New York Giants
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The break is over for the New York Giants, who after starting with a disappointing 3-4 season, now will turn their attention to what they're viewing as a nine-game season that starts on Monday night against the Indianapolis Colts.
Despite a 51-34 loss to Pittsburgh last week, the Colts are a formidable test for the Giants, who spent their bye week doing some soul-searching in an attempt to figure out why a three-game winning streak suddenly morphed into a disastrous two-game slide that included a 27-0 shutout to the Eagles in Week 6.
Head coach Tom Coughlin, who on the Giants' first day back this week challenged them to play above the Xs and Os, is hoping that the team has the answers necessary to right the ship.
"You study yourself and you try to come up with reasons, ways in which you can improve. You have a chance as a staff to sit and talk about things that you normally don't have that opportunity," he told the Colts media on a conference call.
"Then when the players come back you have a chance to apply four or five things that you've decided are very important for them to maybe structurally or strategically go ahead and take a hard look at and try to improve, adjust or whatever you think is necessary."
The areas in which the Giants need to improve just so happen to be ones where the Colts are strong.
For starters, the Giants will be looking to jump-start their running game, which will likely be without starter Rashad Jennings for a third straight week, against a Colts defense that is allowing opponents an average of 99.2 yards per game.
The Giants' run blocking of late hasn't been much to write home about. New York has failed to open many holes for rookie Andre Williams; as a result, they have averaged 94.5 yards per game since Williams stepped in for Jennings.
On defense, the Giants cornerback situation is scary looking due to injuries. Starter Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie continues to battle hamstring and back ailments, and is not a lock to play on Monday night.
If Rodgers-Cromartie can't go, Zack Bowman will presumably get the nod there for the second game in a row. Jayron Hosley, meanwhile, will handle the slot cornerback duties against the Colts' toped-ranked passing attack, which is averaging 336.5 passing yards per game.
The news isn't much better for the Giants' run defense, which has been gouged the last two weeks by the Eagles and Dallas to the tune of 359 yards-just 136 yards more than they gave up in their first five games to opponents.
This week, New York will face old friend Ahmad Bradshaw without defensive tackle Cullen Jenkins (calf) and middle linebacker Jon Beason (toe) the rest of the way.
Of course, the head of the Colts offense is quarterback Andrew Luck, whose 2,731 passing yards leads the NFL.
This season, Luck has thrown touchdown passes to eight different targets, with Bradshaw and tight end Dwayne Allen leading the receivers with six apiece.
"They utilize any number of personnel combinations and they do a good job with it, and their quarterback is very, very good," Coughlin said. "He's able to recognize defenses and put the ball where he wants it and he's had big play after big play made this year. So it's not an easy thing to try to defend."
Although on paper it seems as though the Colts present an insurmountable challenge, Giants quarterback Eli Manning, who hopes to match the Colts' firepower, believes it's not impossible.
"I think it's important for us just to play smart football and find completions," he said. "If there are opportunities to take some shots down the field and hit some shots down the field, it'd be nice to hit some big plays. We still have to find completions."
SERIES HISTORY: 15th regular-season meeting. Colts lead series, 8-6. The two teams have met twice in the postseason, both times wins by the Colts, who were headquartered in Baltimore. The Giants are 3-6 against the Colts at home.