The New York Giants return to Lucas Oil Stadium this Sunday for the first time since winning Super Bowl XLVI. While it won't be exactly the same atmosphere, playoffs will be in the air – for the Indianapolis Colts.
The 5-9 Giants were officially eliminated from postseason contention with a loss last week, putting a hitch in their second-half run. The 8-6 Colts, meanwhile, have found their stride and won seven of eight games. They look to secure a spot in the postseason with two weeks left.
"Really for us, defensively, it's like a playoff game," Giants defensive coordinator James Bettcher said. "This is a team that's playing to get into playoffs and we're playing and it'll be a playoff atmosphere for us. Hopefully we're going to be able to get two of those these next two weeks. We're going to try to go to Indy and take care of this one."
Here are three ways the Giants can do so:
1. Tackle better. Bettcher said the Giants allowed over 100 yards rushing after missed tackles in Week 15, when Tennessee's Derrick Henry ran 33 times for 170 yards and a pair of goal-line touchdowns. Since Week 7, which kicked off a 7-1 run for the Colts after they started the season 1-5, Indianapolis is averaging 126.5 rushing yards per game. The stretch includes two games with at least 220 yards and a 178-yard performance in last week's shutout (23-0) of the Cowboys and their top-five defense. The Colts have three players with at least 300 rushing yards this season. Marlon Mack, a 2017 fourth-round draft choice, leads the group with seven rushing touchdowns since Indianapolis turned things around in Week 7.
"If you take those plays [with missed tackles] into consideration and you just cut it in half, then you just really change the situations we're able to put them in on defense," Bettcher said, "and we're able to force them into doing some things that maybe we wanted them to do and to use some other tools in our box."
2. Get off the field on third down. Indianapolis enters the second-to-last week of the season with the best offense in the NFL on third down. The Colts are converting 48.4 percent of the time, and it is not much of a secret why. Former first overall pick Andrew Luck has the most completions on third down (Eli Manning has the second-most). It also helps when the offense has allowed just 16 sacks, tied with New Orleans for the fewest in the league. Despite ranking 30th in sacks this season, the Giants' defense is in the middle of the pack on third down, allowing conversions on 38.8 percent of attempts.
"Really no secrets," said safety Michael Thomas, who is a first alternate for the Pro Bowl as a special teamer. "They've got a great quarterback. He's mobile. His arm is feeling well. He's been hurt these past couple of years. Even when guys do strap their first read, second read, and third read, he can extend the play with using his legs. He's a very athletic quarterback, got some good weapons. It's going to be our job to stop it. We're just going to work our game plan that Bettch asks of us, [secondary coach Lou Anarumo] coaching us up. We're going to do what we do."
3. O-line needs to overcome last week's "hiccup." The Giants and Colts are a lot alike this season. Both went through growing pains with new head coaches, only to turn things around near the midway point of the season. While the Colts' surge has been stronger as they remain in playoff contention, both teams can credit improved offensive line play. The Giants found the right combination after the bye week, making each game better than the last. Offensive coordinator Mike Shula wouldn't call last week's 17-0 loss to the Titans a "step back" for the unit, but it was "a hiccup against a good football team." That went for the entire Giants team, which was averaging 31.4 points per game in the second half of the season until being shut out last Sunday. The lineup will likely change once again after starting center Spencer Pulley injured his calf last week. He was replaced by John Greco, who has started six games for the Giants this season, including four at center.
"I think collectively, and I think Coach [Pat Shurmur] alluded to this, we have a couple things here or there that stand out that all of a sudden get you off-schedule and now you can't run the ball as much or as well maybe as you did earlier," Shula said. "But yeah, if we make a mistake – which, the perfect game is still out there – we just kind of want to limit those and just not make them glaring, whether or not it's the offensive line, or quarterback, or whatever."