Battered Peyton eyeing Giant task
Posted: Thursday, September 16, 2010 7:40 pm
By: By MICHAEL MAROT, AP Sports Writer
INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Peyton Manning walked into the Colts locker room Wednesday, stood tall and answered every question.
To the league’s four-time MVP, it’s just another game week.
He’s facing a formidable foe, a familiar quarterback — another Manning — and a defense that poses as many challenges as the one that just beat him up in Houston. To the older brother, it’s time to forget about the past.
“I don’t really keep a count, I guess,” Manning said, when asked whether he was hit more than usual in the season-opener.
The short answer is yes.
But it’s not just the Colts’ franchise quarterback in an unusual predicament heading into Manning Bowl II.
Instead of taking an undefeated record into November, as the Colts have four of the five previous seasons, they’re 0-1 and in dire need of protecting their home field Sunday. They have lost the division opener for only the second time since the AFC South was established in 2002, and the six-time division champs suddenly find themselves in last place.
Hey, it could be worse.
The relentless battering that Manning took last weekend has been replayed dozens of times on local and national TV and in film rooms in Indianapolis and New York. Fortunately, for the Colts, Manning survived the countless twists and tugs, pushes and shoves to give his offensive line another chance against Eli and the Giants.
“We weren’t good enough, flat out, across the board,” right tackle Ryan Diem said of the line’s play. “We’ve got to get that corrected. Our No. 1 goal every week is pass protection, to keep him off the ground, to keep him healthy.”
It will be quite a challenge against a Giants defense that has made pressuring quarterbacks a decades-long quest.
No, Lawrence Taylor and Michael Strahan won’t be around this Sunday, but new coordinator Perry Fewell has plenty of help.
Former Pro Bowl defensive ends Osi Umenyiora and Justin Tuck form, perhaps, the best pass-rushing tandem east of Indianapolis. The third end, Mathias Kiwanuka, is returning to his hometown after posting two sacks against Carolina. In all, the Giants had four sacks last Sunday and knocked Panthers quarterback Matt Moore out of the game with a concussion.
And this week, Fewell might add some new packages to test Manning and his offensive line, which isn’t 100 percent.
Left tackle Charlie Johnson finally returned last week after missing 32 days and all four preseason games with a sprained right foot. Pro Bowl center Jeff Saturday also started last week, a month after having arthroscopic surgery on his right knee, and Jamey Richard is expected to make his second career start at left guard.
The combination against Houston didn’t work too well. Manning got hit between the shoulder blades, high and low on the same play, even tripped over a teammate as he threw the ball.
Unless the Colts block better, the Giants will likely take the same tack.
“They’re very athletic, with a lot of flat out athleticism showing up at all phases: the front, the linebackers, the safeties,” Manning said. “There is a lot of speed.”
The defensive strategy is hardly a secret.
For almost all of Manning’s 13 NFL seasons, opponents ranging from the Patriots to the Saints have tried to find new ways to keep Manning on the run.
“I can give the defense here all the information that I can and it’s all: Can we get to Peyton? Can we knock him down? Can we get to him before he gets the ball out? You can know a route is coming and still not cover it,” said Jim Sorgi, Manning’s former backup who signed with New York during the offseason. “You have to get lucky. You have to hit him, hit him early and force some turnovers and get them to punt once in a while.”
Few have succeeded.
But if last weekend’s game proved anything it was this: The Colts offense isn’t the same when Manning gets hit.
While he finished 40 of 57 for 433 yards with three touchdowns, no interceptions, a career high for completions and the third-highest yardage total of his career, the Colts tried to protect Manning with quicker passes in the second half and never could catch up to Houston.
This week, the Colts will face a similar defensive style with what they hope will be different results.
“We have pretty high standards in terms of what we believe and how pass protection should be handled to keep the quarterback off the ground,” coach Jim Caldwell said Wednesday. “One time is too many, so he got hit a few times too many and we’ve got to do a better job this week.”
AP Sports Writer Tom Canavan in East Rutherford, N.J., contributed to this report.