(Sports Network) – Eli Manning may not have his older brother’s place in the NFL record books, multiple MVP awards or bevy of endorsement deals. The New York Giants quarterback will have an opportunity to seize family bragging rights for the time being, however, when he leads his team into Indianapolis’ Lucas Oil Stadium this Sunday for a primetime showdown with the defending AFC champion Colts.
This marquee interconference matchup marks the second head-to-head meeting between the Mannings, with Peyton’s Colts getting the better of Eli’s Giants via a 26-21 verdict at the Meadowlands in 2006. And while the sibling rivalry is sure to draw its share of intrigue and television viewers, the game also carries plenty of importance to the home team after a subpar showing in its season opener.
Although Peyton Manning displayed his trademark excellence in last weekend’s divisional clash at Houston, his team’s defense was hardly in top form in a conceivably-costly 34-24 loss to the up-and-coming Texans. The Colts were gashed for 257 rushing yards by their fellow AFC South tenants, with that poor performance spoiling a 433-yard, three-touchdown afternoon out of the superstar signal-caller.
Indianapolis’ defensive struggles were compounded by yet another injury to standout safety Bob Sanders, with the brittle former NFL Defensive Player of the Year lasting just 10 snaps before suffering a possible season-ending right biceps tear in the second quarter.
The Giants had a more pleasant outcome in their lid-lifter, with Big Blue getting its 2010 campaign off to a desired good start by virtue of a 31-18 victory over a mistake-prone Carolina team last Sunday. Eli Manning threw for 263 yards and delivered three touchdown strikes to talented young wideout Hakeem Nicks, while New York put up 17 straight second-half points to overcome a 16-14 deficit at intermission.
While the Colts defense floundered in Week 1, the Giants showed flashes of returning to their once-fearsome form on that side of the ball against the Panthers. The unit forced five turnovers, including three end-zone interceptions of Matt Moore that thwarted potential scoring drives, and sacked the Carolina quarterback four times while yielding a scant 237 total yards.
Subpar defensive play had led to New York’s demise a year ago, with the 2009 G-Men surrendering 40 or more points five times during a 3-8 finish that negated a five-game winning streak to begin the season.
Strong starts have been nothing new for the Giants in recent years, however. New York has now prevailed in nine consecutive September dates under head coach Tom Coughlin, a stretch that dates back to 2007.
Extending that run could be a challenge, though, against an Indianapolis squad that’s been stellar on its home turf as of late. Including a pair of playoff victories in the 2009 AFC Playoffs, the Colts are 15-1 in their last 16 tests at Lucas Oil Stadium. That lone blemish took place during Week 16 of last season, a 29-15 setback to the Jets in which Indy rested a majority of its starters with the conference’s No. 1 seed already sewn up.
Indianapolis has also not started out 0-2 since Peyton Manning’s rookie year of 1998.
The Colts lead the all-time regular season series with the Giants, 7-6, breaking a deadlock in the series with the above-mentioned 26-21 win in North Jersey in the 2006 regular season opener. The Giants won the previous meeting, a 44-27 affair at the RCA Dome in 2002. New York is 2-0 in Indianapolis all- time, and hasn’t lost a regular season road game in the series since falling at Baltimore in 1954.
The franchises also have a notable postseason history, meeting for the NFL Championship in both 1958 and 1959. The then-Baltimore Colts won both meetings, including a 23-17 overtime decision in 1958, a contest that many regard as “the greatest game ever played.”
Coughlin is 0-5 against the Colts all-time, including 0-4 during his tenure with the Jaguars (1995-2002). Indianapolis’ Jim Caldwell will be meeting both Coughlin and the Jags for the first time as a head coach.
WHEN THE GIANTS HAVE THE BALL
Although he tossed three interceptions — all coming on deflections off his receivers’ hands — Eli Manning (263 passing yards, 3 TD) came through with an otherwise solid first official game at New Meadowlands Stadium, with the former No. 1 overall pick completing 20-of-30 passes and exhibiting good decision-making in the pocket. The Panthers did a good job of covering top receiver Steve Smith, limited the 2009 Pro Bowl participant to a modest 43 yards on five grabs, but that tactic enabled both Nicks (4 receptions, 75 yards, 3 TD) and No. 3 wideout Mario Manningham (4 receptions) to have productive days. The former was a beast within the red zone, while the latter compiled a team-best 85 yards and came up with several big plays. The Giants were also able to get their running game untracked in the second half, with the backfield tandem of Ahmad Bradshaw (20 carries, 76 yards, 1 TD) and Brandon Jacobs (12 carries, 44 yards) finding success against a tired Carolina defense after being held to a combined eight yards on 13 carries before the break. New York will be without regular tight end Kevin Boss (1 reception, 11 yds) this week after the fourth-year pro sustained a concussion in the opener.
