miniscule 26 passes -- less than half of last week's total. The 160 rushing yards were Indy's most since Week 4 of 2007, against Denver. Addai's team-high 92 yards on 20 carries were his most in 25 games, dating to mid-2007.
"I thought in the first half they kept us off-balance with the run,'' Giants head coach Tom Coughlin conceded. "I think we were all surprised that they were able to run and run with some consistency. I thought that allowed them pretty much to do what they wanted to do, with one example being the outstanding play-action pass that was executed for a [50-yard] touchdown pass [to Colts tight end Dallas Clark in the second quarter].''
Don't forget, we're talking about a Colts rushing attack that ranked dead last in the NFL last season, with Indy barely even trying to run the ball much in some games.
"We really ran the ball well,'' Manning said. "It was a point of emphasis. We didn't really have that many attempts against Houston to run it. We didn't really know what the Giants were going to do, but they ended up taking that route [of playing the pass]. When teams are playing five DBs, and sometimes six DBs on first and second downs, they're obviously playing pass coverage. In the past we haven't been able to run against that look, which has been frustrating. So it was nice to be able to run the ball against that look.''
That's just what the rest of the NFL wanted to hear: The Colts may have finally found a running game, and yet another new way to beat opponents.
2. The Colts came into Sunday night at 0-1, but this is why any standard level of post-defeat panic just doesn't apply to them, as it does to the NFL's other 31 teams. Indy almost never endures back-to-back bad performances, and its thrashing of the Giants only served to remind us the Colts are the league's model of consistency.
Because of their Week 1 loss at Houston, the Colts started the day in sole possession of last place in their division for the first time since 1998. That year, which happened to be Peyton's rookie season, Indy opened with an 0-4 mark en route to a 3-13 record. But Indy had never even sunk to 0-2 in the 11 seasons since 1998, and that distinction is now at 12 years and counting.
"It's every Sunday you have to do it, and every season you have to do it,'' Peyton Manning said. "I thought we beat a good team tonight. You have to show up every Sunday. You have to execute every Sunday. Just because what you did last year or the week before, does not matter. So I thought this was an important game for us to respond. We did not want to be 0-2 going on the road to Denver next week. It was disappointing loss last week and I was proud of our team [tonight].''
The Colts' prove-it-every-week mentality is the biggest reason behind maybe their most remarkable statistic: They have lost consecutive games only four times since 2003 -- at least when they were playing their starting lineup the whole game and trying to win. Indianapolis just doesn't do losing streaks, especially in the Tony Dungy and Jim Caldwell coaching eras.
Then again, you don't set an NFL record of seven consecutive 12-win-plus seasons with losing streaks cropping up very often, so it stands to reason the Colts generally find a way to avoid any sustained lulls. If you count the Super Bowl, of course, Indy had lost two games in a row that mattered, and maybe that added to the Colts' level of urgency this week. They needed to reassert some dominance, and probably wipe some of the bitter taste out of their mouths. Not to mention stay within a game of the first-place Texans (2-0) in the AFC South, with a two-game road swing to Denver and Jacksonville up next.
Mission accomplished, on all fronts.
3. In the case of Giants reserve running back Brandon Jacobs, I'm beginning to think there's no way to put this particular Genie back in the bottle in New York. Jacobs had a forgettable performance in every way against the Colts, running just four times for eight yards, and then embarrassing the Giants organization by accidentally throwing his helmet into the stands in a third-quarter temper tantrum.
Jacobs was trying to hit the wall behind the team's sideline with the helmet, but instead it went about 10 rows into the stands, where a Colts fan grabbed it and tried gamely to avoid giving it back. A Colts official eventually retrieved the helmet. Jacobs barely played, if at all, after the incident.
While Jacobs reportedly apologized after the game for the helmet tossing, and called it a mistake, he could still incur a fine or suspension from the NFL for his actions. The league routinely fines players who throw footballs into the stands, which are less of a potential hazard than a helmet, and NBC reported that NFL security planned to investigate the incident.
