It’s Peyton. It’s Eli. It’s a football family divided.

It’s Manning Bowl II…

But it’s a lot more than that. The Colts’ defense couldn’t stop the Texans’ rushing attack at all, and are out to prove that their loss was nothing but a fluke. On the other end, after an entire half of disappointing play the Giants finished strong in last week’s game against Carolina. Now, on the road against Peyton and the Colts, the Giants are out to prove their play in the second half was no accident.

Eli and the Giants face Peyton and the Colts Sunday night; Getty Images



What To Watch For:
— Indianapolis Passing Game vs. New York Pass Defense

Last week against Carolina’s Matt Moore, the Giants defense had three interceptions – all coming inside the redzone. While that could say a lot about the Big Blue defense, I’m not buying it yet. It was against Matt Moore after all, so that isn’t a good enough gauge on how good this defense is. And based on Perry Fewell’s history as defensive coordinator with Buffalo, his Cover 2 scheme forces interceptions – Buffalo consistently had one of the best pass defenses in the NFL each year Fewell was a coach there. So Matt Moore should have thrown three picks against this defense.

A good quarterback will rarely ever throw three interceptions. Then there’s Peyton Manning. Peyton has thrown three picks in a game just 12 times in his entire 193-game career, and from 2003 until now it’s happened just twice. He’s a cerebral assassin, and he’s the only player in the league that can beat any scheme or gameplan a coach draws up. Especially if the Tampa Two scheme he’ll face this week is something his former coach, Tony Dungy, helped invent.

I’m not scared of Joe Addai and neither are the Giants. They’ll be keying on Peyton Manning and his talented corps of receivers, but even when you do focus your defensive gameplan on shutting the Colts’ aerial attack there’s still that chance they can burn you. With Reggie Wayne, Dallas Clark, Austin Collie, and Pierre Garcon, Peyton has plenty of weapons available in his arsenal. It’s only week 2, and already the Giants are facing potentially the best passing offense they’ll see all season. The Giants front four needs to get heavy pressure this week for 60 minutes (not 30), because the foundation of forcing turnovers in Fewell’s Cover 2 starts with putting pressure on the quarterback, and they absolutely need to play mistake-free defensive football. If the Giants can do that consistently for four quarters, then maybe they force Peyton to make some uncomfortable decisions.

— New York Running Game vs. Indianapolis Run Defense

The Colts defensive line got pushed around last week – and that’s me being nice. There were gaping holes that you could drive a bus through, and Adrian Foster lit them up to the tune of 33 carries for a ridiculous 231 yards. Their front four was getting blown off the ball, and their linebackers weren’t making any plays in the second level. It also looked like the Indy defense wasn’t really interested in the whole concept of “tackling”. Facing an undersized defense is an excellent matchup for the Big Blue running game. Ahmad Bradshaw has assumed a much larger role in the Giants’ running game this season, and trust me, he’s not about to disappoint. Not only did Bradshaw rank 7th in the NFL in carries (20) last week, but he also posted 93 total yards (76 rushing, 17 receiving) and a rushing touchdown. With Bradshaw getting most of the workload, Brandon Jacobs has descended to being running back number two. Last week, both backs combined for 32 carries and 120 yards (3.75 ypc), which to me is an average day. The Giants don’t want to get into many third-and-long situations, and with Colts safety Bob Sanders out, the Colts could be even more susceptible to the run.

If Arian Foster can run for 231, what can Lightning And Thunder do?

— Getting An Early Lead, And Improving In Seven Days

Giving the Colts offense an early 7-0 lead is exactly where the Giants don’t want to be. Getting on the board first allows the Giants to get into a nice groove offensively, and as the game goes on playing from behind forces an offensive coordinator to shy away from his gameplan. You saw what happened last week with the Colts: they were chasing a lead most of the game, and they went away from the running game very early – that’s why manning had 57 pass attempts. Not establishing the run caused an inability to keep the Texans pass rush in check, which also lead to Manning constantly getting hit. A run-first team like the Giants will stick with the ground game for as long as possible, and getting on the board first will help the running game be a success.

