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Giants-Colts: What to expect when the Giants have the ball

The Colts’ defense does present some challenges

Indianapolis Colts v Las Vegas Raiders Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images

The New York Giants can secure a playoff spot with a Week 16 win over the 4-10-1 Indianapolis Colts, who are currently on a five-game losing streak. Tumultuous is one way to define the Colts' 2022 season. The team fired former head coach Frank Reich and hired TV personality and former Colts’ center Jeff Saturday.

The Colts won their first game under Saturday against an equally frustrating Las Vegas Raiders team. Indianapolis hasn’t won since, and they blew a 33-0 lead against the Minnesota Vikings in Week 15. The team turned to quarterback Nick Foles in Week 16, which ended up being a disaster for the Colts. Foles will be the starter at MetLife Stadium in Week 17.

The Giants are favored to win by five points, according to spread consensus picks. According to ESPN, the Giants have a 77.5 percent chance of winning the football game. New York also benefitted from the schedule; they played on Saturday, Christmas Eve, whereas the Colts played the day after Christmas on Monday night. The Colts also have to travel to the east coast on the short week.

Defensive statistics

The Colts have the 25th-ranked defense in the league, allowing 23.8 points per game. For reference, the Giants have the 20th-ranked defense, allowing 22.6 points per game. Indianapolis allows 328.3 yards per game, which ranks just outside the top ten best in the league at 11th. The Giants allow 366.3 yards per game, ranking them 27th.

Indianapolis allows 122.2 rushing yards per game, ranking them 20th in the NFL, whereas the Giants are 28th with an average of 145.9 rushing yards per game. The Colts only allow 206.1 passing yards per game, ranking them 11th. The Giants allow 220.5 passing yards per game, ranking them 19th.

The Colts have allowed 53 explosive plays (20+ yards or more) on the season, tying them at 13th best in the league with the Buffalo Bills and the Washington Commanders. 40 of the 53 plays have come through the air; 13 on the ground. The Giants' defense has allowed 60 total explosive plays.

The Colts rank 12th in overall defensive EPA (Expected Points Added). The primary issues with the Colts aren’t the defense but an inept offense that lacks an identity and a true starting quarterback.

Gus Bradley’s philosophy

Bradley is the former defensive coordinator for Pete Carroll and the Legion of Boom Seahawks before he coached the Jacksonville Jaguars from 2013-2016. Almost to a fault, Bradley’s defenses still run Cover-3 principled plays at a very high rate; the Colts rank third in the NFL in Cover-3 defense, running the coverage concept 45.2 percent of the time.

Mike Kafka and Brian Daboll have attacked Cover-3 teams in the past with hitch-seam, double smash, and anything to the curl-flat areas of the field. The Giants also have attacked middle-of-the-field closed (MOFC) concepts with deep one-on-one shots, so four-verts with benders from the No. 2s to hold the safety will create outside opportunities for Darius Slayton, Isaiah Hodgins, or even Marcus Johnson.

The Giants may go under center and try some of their deep drop play-action Yankee concepts with the deep over and post to put the safety in conflict. Protection would be essential for that type of play to work successfully, so seven-man protection with three routes, one being a crackdown, could be a way to create an explosive game-changing type of play for Jones and the offense.

Bradley uses some Quarters and Cover-1, but his defenses are primarily MOFC, which could lead to some explosive plays through the air for Daniel Jones and the Giants’ offense.

Indianapolis is a 4-3 base team who primarily aligns with Nickel personnel (80 percent rate, third highest in the league). Unlike the Giants, Bradley doesn’t use much Dime or Quarter personnel. Linebackers like Zaire Franklin and Bobby Okereke see the field for the majority of snaps.

Much like the Seattle Seahawks of old, Bradley’s defensive unit doesn’t allocate extra rushers to the pass rush; they currently blitz at a 17.7 percent rate, which ranks 28th in the NFL, whereas the Giants blitz more than any other team at a 44.5 percent rate. The Colts get pressure at a 29.1 percent rate, ranking them 28th in the NFL.

Bradley relies on his base four rushers to create pressure, and the Colts have quality rushers on their defensive lines. Interior defensive lineman DeForrest Buckner is one of the top two-way defensive linemen in the league. He currently has 46 pressures an nine sacks - he could be a real issue for Mark Glowinski, Jon Feliciano, Nick Gates, or Ben Bredeson. Buckner typically aligns as the three technique.