Jacobs' temper was apparently set off after he cut back left on a running play that was designed to go to the right side, gaining no yards after being tackled by Colts safety Antoine Bethea. Jacobs has been in Coughlin's doghouse for not running north and south enough this season (and last year), with the Giants head coach preferring his 260-pound back stop trying to finesse plays with an east-west approach.
Jacobs has already complained that he's struggling to stay positive in the role of backup to New York's No. 1 back, Ahmad Bradshaw; he also had a testy exchange with reporters recently when questioned about keeping his ego in check while sharing carries with another rusher.
Coughlin was seen on the sideline chewing out Jacobs after he improvised on his third-quarter carry, and again after becoming aware of Jacobs throwing his helmet into the stands. At this point, theirs is not a relationship that appears to have a long-term future.
4. Nobody in the NFL plays better from ahead than the Colts, and it may be because once they get a lead, they can unleash their twin terrors at defensive end, Robert Mathis and Dwight Freeney. Indy's formula has always been to play fast whenever they're on a fast track, and nobody personifies that approach on defense more than Mathis and Freeney. The duo had a night to remember against the Giants, consistently outclassing New York offensive tackles David Diehl and Kareem McKenzie.
Freeney posted two sacks of Eli Manning and two forced fumbles, and Mathis added another two sacks and a third forced fumble. One of Freeney's sacks directly resulted in points, when he stripped Eli Manning of the ball at the Giants' 10 midway through the third quarter, with Colts defensive tackle Fili Moala recovering at the 1 and taking it in for a touchdown that made it 31-7 Colts.
It was the 86th and 87th sacks of Freeney's career, and his 37th and 38th fumbles forced. Freeney's forced fumbles total is the NFL's highest since 2002, with Mathis ranking second in that category with 36. Only the Jets' Jason Taylor (88) has more sacks than Freeney's 87 since 2002.
"The way our defense is designed, when we get those leads we kind of make the other team one-dimensional,'' Freeney said. "They were down and had to take some chances to get the ball down the field. We were able to get around the corner, beat the tackles, and we call it the trifecta. You get the sack, you get the caused fumble, you get the touchdown, and that's what happened.''
That's what happened all right. All told, Indy sacked Eli Manning four times for minus-24 yards, caused him to fumble three times, and forced him to seriously hurry on at least 12 to 15 of his 24 throws. The Colts' relentless pass rushers wound up turning this highly anticipated game into a rout in short order.
5. For the time being, the Colts' run defense has regained its self-respect. It wasn't tough to pinpoint what went wrong for Indianapolis last week in Houston. The Texans gashed the Colts for 257 yards rushing, the most Indy has given up in a game since that infamous meltdown at Jacksonville in December 2006, when the Jags ran for 375 against the soon-to-be world champion Colts. Houston's Arian Foster picked up 257 yards on 33 carries last week, with three touchdowns to go with his career-best day.
Unsurprisingly, the words "gap discipline'' were heard early and often in the Colts' defensive meetings last week, with Indy focusing intently on tightening up the run defense against New York. And the Giants seemed to be an obvious threat to again exploit Indy's run defense, because New York had run for 110 of its 118 rushing yards in the second half of a 31-18 season-opening win over visiting Carolina, averaging 4.8 yards a carry in the final two quarters.
But the Giants ground game didn't do much damage at all against the Colts, especially not in the first half, when there was even a semblance of a pulse from New York. The Giants rushed 13 times for 58 yards in the first half, with a long gain of 12. They finished with 120 rushing yards on 25 carries, for a respectable 4.8 average, but no New York rusher had more than a 14 yard gain. For a team that was ranked 24th last season against the run, and still got to the Super Bowl, that passes for progress in Week 2 for the Colts.
"In our defense, gap integrity is huge,'' Freeney said. "It's not about having a bad defense, it's about one or two guys not doing what they're supposed to do, and that's when we have real big runs against our scheme. That's what happened in the first game, and we understood that. We basically beat ourselves scheme-wise.''