The Indianapolis Colts had won five games in a row before last week's 51-34 loss to Pittsburgh. The New York Giants had won three in a row before losing in Philadelphia and Dallas prior to last week's bye. These two teams are looking to remind everyone of better times as they meet at MetLife Stadium on "Monday Night Football."
ESPN Colts reporter Mike Wells and ESPN Giants reporter Dan Graziano are here with your game preview:
Wells: Dan, the Cowboys went from Super Bowl contenders to having to worry about Tony Romo's back, and the Eagles are coming off a loss. Do you feel like the Giants have a realistic shot at winning the NFC East?
Graziano: It's not impossible, but I don't think it's realistic. They trail Dallas by 2½ games and Philadelphia by two, and they lost to each of those teams before the bye. The idea that they could catch both is far-fetched, especially since they can't go 2-0 against either.
Fundamentally, I just don't think the Giants are very good. Eli Manning is playing well in the new offense, but the group around him is made up of young guys and backups. Injuries to Victor Cruz (out for the year) and Rashad Jennings (who will miss a third straight game) have sapped the offense of much of its explosiveness, and guys such as Odell Beckham, Rueben Randle, Larry Donnell and Andre Williams have shown promise but are still developing. The offensive line, also quite young in spots, has been inconsistent. On the defensive side, they're extremely banged up at cornerback and they just lost middle linebacker Jon Beason for the season.
The Giants are a team with a clear vision for the future and they've already shown progress in the new offense, but they're going to be outmanned most weeks.
How about the Colts? The group around Andrew Luck seems to have come together better than I expected it would. What are the main reasons (other than himself) that Luck is leading the league in passing yards?
Wells: The main reason is that Luck's ability to spread the ball around makes it difficult for defenses to key on one area. He had back-to-back games earlier this season where he completed passes to nine different receivers. Another reason: Two key players -- receiver Reggie Wayne and tight end Dwayne Allen -- are back after having their 2013 seasons cut short. Wayne is second on the team with 434 receiving yards -- trailing only T.Y. Hilton -- despite missing the Pittsburgh game. Allen is tied with former Giants running back Ahmad Bradshaw for the team lead in receiving touchdowns with six.
Offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton took a lot of criticism last season for being determined to make Indianapolis a power-running team despite having Luck at quarterback. Hamilton is more comfortable in Year 2 as an NFL coordinator and it's showing, as the Colts run the ball just enough to keep defenses honest.
Manning is 22nd in the league in passing yards. Would it be safe to say he's on the decline of his career, or does he have enough left in the tank to win his third Super Bowl ring at some point?
Graziano: I don't think he's declining. They just totally changed the offensive system. Longtime coordinator Kevin Gilbride "retired" (cough, was forced out, cough) and was replaced by Ben McAdoo, a former Packers assistant who brought Mike McCarthy's West Coast offense with him. The emphasis for Manning has been on avoiding turnovers after leading the league with 27 interceptions last year, and as a result the Giants are leaning hard on the run and the short-passing game. A whopping 67 percent of Manning's throws have traveled fewer than 10 yards down the field, compared with 61 and 62 percent the two seasons prior.
It's possible the offense develops more of a downfield element as everyone continues to develop -- especially first-round rookie Beckham, who has field-stretching speed but has only played three games. GM Jerry Reese said Monday that he'd like to see the offense be more aggressive, but coach Tom Coughlin has insisted that they're not looking to take more chances downfield and prefer to play it close to the vest so as to avoid a recurrence of last year's turnover problems.
Long term, I think Manning has enough time to win another Super Bowl if this new group develops around him. I imagine he'll get his contract extension this offseason, and the way the league is set up for quarterbacks right now, it's not crazy to think he has five or six good years left.
When we talked to Eli on Monday, he said he'd watched the Colts' past two games and noted the significant difference in the number of points they surrendered in them. His take was that the defensive scheme wasn't different but that Pittsburgh did a great job against it, while Cincinnati obviously did not. What on earth went wrong Sunday, and which Colts defense is the one we should expect to see Monday?
Wells: I'm not even sure the Colts know what went wrong against the Steelers. There wasn't a defense in the league that probably could have stopped Ben Roethlisberger. Defensive lineman Ricky Jean Francois summed it up best when he said they got a wake-up call and Roethlisberger was a step ahead of them the entire game. He found the soft spots of the defense when they played zone and torched them when they blitzed. He also laid out the blueprint on how to beat a Colts defense that had 20 sacks and nine turnovers in the five games leading up to that matchup. Indy's front seven couldn't get any pressure on Roethlisberger; it was the first time since Week 2 that the Colts didn't have a sack.
Luck has thrown for at least 300 yards in six straight games. The Giants are 25th in the league against the pass. How do they expect to slow Luck down?
Graziano: Their best bet is that the offense clicks and they put together long, sustained drives that keep Luck off the field for long stretches. Their pass defense is in tatters. Top cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie has been trying to play through leg and back injuries, and he doesn't seem to have improved much over the bye. They lost nickelback Walter Thurmond (arm) and backup nickel Trumaine McBride (thumb) to a season-ending injuries.
To overcome those losses, they've been putting Prince Amukamara on the opposing team's top receiver and experimenting with a three-safety look that includes Antrel Rolle, Quintin Demps and Stevie Brown, who was demoted earlier in the year due to ineffectiveness. It would help if they could generate more pressure on opposing quarterbacks, but in spite of a solid performance against the run, Jason Pierre-Paul and the rest of the defensive line have not been getting sacks. (As a team, the Giants have only 13 in seven games.) Luck has a chance for a big night.
If Luck does have a big night, however, it doesn't seem as though former Giant Hakeem Nicks will be a part of it. Has he been as much of a non-factor there as he was here last year, and if so, why do the Colts think that is?
Wells: The Colts are saying the right things publicly, but it's been a mystery why Nicks hasn't been a factor. Last weekend's game basically summed up his time with the Colts. With Wayne out with an elbow injury, Nicks was the No. 2 receiver, but he was clearly outplayed by rookie Donte Moncrief. Nicks only caught one of the six targets from Luck for 27 yards while playing 60 of 66 snaps. Moncrief only needed 40 snaps to catch seven passes for 113 yards and a touchdown. You would have thought having a bigger role in the offense would help Nicks. Now you have to wonder if he'll fit in at all this season because Wayne will likely play Monday and Moncrief's performance may have been good enough to move him ahead of Nicks as the third receiver.
Graziano: Thanks, Mike. Travel safe and I'll see you Monday.