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Giants vs. Colts: What to expect when Indianapolis has the ball

What can we expect from the Colts’ offense?

NFL: Los Angeles Chargers at Indianapolis Colts Robert Scheer-USA TODAY Sports

The 8-6-1 New York Giants will take on the 4-10-1 Indianapolis Colts in Week 17. It isn’t an overstatement to say that this is the Giants’ biggest game in more than half a decade, as they have the chance to clinch a spot in the playoffs.

But the Giants will still need to contend with the Colts this week. Indianapolis has one of the better defenses in the NFL, which is impressive given that they have one of the league’s worst offenses. But are the Colts just bad on offense, or do they have the talent to be dangerous?

Let’s take a look at the offense and see what the Giants are looking forward to on Sunday.

What are the Colts’ doing?

I think any discussion of the Colts in 2022 pretty much has to start with that question. While the Colts weren’t expected to be a powerhouse this year, they did field a top 10 offense and defense in 2021 and were expected to be a (roughly) 10-win team with Matt Ryan in a weak AFC South.

Instead, Ryan was benched after seven games for Sam Ehlinger. And then again before the Colts’ Week 16 loss to the Chargers in favor of Nick Foles.

Of course, who is making those decisions is a whole other story. The first benching was done by Frank Reich, who was famously fired after a 3-5-1 start and replaced by not-a-coach Jeff Saturday. Saturday then installed 31-year-old assistant quarterbacks coach old Parks Frazier as the interim offensive coordinator.

It was under Saturday that Ryan was benched in favor of Nick Foles. Saturday confirmed on Tuesday that Foles would be the Colts’ starter, despite a loss against the Chargers in which the Colts had as many turnovers as points (three).

It’s safe to say that even with the disfunction surrounding the Carolina Panthers and Denver Broncos, the Colts have taken the mantle of “biggest slow-motion car wreck in the NFL” from the 2021 Jacksonville Jaguars.

The Giants just can’t get away from Nick Foles

It’s somewhat amazing to realize, but Foles has been in the NFL since 2012 — and has 57 starts under his belt since then. He’s started games for the Philadelphia Eagles, Los Angeles Rams (then in St. Louis), Kansas City Chiefs, Philadelphia Eagles (again), Jacksonville Jaguars, Chicago Bears, and now Indianapolis Colts.

There are few quarterbacks more well-traveled than Foles, and he keeps finding his way onto the field as a starter, even if most of his success came about a decade ago.

Tony Del Genio described Foles as a “mercurial” quarterback in his piece detailing the history between the Giants and Colts, and that’s an apt description.

On one hand, he’s capable of randomly throwing the ball to defenders as in this play, where he misfires (granted, the rookie receiver slowed early) on a mesh concept.

On the other hand, he’s capable of throws like this, where he has Kyle Van Noy draped over him but still manages to thread the needle to Parris Campbell.

Will the Colts be able to move the ball?

Based on the above, it shouldn’t be much of a surprise that the Colts field one of the most anemic passing offenses (and offenses in general) in the NFL.

Overall, the Colts are averaging just 16.5 points per game (second-lowest in the NFL), and they’re in the bottom third in yards per attempt, yards per completion, and yards per game.

To put the Colts’ passing game in perspective, their quarterbacks have a combined ANY/A (adjusted net yards per attempt, which factors in touchdowns, interceptions, and sacks) is 4.4. Brock Osweiler’s career ANY/A is 4.99.

Conversations about Nick Foles or the ghost of Matt Ryan aside, there’s an interesting dichotomy on the Colts’ offense. We’ll start with their skill position players.

On the one hand, they have a pretty decent collection of skill position players. The receiving trio of Michael Pittman Jr, Parris Campbell, and Alec Pierce are intriguing. Pierce and Campbell are explosively athletic, with 40-inch vertical leaps and 4.41 and 4.3 (respectively) speed. Pittman is a dependable “number one” and one of the better big-body receivers in the NFL.

The Colts’ size could give the Giants some problems in pass coverage, as they might be better able to fight through press coverage than more modestly-sized pass catchers. That said, Adoree’ Jackson’s return could give the Giants a much-needed boost in the secondary.

On the ground, Colts running back Jonathan Taylor will miss this game — and the remainder of the season — with a high ankle sprain and tarting in his place is third-year runner Zack Moss.

Moss should be very familiar to Brian Daboll, considering he was drafted by the Buffalo Bills out of Utah in the third round of the 2020 NFL Draft. Moss is a compact, powerful runner with great vision and contact balance, but not much speed. He is better between the tackles in power, counter, and inside zone runs, though he has enough athleticism to be effective off-tackle if his blockers can seal the edge.

The Colts have primarily run between the tackles, with 62 percent of their runs coming in the guard/center direction, per Football Outsiders. They’ve average 4.17 line yards up the middle, but they’ve had their best runs behind their right tackle. 14 percent of their runs have gone that way, and the Colts are (surprisingly) sixth in the NFL with 4.95 line yards.

The Giants have typically dealt well with zone runners with limited speed. However, they’ve also struggled mightily against teams that are able to execute counter runs.

The Giants’ vulnerability to counter runs are a big reason why they have one of the worst run defenses in the NFL. The Colts, haven’t been a dangerous running team and are 25th in yards per attempt and yards per game, 32nd in fumbles, and 31st in expected points on the ground.

If the Colts lean into counter runs, this could be a match-up between moveable object and resistible force.

What has happened to the Colts’ offensive line?

It wasn’t all that long ago that the Colts boasted one of the NFL’s best offensive lines. They had ESPN’s third-ranked pass blocking offensive line in 2019, their 12th-ranked pass blocking, and eighth run blocking OL in 2020.

Now they have, arguably, the worst offensive line in the NFL.

They currently have the 23rd run block win rate and the 32nd ranked pass block win rate in the NFL. Football Outsiders ranks the Colts 27th in adjusted line yards and 28th in adjusted sack rate.

The Colts’ run block win rate is good news for Dexter Lawrence II, Leonard Williams, and Jihad Ward — as well as Jaylon Smith, Micah McFadden, Landon Collins and now Jarrad Davis. But it’s the Colts’ terrible pass protection that could be the difference in this game.

The Giants’ pass rush has lead the way since their 20-20 tie with the Washington Commanders. It isn’t a coincidence that the Giants’ defensive resurgence has corresponded with the return of Azeez Ojulari from injury. The trio of Ojulari, Kayvon Thibodeaux, and Dexter Lawrence have been an absolute menace for opposing offenses and are quickly turning into one of the more dynamic pass rushes in the NFL.

The Colts’ offensive line is porous enough that New York should be able to pressure Nick Foles (and force him to make mistakes) even if Ojulari (ankle) and Williams (neck) are limited. That’s particularly true with Wink Martindale’s hyper-aggressive blitz scheming.

It will be interesting to see if (or how) the Colts try to slow down the Giants’ pass rush with an offensive line that only holds up for 2.5 seconds on 47 percent of their passing reps. Foles has played well in quick-game schemes before, and we could see the Colts try to emulate the screens that proved effective last week for the Minnesota Vikings.