Looking back at my picks for the games yesterday, I didn’t do too bad. Week 1 is always difficult because you really have no idea what teams will do coming out of the box. Many things happened yesterday that were surprising. For me, the biggest surprises were not two NFC South playoff teams (Carolina and Tampa Bay) losing to revamped, reinvigorated teams (Atlanta and Baltimore, respectively). How about St. Louis beating the AFC runner-up from last year, the Denver Broncos? How about the Detroit Lions, under the leadership of former Bucs coach Rod Marinelli, having a slugfest with the NFC conference champion Seattle Seahawks?
I don’t want to pick on Brett Favre here. I don’t believe you should kick a dog when he’s down. Still, I recall Favre saying this Packer team was as talented as the Super Bowl version of the Packers. While that could still be true (seriously), Favre said yesterday, “Maybe we just ain’t that good.” The Bears would probably agree with the latter assessment. 26-0 shutouts have a way of convincing your opponents that you might be as bad as you believe.
The Manning Bowl was unspectacular. I have to say this – the Colts are an impressive team in person. They are a really undersized defense, but they are blazing fast. On offense, the Colts are a well-oiled machine. Peyton Manning deserves credit for being able to orchestrate his offense in loud stadiums. The Colts make extensive use of hand signals and other tools to call and execute plays. Crowd noise at Giants Stadium was a non-factor. I don’t recall a single false start by the Colts offensive line. Marvin Harrison is a great route runner. A DB has to play his best. Joey Porter said the Colts wanted to make teams think, rather than just play. While the national media had a chuckle about this, Porter was right on. The Colts run the clock down to a few seconds (they play ball control at the line of scrimmage) and spend much of that time giving the appearance of changing plays.
Last night the Colts played 2 tight ends for most of the game: Dallas Clark and Ben Utecht. Clark often lined up in the slot. The Giants countered mostly with nickel defenses. Lavar Arrington was not on the field for many plays and he seldom blitzed. However, on one play when he did blitz, his pressure led to an interception. Arrington spent most of the night in coverage on Dallas Clark as he split out wide. On this play, he lined up over Clark, slid to inside and Clark was blanketed by another linebacker and R.W. McQuarters. Manning saw Arrington and proceeded to fire a pass directly to Dallas Clark that never made it. McQuarters picked it off and ran it back for some additional yardage. Of course, the Giants did nothing with this opportunity.
The Giants had the ball twice in the second half trailing by two points. On the first series, the Giants took a penalty on 3rd and 1, then failed to convert a 3rd and 6. On the second series, Eli Manning fumbled. While the last two drives of the game were significantly impacted by the referees calling penalties against Tim Carter and Jeremy Shockey, the tone of the second half was set when the Giants failed to capitalize on either of these earlier chances. I picked the Giants because I felt they would be able to run – and that the Colts would not be able to run. I also said that Tiki Barber would need about 22 carries – and that 25 would really get it down. Barber went over 100 yards on only 18 carries. He didn’t get the ball enough for the Giants to begin to impose their will. Four more carries would have made a tremendous difference on any one of four drives the Giants had in the second half – but penalties and dropped passes precluded the Giants from sustaining a drive. It has to be a tough loss for the Giants. At one point in the second half, I looked up at the score board and the Giants were leading in rushing yards 170 to 23, but still trailing on the scoreboard.