Colts vs. Giants: What to watch for Sunday
INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – Areas of interest in the Indianapolis Colts’ Sunday meeting with the New York Giants in Lucas Oil Stadium:
Kickoff: 1 p.m.
- Maniac attack: It’s not like Darius Leonard needed prodding or additional motivation. He’s been driven to prove everyone wrong as he’s worked his way up the football food chain. Being overlooked for the Pro Bowl despite building one of the thickest defensive rookie resumes in NFL history is simply the latest diss.
Brace yourself, Giants.
Leonard told Eric Ebron he was going after 40 tackles Sunday, which is a ridiculous target. Pressed on the topic, the second-round draft pick admitted he goes into every game with the same lofty objective – 25 tackles. The closest he’s come this season was the 19-tackle outing at Washington. The NFL record is 24, shared by Luke Kuechly and David Harris. The Colts’ single-game record is Pat Angerer’s 20.
The bottom line: look for Leonard to fly to the football like he has Wile E. Coyote’s rocket strapped to his back. If the over-under is 20, we’ll take the over.
- Issue for the D: Leonard’s individual goals aside, the Colts’ No. 10-ranked defense – yes, it’s moved to No. 10 with stellar play of late – needs to remain a cohesive, disciplined, focused group. The Giants will be missing playmaking wideout Odell Beckham Jr. (quad), which probably means Eli Manning leans even more on rookie running back Saquon Barkley.
The second overall pick in the draft has lived up to the hype. Barkley already has set a Giants’ rookie record with 1,155 rushing yards and also leads them with 82 receptions. The prime objective with Barkley is limiting his gashing plays. He ranks third in the NFL in rushing and total yards from scrimmage (1,809), and 544 of those yards from scrimmage (30 percent) have come on 11 plays. He has five TDs that have covered at least 50 yards.
One of the cornerstones of coordinator Matt Eberflus’ defense has been forcing offenses to sustain drives. The Colts have allowed just 45 plays of at least 20 yards, tied for the sixth fewest in the league. Opposing backs have only 10 runs that have gained at least 20 yards. The longest: a 34-yard TD by the Pattiots’ Sony Michel.
While the defense is playing at a high level, it’s worth noting it will be without three key up-the-gut individuals: nose Al Woods (on IR with an ankle injury), middle linebacker Anthony Walker (shoulder) and safety Clayton Geathers (knee).
- Strike early: This was one of our pre-game bullet points a few weeks ago when the Colts traveled to offensively-challenged Jacksonville. Score early, force the issue, put the onus on the opponent to do something it’s not equipped to do. We all know how that turned out.
But we’ll revisit that theme. The Giants simply aren’t the same without OBJ, and the Colts have done an outstanding job this season of not giving up a big game to a running back. This is another one of those games that begs for a quick start by the offense. Get the lead. Set the trend. Allow the defense to pour in on Manning, who has been sacked a career-high 46 times.
Oh, and take care of the football. Don’t give the Giants a helping hand with carelessness on offense.
- Mix it up: Andrew Luck is directing an offense that ranks 8th in yards per game (381.5) and scoring ( 26.6) in large part because often he’s had the best of both worlds. T.Y. Hilton has cracked the 1,000-yard mark for the fifth time in seven seasons and has averaged 7 catches and 120 yards over the last six games. Eric Ebron’s 12 receiving TDs rank second in the NFL to Antonio Brown’s 13. Marlon Mack is averaging 75.5 yards per game and 4.8 yards per attempt in his 10 games.
The offensive line has made it all possible by taking pass protection to a new level. It has allowed 16 sacks, tied for the fewest in the league. And consider this: Luck has not been sacked in six of 14 games. In his first 70 regular-season starts, that occurred only 8 times.
- And the winner is: Colts 31, Giants 13. The light at the end of the 2018 tunnel is the prospect of a return to the playoffs for the first time since 2014. It’s a very real possibility and the Colts would be in complete control of the long journey back prior to Sunday’s kickoff if Baltimore loses to the Chargers in Los Angeles Saturday night. Frank Reich has done a good job of keeping his young team focused on the task at hand – 1-0 every week, he preaches – and we’ll be surprised if that’s not the case again with the Giants in town and having only pride on the line.
You can follow Mike Chappell on Twitter at @mchappell51.