The Giants have lots of room to improve after last week. They committed four turnovers, were penalized nine times for 95 yards, and went 5 for 14 on third down. I can picture exactly how Coughlin voiced his opinion in this week’s meetings. His teams rarely play undisciplined like that, and it will hopefully be fixed in time for around 8:00 PM on Sunday night.

The special teams was awful, too. Rookie punter Matt Dodge had a 16.0-yard net average on his three punts, and also had one blocked in the fourth quarter. The Giants averaged 13.4 yards on kickoff returns and 6.8 on punt returns, while their coverage teams allowed Carolina 19.0 yards per punt return (!) and 24.6 on kickoffs. If this unit doesn’t make a drastic improvement this week, look for a massive overhaul. Soon.

Key Players: Peyton Manning (IND); Brandon Jacobs/Ahamd Bradshaw

As long as Peyton Manning can still take a snap from under center, defenses need to key on stopping him. He is the Colts’ offense. He was bombarded last week in Houston – constantly under pressure and constantly getting hit – and still went 40-57 for 433 yards and 3 TD’s. In order for the Giants to win, they need to put Peyton in position to make uncomfortable decisions. He could still rattle off a typical 300-plus yard day; but one turnover will change the entire course of a game. If the G-Men fail to put any pressure on Peyton, the Colts win this game hands-down.

The Colts’ run defense had serious trouble stopping Arian Foster last week, and they especially struggled against misdirection plays. The Giants’ coaching staff will take note of the problems the Colts had against counter plays and that could mean while Brandon Jacobs would figure to be a better matchup against the undersized Colts defense, Ahmad Bradshaw could actually have more success with cutbacks. Look for a solid mix of both backs again this week, with Bradshaw getting about 20 carries and Jacobs getting about 15.

Vegas’ Take: The Colts are 5 1/2 point favorites

Injuries:

Here are the names on this week’s injury report: Osi Umenyiora (knee), WR Hakeem Nicks (ankle), T Will Beatty (foot), LB Chase Blackburn (knee), TE Kevin Boss (concussion), LB Phillip Dillard (hamstring), CB Aaron Ross (foot), and LB Gerris Wilkinson (groin).

Nicks, who caught three touchdown passes last week, rolled his ankle early in the game and fought through it. That indicates the injury isn’t serious, so there’s nothing to worry about. The Colts secondary will be keying Nicks after the spectacular game he had against Carolina, but he should make a few more big plays again this week. After that performance, there’s no way he’d miss the chance to repeat it. Osi was said to be suffering from “wear and tear” in the left knee that he had surgically repaired in August of 2008. However, he was seen at practice yesterday with a wrap on his right knee. The Giants clarified that the “wear and tear” is in Osi’s right knee, not the repaired left knee. No word yet on his status or how it will effect his play Sunday, but I fully expect to see Osi get plenty of reps. Boss has officially been ruled out of Sunday’s game in Indianapolis.

Ross, who was inactive vs. Carolina, fully expects to make his season debut this Sunday night, probably as the nickel back. This would mark the first time in over a year that Ross will play at his natural position (when he did play last year, he was at safety), and playing corner against the Colts for the first time in over a year with an injured foot…well that’s not a best-case scenario by any means. But Ross is a solid player who didn’t look all that bothered by the injury during practice. He’s “probable”, and he’s good to go. Blackburn is listed as day-today, and Beatty is going to have surgery on his broken foot this week and is expected to be out 6-8 weeks.

Prediction:

Colts 28
Giants 24

This will no doubt be one of the better games this week – plenty of big plays and lots of exciting moments. The Giants should show improvement after last week’s enigmatic showing, and they will play good football for four quarters. Eli, Steve Smith, and Hakeem Nicks impress again, and the running game dominates the Colts undersized and ineffective defense. The blueprint for beating the Colts has always been this: constant, consistent pressure on Peyton Manning; and utilize a ball-control, time management approach on offense with a heavy dose of running the football. The Giants certainly know that blueprint well – that is, after all, Giants football – but they still need to execute it. The Giants need to: 1. Pressure Manning relentlessly, 2. Grind out yards like they did in the second half last week, and 3. The defense has to perform beyond last week’s level for them to have a chance at victory.

The Giants will be there until the end. I’m optimistic about our chances for a 2-0 start. But Peyton will still be Peyton after all.