In recent weeks, the Giants have done a slightly better job handling twists up front. They’ll likely see twists from the Colts with their talented, long, and explosive players up front.

Grover Stewart is an underrated run defender who has 15 pressures on the year. Kwity Paye recently returned from injury and has upside as a two-way defender, while Yannick Ngakoue adds juice and burst to the edge defender position. Rotational edge defender Dayo Odeyingbo is an underrated, long, player who has strung a few very solid games together.

The defensive front of Bradley’s defense sets the tone, but one of the best players on the unit is Stephon Gilmore, the 2019 Defensive Player of the Year and two-time All-Pro. Bradley uses Gilmore to shadow defenders, but I’m not certain he’ll be used in that manner against the Giants.

Giants' plan of attack

The Giants found a rhythm passing the football in quick game over the last few weeks. Daniel Jones is coming off his best passing day of the season, throwing for 335 yards. I expect the Giants to continue to use quick game, with a healthy mixture of Saquon Barkley on zone reads, inside zone, and DUO runs.

All season, New York employed a predominate power-gap, counter, type of approach when running the football. Last week against a Minnesota team that also uses an EVEN four-down front, the Giants never attempted a power-gap run. New York has found some success with establishing double teams to climb to the linebackers, and I expect them to lean on that approach against this Colts' defense.

Double teams up front against Stewart and Buckner will not be easy to sustain. The Giants' offensive line looked more in sync and cohesive last week against Minnesota; that must carry over into Week 17 to keep the offense balanced and effective.

Kafka’s offense has traditionally exploited the vulnerabilities of the opposing defenses while taking what the defense gives them by attacking off-leverage an space. There will be space to exploit against Bradley’s defense that primarily runs Cover-3. If the corners are off, then I expect the quick-hitting, predetermined reads to one side of the field.

If the Colts use Franklin and Okereke often in man coverage on Barkley, and the running back happens to have leverage to one side, expect Jones to quickly get the football to his play-making running back. Barkley in space is always a focal point for the Giants.

Another big liability for the Colts’ defense is the loss of slot cornerback Kenny Moore II. He hasn’t played since Week 12, and safety Julian Blackmon has filled in. In the last two games, Blackmon has surrendered 18 catches on 20 targets for 185 yards and a touchdown.

Slot wide receiver Richie James Jr. has 12 catches for 132 yards in the last two games. He’s frequently open against zone coverage in the short to intermediate part of the field; he knows where to be and when to be there. He needs to secure the football more consistently on third-and-5 situations, but I think he’ll have a big role in this game against Indianapolis.

Simple passing concepts that the Giants have successfully used over the last few weeks should remain in Kafka’s arsenal. Switch slant, slant-flat (from a variety of different looks/formations, 3x1 stick, 3x1 bubble (to either the No. 3 or Barkley out of backfield depending on defensive look/leverage), RPO out to Slayton, and any sort of stack releases against man coverage looks. The Giants created a lot of space for James last week off stack inside releases.

Expect Kafka to employ the double moves against the Cover-3 defense with someone holding the MOFC safety in space, whether that’s rookie Rodney Thomas II or veteran Rodney McCloud, who is having a solid season at age 32.

The Giants wide receivers may struggle to consistently best Gilmore, who is still playing above-average football, but other cornerbacks like Brandon Facyson and Dallis Flowers are players that Slayton and Hodgins can win against. Isaiah Rodgers (34) isn’t the biggest cornerback, but he’s feisty and a better player than I originally anticipated before checking out his tape.

Colts star linebacker Shaquille Leonard hasn’t played since Week 9. I want to say there’s a liability to exploit at the second level, but Okereke is a very talented linebacker, and Franklin is a solid linebacker who forced an interception against the Chargers on Monday Night Football with his coverage.

Final thoughts

The Colts defense doesn’t throw a ton of curveballs at their opponents. They have solid football players at each level, but their offense is so bad that their defense is forced to play far too many plays. Eventually, naturally, they tire out.

The Colts are a lost team, and the Giants currently control their Wildcard fate in the NFC. The Giants should be able to pressure the opposing quarterback, control the ball on offense down the stretch, and win the football game. No game is a gimme in the NFL, everyone on the Colts are professionals, and the Colts played the Eagles very tough just a few weeks ago, but the Giants are the better football team and should take care of business to secure their first playoff berth since 2016.