EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- The straightforward question that was put to Indianapolis Colts quarterback Peyton Manning on Wednesday as he prepared to play the New York Giants would've sounded preposterous in other weeks or other seasons.
But after what happened to the Colts last Sunday in Houston, it was telling that Manning didn't scoff when asked, "Did the Houston Texans just show everyone how to beat the Colts?"
Manning said what a guy who was knocked to the ground 11 times by the Texans -- this after being sacked only 10 times all of last season -- should have said: "I hope that's not the case."
It sounds odd to say the Giants may be catching Manning at a good time when they travel to play the Colts on Sunday night -- as if there is ever a good time to play Manning, let alone on the road, after the Colts have just lost their season opener.
"He's the four-time MVP, he's been to countless Pro Bowls, he's pretty much got the quarterback position figured out," Giants defensive lineman Justin Tuck said.
Manning converted 40 of 57 passes for 453 yards against Houston. As Giants cornerback Terrell Thomas admitted Thursday, he couldn't wait to watch the DVD of the Colts-Texans game earlier this week because, "I thought, 'That's crazy.' I wanted to know how did Manning throw 57 passes without even one interception?'"
But the "how?" has always been the question with Manning, hasn't it? His mind and ability to defeat defenses on the fly make him unique. Even 13 years into Manning's career, opposing defenses are still no closer to answering the question of whether you should rush him or play coverage. The Colts -- 14-2 a year ago -- seem to beat people either way.
So maybe it's not surprising that so-called "blueprint" the Texans unearthed against the Colts in their 34-24 smackdown of Indianapolis on Sunday doesn't have much to do with Manning at all -- it had far more to do with the banged-up and patchwork offensive line that he'll still be working behind when the Giants and Colts meet.
When asked if he'd ever seen Manning knocked on his butt as often as he was Sunday, Giants first-year defensive coordinator Perry Fewell shook his head and said, "It's rare. Very rare."
Manning's old standby, four-time Pro Bowl center Jeff Saturday, just returned last Sunday from a knee injury that required arthroscopic surgery on Aug. 10. Colts left tackle Charlie Johnson is just back from a foot injury that kept him out a month. The Colts' starting offensive line was never able to get healthy enough to play even one preseason game together, and against the Texans, that lack of polish showed.
The Colts uncharacteristically missed blocking assignments. At times they looked confused by the defensive schemes Houston threw at them. On still other plays, the Indy linemen lined up and got physically beaten -- nothing fancy. In this age of exotic blitzes and defenses, this was notable: The Texans' defensive linemen accounted for all 10 of the hits and two sacks that Manning absorbed Sunday. Houston All-Pro end Mario Williams hit Manning eight times by himself.
All of that would seem to be good news for a Giants defensive line that features two former Pro Bowl pass-rushers in Tuck and Osi Umenyiora. The Giants have the added advantage of being able to move Mathias Kiwanuka, another fine pass-rusher, all over the field to try to confuse the Colts too.
Fewell loves to mix personnel groups based on each week's opponent and game situations. But the Colts know that. So how will they counter? Will Manning have enough confidence in his offensive line to put the Colts in their no-huddle offense to try to defeat the Giants' substitutions? "They might," Fewell nodded. Can Manning get to the Giants' secondary before the Giants get to him? "We have to have constant pressure," Tuck said, not bothering to guess what might happen if the Giants don't.
Johnson, the Colts' left tackle who was beaten so often by Williams on Sunday, admits that the sight of Manning getting hit so frequently was as shocking to the Colts as anybody.
There's an old adage in football that when you hit the quarterback hard, the whole team feels it. The Colts, given their heavy reliance on Manning, are especially like that.
Though Indy lost in the Super Bowl last season, hardly anyone is picking the Colts to get back this season. But they have no hope whatsoever if they have to rely on Manning's unproven backup, Curtis Painter. New York fans remember him: Painter was the goat of the Colts' late-season loss to the Jets a year ago that ruined the Colts' perfect record.
Counting on Indy's offensive line to falter like it did against Houston probably won't hold true as a blueprint to beat the Colts all season. But the Giants just need it to hold true for one more week. If there's ever a good time to play Peyton Manning, this really just might be it.