Dared to run, Colts make Giants regret it

Joseph Addai and the Colts took advantage of a Giants defense that was guarding against the pass. AP Photo/Michael Conroy

INDIANAPOLIS -- By leaning heavily on a scheme thick on defensive backs and thin on linebackers, the New York Giants invited the Indianapolis Colts to run the ball.

The Colts were happy to accept.

Peyton Manning is always focused on taking what a defense offers, and those defensive backs were on the field thinking pass, not run.

So Joseph Addai turned 20 carries into 92 yards and Donald Brown took 16 chances 69 yards. A week after Peyton Manning threw 57 passes, he needed to drop back only 26 times in a 38-14 blowout at Lucas Oil Stadium.

The Giants and their new defensive coordinator, Perry Fewell, learned more than a bit about how the Colts’ offense operates. Fewell probably would rather be beat by the Colts running it than the Colts throwing it, but it appeared he severely overestimated the brawn of his defense.

“We really ran the ball well, that was really a point of emphasis,” Manning said. “Houston really came into the game last week and played five DBs and six DBs, a lot of pass defense and we didn’t know what the Giants were going to do, but they ended up taking that route, playing five DBs and sometimes six DBs on first and second down.

“So it's obvious they’re playing pass coverage. In the past, there’ve been times we’ve haven’t been able to run against that. Which was frustrating because you sort of play into their hands. It was nice to be able to run the ball versus that look. There were a lot of DBs and obviously they’re not used to be involved in the run game.”

Addai got only 10 carries in the Colts' Week 1 loss in Houston. At Reliant Stadium, I thought his carries were good ones. He was more important in pass protection, where he can be a big-time asset in keeping Manning upright.

Against the Giants, I thought he was decisive and determined as he darted in and through holes. By being so, he produced his best yardage total in 25 regular-season games.

“It looked like he was real quick, it seems like he has his feet,” said veteran Giants linebacker Keith Bulluck, who lost a lot of potential snaps to Fewell’s personnel plan. “He’s not as good as a Fred Taylor, but he has a similar style. He can run, stop, jump-cut and stuff and get in and out of holes quickly. I thought he did that well.

“They ran great and executed their game plan and they were able to control the game from the beginning.”

The Colts' 23 first-half runs were the most before halftime since 1991. They haven't had a run-pass discrepancy as big as this (17 more runs) since 2006. The 160 rushing yards were their most since 2007. The Colts' 43 rush attempts were the most in a game since Manning joined the team in 1998.

Brown has had trouble gaining the coaches’ confidence as a pass blocker. Either the second-year back gained confidence there or they were willing to put him in more when they knew they’d run -- or most likely both. He set career highs in carries and yards.

“I thought Donald and Joe really ran smart, ran hard,” Manning said.

Part of the offseason plan was to be three-quarters of a yard better per carry. The number was 3.5 yards last season, and 3.7 against the Giants, 4.5 when Addai or Brown got the ball.

With a 7-yard scoring run from Brown and a lovely 50-yard Manning-to-Dallas Clark connection that came thanks to play-action built on the run, the Colts raced to a 14-0 lead.

The game was in the Colts’ mold in short order, which meant Eli Manning was under siege. The Giants quarterback was taken down twice each by Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis. The sack-strip artists each produced a turnover, Freeney’s deep in the Giants’ end where Fili Moala plucked it and went a yard for a touchdown.

“It was a confidence-builder going into next week [in Denver],” Addai said. “You have that much more confidence in having a game like this ... I think if you give us the opportunity we will be able to do it, and it showed. We all came together, we know what we can do as a unit and we were able to do it.”

Not to make too much of one word choice, but Clark didn’t talk about the Giants daring the Colts to run, he spoke of them forcing the Colts to run.

“They were forcing us to run a lot,” he said “And the offensive line did a phenomenal job of blocking and the backs did a tremendous job of making cuts and making guys miss, just lowering their shoulders and making some big hits and just really wearing down their defense.”

Heavy doses of nickel are likely to keep showing up for Indy. Regular opponents may have a better feel for how to make that work against the Colts, and the other three NFC East foes may learn from this game that planning to be physical with Manning’s gang isn’t enough.

If you can’t hem the backs in, get the offense in third-and-long and find ways to hit the quarterback, the Colts are the Colts -- no matter what happened opening day.