The defense didn’t give Indianapolis much of a chance last weekend with its shoddy play against the run, and it’s imperative that the team performs better in that area to come out on top in this game. Losing the physical Sanders is certainly a blow, though replacement Melvin Bullitt (4 tackles, 1 INT) is an adequate fill-in who’s started 21 times over the previous two seasons. It’ll be up to linebackers Gary Brackett (4 tackles) and Clint Session (6 tackles) to provide containment and keep New York’s inconsistent running game under wraps and force the Giants into some obvious passing situations, which will allow the Colts to unleash its top-notch pass-rushing duo of ends Dwight Freeney (2 tackles, 1 sack) and Robert Mathis (5 tackles, 1 sack) on Eli Manning. The secondary wasn’t tested much in Week 1 due to the Texans’ success on the ground, though two-time Pro Bowl free safety Antoine Bethea racked up 13 tackles while utilized mainly in run support.
WHEN THE COLTS HAVE THE BALL
There shouldn’t be a whole lot of surprise as to what the Colts’ plan will be on offense. Indianapolis ran 59 passing plays to only 10 rushes against the Texans, with that disparity having as much to do with the mismatches Houston’s young secondary presented as the team being forced to play from behind much of the day. Peyton Manning did his best to overcome the early deficit by piling up 433 yards on 40-of-57 passing, with favorite target Reggie Wayne (7 receptions, 99 yards), tight end Dallas Clark and sophomore slot man Austin Collie all hauling in scoring strikes from the four-time league MVP. Collie was a terror from his inside position, establishing career bests with 11 catches and 163 yards, while the sure-handed Clark had 80 yards on 11 grabs as the primary safety valve. Running back Joseph Addai added six catches out of the backfield and made the most of his limited carries, gaining 44 yards on 10 totes for the game. Pass protection was an concern last week, with Manning taking several shots as tackles Charlie Johnson and Ryan Diem both struggled against Houston’s edge rushers.
The Colts will need to shore up its protection issues rather quickly, since the Giants are quite capable of bringing the heat. New York generated four sacks in the opener, with the versatile Mathias Kiwanuka (4 tackles) coming up with half that total while being used as an end/linebacker hybrid in new coordinator Perry Fewell’s revamped scheme, and harassed Moore into hurried throws on countless other occasions. Ends Osi Umenyiora (5 tackles, 1 sack) and Justin Tuck (4 tackles) are also accomplished pass rushers with multiple double-digit sack seasons and previous Pro Bowl citations on their resums, and the group’s combined effort played a big role in New York’s five takeaways against the Panthers. The Giants also did a very respectable job of keeping Carolina’s strong ground attack in check, with tackle Chris Canty (6 tackles, 0.5 sacks) and outside linebacker Michael Boley (5 tackles) heading up a defense that held the Panthers to a non-threatening 89 rushing yards on 24 attempts. New York is expected to get nickel back Aaron Ross back in action after missing last week’s win with an injured foot, and his return will be welcomed by a secondary that will need all the able bodies it can get to deal with Peyton Manning and Indy’s outstanding stable of receivers.
Peyton’s the Manning brother to have in your possession for this one, as Eli faces a good Indianapolis pass defense and could have his production curtailed by his team’s preference to run the ball. Emphasizing the ground game will not only help the Giants keep the Colts’ deadly offense off the field, it gives a major boost to Bradshaw’s fantasy prospects for this week. Jacobs looks more like a handcuff at this point, but give a thumbs-up to both Smith and Nicks on the New York side. The Colts have a trio of must-use players in Manning, Clark and Wayne, and Collie can now be added to that list after his huge Week 1 output. Addai received nearly all the touches in the Indianapolis backfield and put up 13 touchdowns last season, making him a good choice as well. Stay away from either defense, as the Colts have obvious problems there and the Giants will be hard-pressed to come up with another turnover bonanza like last week.
The blueprint for beating the Colts has always been to get consistent pressure on Peyton Manning and use a ball-control approach on offense predicated on running the football. The Giants are certainly adept at accomplishing the first task, and if they’re able to grind out yards like they did in the second half of the Carolina game and the defense performs to last week’s level, and upset here isn’t out of the question. Still, those betting against Peyton Manning always do so at their own risk, especially at home in a contest his team really needs to win. It may not come easy, but in the end the elder Manning winds up one-upping his little brother once again in what should be an entertaining affair filled with big plays and a few tense moments.