If the New York Giants want to finish the season on a strong note before entering the 2019 off-season, they are running out of time to do so.
Fortunately for the Giants, they won’t have to contend with the elements when they travel to Lucas Oil Stadium. But they will have to face the red-hot Indianapolis Colts, who are one of the best teams in the NFL at the moment.
The Colts are coming off a resounding 23-0 victory over the Dallas Cowboys, which saw a pass-happy offense discover they could run it down their opponent’s throat. Do the Giants have much chance against Andrew Luck, the Colts’ passing game, and an offensive line on the rise?
Stats that matter
Win at the line of scrimmage
Honestly, this goes for both sides of the ball. However, the Giants’ offensive line has been bad to mediocre all season long, and this is a defensive preview. Last week, James Bettcher trusted his defensive front to win the line of scrimmage against a wounded Titans’ offensive line, and they utterly failed to do so.
This week, the Giants will face a healthy offensive line that also happens to be one of the best in the NFL.
Gone are the days when the Colts’ porous offensive line was a hazard to their quarterback’s long-term health. The addition of guard Quenton Nelson has tied together their line and after a shaky start to the season, Nelson is playing like the future All-Pro he was coming out of Notre Dame.
The Giants have talent on their defensive line. Dalvin Tomlinson can, at times, be a force in the middle of the defense, and B.J. Hill is quickly becoming an under-the-radar star for the Giants. Olivier Vernon is capable of playing up to his contract and giving any offensive tackle headaches, and Alec Ogletree has been playing better and faster in recent weeks (regardless of the offensive talent on the teams they faced).
If the Giants want any hope of staying with the Colts, the defensive front needs to show up and play like it has the resources poured into it that it has. After a dismal display against the Titans, the Giants face another step up in competition, and some players in the defensive front seven could be playing for their jobs in Indianapolis as the season winds down.
Mind the explosive plays
The Colts have a great offensive line, and their shut-out win over the Dallas Cowboys featured a punishing rushing attack.
But make no mistake, the Colts — and Andrew Luck — want to sling the rock. Though Luck missed all of last year following shoulder injuries suffered in 2015 and 2016 (bad news Giants, he doesn’t snowboard anymore), the Colts’ QB still throws the ball more than nearly any other quarterback in the NFL. His 557 attempts on the season is second only to Ben Roethlisberger, and averages out to nearly 40 attempts per game.
And more bad news for the Giants, his top receiving options are simply terrible matchups for the defense. His top receiver is T.Y. Hilton, with whom Luck has been shredding NFL defenses since they came into the league together seven years go. Hilton is undersized and known for his 4.3 speed, but he is also a very savvy route runner. He uses his routes to set defenders up and create separation before turning on the jets, and on top of that, he has great chemistry with his long-time quarterback. The Giants might have gotten lucky on that front, as Hilton is dealing with an ankle injury and hasn't practiced yet this week, as of this writing.
But even so, there is the other threat of new tight end Eric Ebron. Ebron was released by the Detroit Lions after he failed to live up to his pre-draft expectations as an every-down tight end. Five days later he was signed by the Colts. In a new scheme, with a different plan for his usage, he is finally playing like a 10th overall pick.
Though he has only started seven games for the Colts, Ebron has already set career highs in receptions, yards, and more than matched his career touchdown total with 12. The Giants have long been carved up by tight ends, and with the Colts taking care to only use Ebron in situations where he can use his athleticism to exploit match-ups, he could be a real problem.
With Hilton stressing the Giants (read: Curtis Riley), deep, and Ebron attacking the Giants’ linebackers, the defense will need to do things they have not yet proven able to do if they want to slow the Colts down.
For the love of God, tackle somebody!
We could get into the X’s and O’s of the match-up, as well as those of the failures of the Giants against Tennessee.
But it doesn’t matter.
That’s because the one single, fundamental aspect of defense is getting the opposing player on the ground — preferably before they are able to pick up the expected yardage for that down.
That was what the Giants utterly failed to do against the Titans, and have struggled with all season long.
Even though the Giants’ front was bullied by the Tennessee front, they still had plenty of opportunities to bring Derrick Henry down near the line of scrimmage. They failed, with the big back shrugging off arm tackles and picking up scads of yards after contact. Every single one of the Giants’ defenders needs to prove that they can be physical and actually tackle after last week’s debacle. It’s true that there were players who played well and did not tackle poorly, but they were few and far between. The Giants’ defense as a whole needs to take ownership of their problems and work as a unit to overcome them.