Put simply, we can sum up the 2014 New York Giants in a few words: They just aren't that good. Injuries, subpar draft and free-agency decisions, weird coaching moves and the regression of its franchise quarterback have left the Giants organization in a mordant state. After their 40-24 drubbing at the hands of the Indianapolis Colts, the G-Men stand at 3-5 and are on pace to miss the postseason for the fifth time in the last six seasons.
Now, on to the Indianapolis Colts, who are rolling with a great defense (for the most part), and the efforts of Andrew Luck, who is on pace to become a statistical marvel in his third NFL campaign. Luck leads the NFL this season with 26 passing touchdowns, and his 3,085 passing yards through the first nine games of a season are the second-most in NFL history (Peyton Manning had 3,249 yards after the same stretch last season).
Against the Giants, Luck completed 25 of 46 passes for 354 yards, four touchdowns and no interceptions. It was Luck's seventh straight game with at least 300 passing yards, which is a franchise record, and the 17th time in his career he's had at least 300 yards. More importantly, Luck proved on this night that even if you befuddle him with certain things for a while, he'll eventually adjust. He's the main reason the Colts currently stand at 6-3 and atop of the AFC South.
Here are three observations from Monday night's game:
1. Perry Fewell showed Andrew Luck a lot of different blitz packages, and it didn't always work.
The Giants' defensive coordinator knows that if you give Luck time to carve up your defense, he'll do just that. But if you blitz Luck without disguising, he'll suss that out and torch you with short passes and timed running plays. So, Fewell called a series of blitz looks that enticed Luck with the notion that there would be open receivers upfield, only to be frustrated by the fact that the Giants were dropping specific defenders into zones. As a result, Luck wasn't always pinpoint, and he miscommunicated with his receivers more often than expected early on.
The Colts responded with a quicker offensive tempo, which led to the game's first touchdown with 13:38 left in the first half. Giants head coach Tom Coughlin threw a challenge flag a hair late to dispute Coby Fleener's catch early in the second quarter, and the Colts ran to get the next play off. Fleener was wide open as the Giants struggled to get their defense in the right places on time, and that was that.
"They go fast," Coughlin said of the Colts' offense, adding that he was challenging the play more to slow his opponent down than any contention over the catch. "Whenever they make a big play, they go fast. We talked about it all week, our defense prepared for it all week long. All of a sudden, we weren’t getting lined up as fast as we should. I wasn’t sure exactly whether the ball was fumbled or not. I would have done anything to slow them down right there. Obviously that didn’t work. They were able to take advantage of us in that one circumstance. It’s something they have done in the past after big plays. We have worked on it, we just didn’t line up as well, as fast as we should have lined up."
Eventually, Luck established a brisker tempo and moved in and through the pocket to keep plays alive, exploiting holes in coverage. Linebacker Jacquian Williams was good on blitzes, but not so good against tight ends, and an early coverage on T.Y. Hilton was the kind of concept you'd like to see removed from the playbook immediately.
The touchdown pass to Reggie Wayne with 6:09 left in the third quarter was a perfect example: the Giants went with a flood blitz, and Luck simply hung in the pocket and hit Wayne with all kinds of space in the open field for a 40-yard score. One advantage to the Colts' pass-heavy attack was that Luck got to see more of the Giants' blitz concepts and carve them up accordingly.
The touchdown to tight end Dwayne Allen in the third quarter was simply an embarrassment. Running back Ahmad Bradshaw went to the right, everyone followed him and Allen was completely uncovered. As the game went along, Luck did what great quarterbacks do: He used a defense's aggression against it, and implosion was inevitable. The final result? A Giants defense that gave up 40 points and more than 440 total yards (443 in this case) -- something this franchise hadn't done since 1948, when it played at the old Polo Grounds.
"There are a lot of weapons on this team," Luck said. "I think it’s tough for defenses to focus on one guy. I think we know what the wideouts can do and that’s not just starting, too, that’s all five guys on the roster that play wide receiver. The tight ends create great match-up problems, the running backs do a hell of a job running the ball, but getting out after protection, chipping, finding their checks down there, they’re as solid group as I’ve ever played with. And obviously the O-line’s playing well and I think [offensive coordinator] Pep [Hamilton]’s doing a good job of mixing stuff up and getting different guys involved in different ways and again, it’s not perfect by any means. I don’t think I played very well, but we managed to do some good stuff."
2. The Colts really, really, really missed Vontae Davis.
One major aspect of the Pittsburgh Steelers' ability to beat Indy's pass defense into the ground last Sunday was the absence of cornerback Vontae Davis, who left that game in the second quarter with a knee injury. Ben Roethlisberger was able to throw for 522 yards and six touchdowns when Greg Toler became the Colts' No. 1 cornerback, and nickel man Josh Gordy was bumped up to the second spot. Nothing against either one of those players; Toler in particular is a fine cover cornerback. But when Davis is back at full strength, as he was in this game, head coach Chuck Pagano's defense is an entirely different affair.
Over and over, Eli Manning tried to test Davis on deep routes, and over and over, Davis proved the foolishness of that idea by getting inside position on New York's receivers and shutting everything down. It didn't help that the Giants' receivers had issues with ball security, but this was clearly a case of a fine defense beating up on a bad, discombobulated offense. We detailed why Davis has been so great this season a couple of weeks ago, and he showed it all on Monday night.
3. New York's offense still isn't in sync.
Recently, first-year Giants offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo has said he wants more explosive plays out of his offense. Problem is, he doesn't have a quarterback who's capable of making repeatable deep throws at this point in his career, and his young receiving corps isn't always on the same page with Manning. On Monday, Manning was throwing deep balls to receivers on the sidelines, where they could easily be covered by Davis and Toler. The Giants needed more crossing routes and group concepts against Indy, which plays as much man coverage as any team in the league.
But it didn't happen. Manning had eight overthrown passes in the first half alone, his worst mark of the season, although not exactly an aberration. According to Pro Football Focus, Manning came into Week 9 with just four completions in 19 attempts on passes thrown 20 or more yards in the air. Between Manning's balkiness under pressure and the lack of route combinations designed to create separation, Manning is literally in a no-win situation. He didn't complete a single pass over 20 yards against the Colts, per ESPN Stats & Info.
McAdoo thought he had a plan for the Colts' defense after watching them get ripped up by the Steelers, and it was the wrong plan.
"Anytime you look at an opponent, you try to look at the plan of the previous team you are following," he said Wednesday. "Pittsburgh was on fire that night. I had a chance to watch the game and get bits and pieces of it when it was on TV before we got to the game film. They did a good job protecting. They have some speed athletes that when you protect Ben [Roethlisberger] have a chance to extend plays. They ran away from some man coverage and he made some great accurate throws on the move, extending plays."
Yes, the Steelers played well. And no, the Giants didn't. Sadly for Big Blue, that's been a common theme for a while now.