INDIANAPOLIS -- They didn't come quite out and say it, but their defensive scheme screamed it Sunday night.
The New York Giants, like so many teams before them, didn't think the Indianapolis Colts offense was tough enough, viewing it as a pass-happy unit led by Peyton Manning and a running game that never seems to work.
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So the Giants decided to use a defensive scheme that included five and six defensive backs on the field, pushed ends inside to tackles, making a four-end line at times, and used safety Deon Grant in the linebacker role some.
It screamed soft.
It proved to be a disaster.
The Colts ran it for 160 yards in their dominating 38-14 victory Sunday night at Lucas Oil Stadium, turning the Manning Bowl into the Man-up Bowl for the Colts. With Peyton Manning, the Colts are certainly -- and should be -- a pass-first team. But Manning is no dummy. You show him five and six defensive backs, including two high safeties, and he and the Colts are going to run it.
"It was a different type of game for us," Manning said. "When teams are playing five DBs and sometimes six DBs on first and second down, obviously they are playing the pass. In the past, we haven't been able to run against that look, which has been frustrating because we are playing into their hands. So it was nice to be able to run the ball versus that look."
For any connoisseur of the pass, which I certainly am, it was like showing up for a concert and then the band doesn't play all the hits.
But it was a must for the Colts. They were last in the NFL in rushing last season and still went to the Super Bowl. They ran for only 44 yards last week in their horrible Week 1 loss to the Texans in which Manning passed for 433 yards on 57 attempts.
They also got run on at Houston. The Texans ran for 257 yards last week, once again bringing up those questions of team toughness. That led to the speculation the Giants would come in and be the team doing the pounding.
The Giants ran for 120 yards -- only 58 at the half, when the Colts led 24-0 -- and some of that came in garbage time.
|Donald Brown, who opens the scoring with a 7-yard touchdown, helps Indianapolis amass 124 rushing yards in the first half. (AP)|
After losing to the Texans, the Colts faced a week of scrutiny and had some ready to bury them if they were to lose to the Giants. They haven't opened 0-2 since 1998 -- when Manning was rookie.
They are, however, a team that many seem ready to pounce on when things aren't going their way, which led to a week of questions about just how good they could be. That's why during the week Manning had to tell the media the obvious: "We're 0-1, that's where we are," he said.
One game does not make the season, no matter how much some might make of it, and a veteran team like the Colts knows this more than any. In 2006, the year they won the Super Bowl with Manning, the Jacksonville Jaguars ran for 375 yards in a December game before the Colts got it together and made the Super run.
This wasn't that bad, but let's be real. The Colts came into this game in a must-win mode. Dropping to 0-2 with three of the next four on the road would have been a tough hole to climb out of. As it is, they're 1-1, a game behind the Texans in the AFC South.
More important, they answered lingering questions about their toughness. The Giants didn't think the Colts offensive line could win against their defensive front, which had to be the reason for the defensive strategy.
"I think we were all surprised that they were able to run, and run with some consistency," Giants coach Tom Coughlin said.
When big guys are putting helmets on little guys, it makes it a lot easier. The Colts actually used double-tight formations, which they rarely use, to help the running game. The Giants took forever to adjust.
Manning said he had an idea the Giants would use that style when he noticed that two defensive tackles, Linval Joseph and Rocky Bernard, were among the Giants inactive players. The fact he noticed that, which most quarterbacks wouldn't even pay attention to, is the kind of thing that separates him from the rest.
In a list of players not active, Manning found a strategy tip. That's the secret to his greatness. Details. Details. Details.
Manning threw three touchdown passes to go with the running game, just a ho-hum complementary role.
The Colts ran it 23 times and threw it 18 times in the first half, jumping to the 24-0 first-half lead. They finished with 43 runs and 26 passing attempts. Joseph Addai finished with 92 yards and Donald Brown had 62.
It might seem odd to see this type of game from the Colts, but in 2005 they used it a lot. The year after Manning threw a then-NFL record 49 touchdown passes, teams played the Colts with a lot of two-deep zone.
That led to the Colts finishing 16th in rushing that season. They haven't finished that high since and have been ranked 31st and 32nd the past two seasons. The 160 rushing yards were the most since Week 4 in 2007, when they ran for 226 yards against Denver.
Now we know where the soft label comes into play. In the NFL, if you can't run it and can't stop the run, it's on you.
The reality is the Colts have been good even without doing both for much of Manning's career. Why would they run it more than pass with him as their quarterback?
It's just that even with him, they have to be smart about it.
"We put it on our offensive line, tight ends and backs," Manning said. "I don't know the last time we had more rushing attempts than pass attempts."
It was Dec. 11, 2008, in a victory against Cleveland. But the difference between runs and passes (17) is the most the Colts have had to the run side since a 2006 game against Philly in which they ran it 21 times more than they threw it.
This pound-it Colts team showed they aren't too stubborn or too jelly-like to run. But here's hoping the way teams defense them changes.
Running it might mean they're tougher, but it sure isn't as pretty a game when No. 18 is handing off and not filling the air with footballs.