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Sidelines Notes

Giants fall to Colts: Film review notes and observations

Merry Christmas everyone! The Giants played well in Indianapolis against the Colts but came up short in the closing minutes. Here's what I saw while reviewing the tape on Monday morning:

• The Giants offense played exactly how it wanted to play in this game. It played to an excellent balance (29 rushes/33 passes), used play action, and stayed out of a lot of third and very long plays. 

• Despite struggling to run the football with Saquon Barkley (21 rushes for 43 yards) thanks to the Colts playing eight men in the box frequently, the Giants stuck to the ground game partly because they had success on end-arounds (3 rushes, 31 yards). Shepard lost three yards on a reverse. Though Barkley had modest numbers, he avoided a lot of negative runs. In the first three quarters, Barkley had only two runs for zero or negative yards, one of which came in a goal-to-go situation. He had two more in the fourth quarter, one inside the Colts 10 and another on the next-to-last drive when they were pinned inside their own five-yard line. Even getting two yards can help keep a team on schedule, and are plays a team can live with when they have the lead. 

• The Giants avoided offensive penalties. They had only one accepted penalty on the offensive side of the ball, a Jamon Brown false start, in the first three quarters. They had two more on their ill-fated next-to-last drive of the game when they were trapped inside their own five. 

• The lack of negative plays and penalties kept the Giants in good down and distance. They converted 7 of 12 third downs, with only two attempts of 10 yards or more. Six attempts were of six yards or fewer. 

• Eli Manning was as sharp. He completed 25 of 33 passes for 309 yards and a touchdown. He was getting the ball out quickly, on time, and on target. For anyone who thinks Manning's arm is failing him, they should look at two throws in this game. The 55-yard completion to Shepard in the second quarter traveled 50 yards in the air, and was thrown from the left hash to the numbers on the right side of the field. Manning couldn't even completely step into his throw with the rush bearing down on him, fading backwards on the release. Shepard barely had to break stride to make the grab. It was a great throw.

• His other throw of note went to Evan Engram in the third quarter that put the Giants at the Colts one-yard line. Engram beat his man down the seam, and Manning hit Engram right in the chest on a throw that traveled on a rope 30 yards in the air. It was a laser. 

• This game also showed how much easier it can be playing in controlled conditions versus the cold rain the Giants faced against the Titans the prior week. Manning hasn't had that advantage his entire career, often playing in wet and windy conditions in the Meadowlands. 

• Manning told me after the game that he knew he had to make a chunk play on the final drive to get the team into field goal range. The Colts played cover two with Bennie Fowler running a skinny post down the middle of the field in an attempt to split the two safeties. Malik Hooker made the interception when he came over from his safety position to catch the overthrow, but linebacker Darius Leonard made the better play, in my opinion. Playing the Tampa Two middle linebacker spot, he carried a wide receiver straight down the middle of the field, and left a very small window for Manning to get the ball over his head and to his receiver. It was a tremendously athletic play and great coverage by the Colts middle linebacker on a wide receiver. 

• The Giants had nine legitimate possessions in this game and punted only three times. They had five drives of eight yards or more, and four for 66 yards or more (and a fifth for 53). The offense moved the ball consistently and only failed to score in the red zone once.

• Sterling Shepard played a great first half, finding holes in the Colts zone defense. Evan Engram was heavily involved in the offense once again, making big plays in both the run and pass game. Once Odell Beckham Jr. is back on the field, it will be important to keep both these players (Engram especially) involved in the offense. Head Coach Pat Shurmur prefers when more players touch the ball, and the offense seems to function better when the ball is spread around. 

• The Colts quickness and movement up front seemed to bother the Giants interior offensive linemen. With that said, Manning wasn't sacked and the offensive line was once again good enough for the team to function at a high level offensively. You can see how much confidence Manning has in this group as it is currently constituted. 

• The Giants defense played well in the first half, allowing just one touchdown, forcing three punts and intercepting Andrew Luck in the end zone. The Colts went three and out on their first two drives. When the Giants got pressure, they were able to have success against Luck, but when he had time to throw the football, it made things very tough on the Giants secondary. 

• The Giants played their best in man-to-man defense on Sunday. In the second half, the Colts adjusted and started hitting their receivers with some beautiful back shoulder throws and deep throws across the field. It forced the Giants to try some more zone, but Luck was able to find open throwing windows between the linebackers and safeties in the middle of the field for some big gains. There's a reason Luck is one of the best quarterbacks in the league.

• On the Colts' final drive, the Giants secondary got a little too physical in their coverage on the wide receivers, trying to prevent too much separation. All the penalties looked like legit calls on tape. 

• The Giants rush defense did a really good job against a resurgent Colts running attack. Marlon Mack had only 12 carries for 34 yards, and as a team, the Colts had just 16 carries for 49 yards. Dalvin Tomlinson, B.J. Hill and Olivier Vernon were all good in the run game. 

• Vernon had one of his better games of the season. He had a strip sack of Luck called back by a holding penalty on cornerback Janoris Jenkins and got pressure a couple of other times. His best play might have come in pass coverage. He got physical with tight end Eric Ebron off the line of scrimmage and disrupted his timing with Luck. Ebron eventually gave up on his corner route that turned into a Curtis Riley interception. It was a great play no one is talking about. 

• B.J. Goodson had back-to-back blitzes that forced the Colts' only punt in the second half. On the first blitz, he crossed with Tae Davis behind the defensive line and had a free run at Luck, forcing an incomplete pass. On the next play, Giants Defensive Coordinator James Bettcher called for another blitz, and Goodson ran over Marlon Mack to force Luck to throw another incomplete pass. 

• Tae Davis had a good rush on his sack. Running back Mack cut Davis after a play action fake, taking him to the ground, but Davis got back up and got to Luck before he could unload a deep pass to wide receiver Zach Paschal.

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