Colts beat Giants with ground attack

BY Alex Marvez • September 19, 2010

An embarrassing Sunday night incident best encapsulates the New York Giants’ 38-14 loss to Indianapolis.

Brandon Jacobs tried hurling his helmet against the bench following a sloppy third-quarter run. The helmet slipped from his grasp and landed in the Lucas Oil Stadium stands.

Jacobs and his Giants teammates could do little right on the field, either. But if he truly wanted to know what frustration is, Jacobs should have talked to the starting running back on the opposite sideline.

In the pregame hype for the brother vs. brother matchup known as the Manning Bowl, Joseph Addai was the equivalent of a second cousin. Even though he plays one of the game’s most high-profile positions, Addai was long considered an afterthought because of Peyton Manning’s passing prowess.

That is until Addai gave the Giants a painful reminder of his rushing talent when given ample opportunity.

Combined with the fierce pass rush of Colts defensive ends Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis, the Addai-led ground game was the key element of this blowout. He gained 92 of the Colts’ 160 rushing yards. That would be considered an off-game for a back like Tennessee’s Chris Johnson, but the numbers must be viewed in context. The Colts hadn’t rushed for that many yards since Week 4 of the 2007 season.

It seems like it has been that long since Addai was considered relevant.

As a rookie in 2006, Addai showed signs of becoming the second coming of Edgerrin James. It never happened. Injuries and the franchise’s philosophical shift to an even heavier aerial approach turned Addai into an offensive afterthought.

To his credit, Addai hasn’t complained publicly about the limitations of a role in which pass blocking and being an effective decoy are considered as important as carrying the rock. As Colts center Jeff Saturday put it, “He does what he’s asked to do. I’ve got a ton of respect for what he does.”

But trying to avoid becoming discouraged wasn’t easy either. He admitted Sunday night’s performance was a “confidence builder.”

“It’s hard,” Addai told after Sunday’s win. “I feel like I work so hard that something has to give regardless. The biggest thing is to keep sawing wood. That’s what we’ve been doing.”

Addai was the proverbial buzz saw Sunday night, showcasing the combination of speed, shiftiness and power that had made him a first-round draft choice. He did it from the game’s onset as the Colts took advantage of New York’s defensive approach. The Giants entered with such little respect for Indianapolis’ rushing attack that run-stuffing defensive tackle Rocky Bernard was deactivated to field an extra defensive back.

The Giants shouldn’t be blamed for such an approach. The Colts rushed only 10 times in a season-opening loss to Houston while passing 57 times. This continued the same trend from last season when the Colts finished with the NFL’s worst rushing attack but still managed to reach Super Bowl XLIV. The only time Indianapolis would truly focus on rushing the football came when trying to run clock while holding a lead.

“They were trying to challenge us,” Colts right tackle Ryan Diem said. “From the jump, they gave us a bunch of nickel and dime (formations).”

New York was so worried about the Colts’ passing attack that first-half formations sometimes featured just one linebacker — safety Deon Grant was moved into the box — and their self-titled “NASCAR” front with four ends across the line.

The approach crashed and burned.

A 7-yard Donald Brown touchdown run capped a balanced 12-play opening drive. The Colts made New York pay again on their first second-quarter possession. Addai and Brown combined for 44 yards as Indianapolis called runs on six of its first seven plays.

With that duo starting to roll, both Giants safeties bit on a first-down play-fake. Manning and Dallas Clark exploited the hole created in New York’s zone coverage. The Colts tight end made a 50-yard over-the-shoulder touchdown catch to give Indianapolis a 14-0 lead.

“A more balanced attack is going to help us,” Diem said. “It makes our play-actions go when we can run the ball. It opens up so much more of the game.”

In his 36 previous starts dating back to the 2007 season, Addai had rushed for more than 79 yards only once. He had 80 by halftime as the Colts opened a 24-0 advantage. Brown also enjoyed the best game of what has been a disappointing NFL career. The 2009 first-round draft pick, whose shaky pass-blocking has limited his playing time, pitched in with 69 yards and a touchdown on 16 carries.

“We’re never going to become a team that runs the ball more than we throw it,” Colts head coach Jim Caldwell told on Friday. “But we should be able to run the ball and run it effectively.”

Now that Indianapolis has done what Caldwell emphasized throughout last week’s practices, the question is whether the Colts are committed for the long haul. Addai acknowledged he wasn’t sure Indianapolis would stick with Sunday night’s formula for the rest of the season.

“It’s not about doing something well one week,” Manning said. “We’re trying to be a balanced team every single week.”

Addai said he spoke about the lack of opportunities with Clark during the preseason. But unlike Jacobs, Addai never lost his head — or the helmet that covers it — because he realizes winning is the most important thing for his team.

“Last year, I don’t think we weren’t able to run the ball,” Addai said. “We just weren’t getting the opportunity. The norm is to get frustrated and be upset and all that. You have to get past that and keep on moving.”