Strategy And Personnel

The Sports Xchange

December 20, 2018 at 1:01 pm.


–WR T.Y. Hilton, the team’s leading receiver, said his sore ankle was more of a pain after he caught five passes for 85 yards against Dallas. The four-time Pro Bowl star, who has 67 receptions for 1,071 yards and six TDs, was a game-time decision after not practicing all last week but convinced coaches he could play. Hilton didn’t practice on Wednesday. He’s had 77 or more receiving yards in six consecutive games. He leads the NFL with 718 receiving yards in that stretch.

–The importance of Ryan Kelly’s return at center against the Cowboys after missing three games with a knee injury can’t be overstated. QB Andrew Luck hasn’t been sacked in Kelly’s last six starts. And in his 11 starts, the Colts have averaged 4.47 yards per rush (1,302 yards on 291 carries). In the three starts when he was sidelined, the Colts averaged 3.22 yards per rush (209 yards on 65 carries).

–Second-year running back Marlon Mack ran for a career-high 139 yards against Dallas. After managing just 358 rushing yards as a rookie backup in 14 games, he’s surpassed that total in three games with 139, 132 at Oakland and 126 against Buffalo. He’s the first Colts back to have three 100-yard rushing efforts in a season since Joseph Addai had four in 2007.

–The Colts placed nose tackle Al Woods on injured reserve with a foot injury, which subtracts a veteran presence who had eight starts this season. Woods had been recently replaced as a starter by Margus Hunt, who was shifted over to nose tackle to make room for rookie Tyquan Lewis getting more snaps at defensive end. Hunt now will be backed up by Grover Stewart, a second-year pro who has made 15 tackles mostly as a reserve in 13 games with one start.

–Also missing practice with Hilton on Wednesday were Ebron (quad), safety Clayton Geathers (knee), right guard Mark Glowinski (ankle), defensive tackle Margus Hunt (foot), wide receiver Dontrelle Inman (shoulder), safety George Odum (knee), defensive end Jabaal Sheard (ribs) and linebacker Anthony Walker (shoulder). Aside from Hilton being a Sunday question mark, Glowinski missed the last start. Geathers has been playing with his injury, although Reich admitted they scaled back his play count last Sunday, when Geathers still had eight total tackles. Geathers is third on the team with 89 total tackles in 12 games (missing two starts due to injury).

–Limited at Wednesday practice were safety Malik Hooker (hip), safety Mike Mitchell (calf) and cornerback Quincy Wilson (elbow). Mitchell’s participation was his first after missing all of practice and the last two starts.

PLAYER SPOTLIGHT: DT Denico Autry. After a slow start due to nagging ankle and hamstring injuries, the fifth-year pro has come on strong with six sacks in his last three starts. He leads the Colts with nine sacks despite missing four games. He also has two forced fumbles and blocked a Dallas field goal. The Colts signed Autry to a three-year, $17.8 million contract in the offseason. He entered this season with 10.5 career sacks in 56 games with Oakland.

GAME PLAN: The Colts were able to rely more on the run game against Dallas and will look to do the same against a Giants run defense that ranks 28th. Expect a healthy dose of Colts running back Marlon Mack, coming off a career-high 139 yards rushing with two scores against the Cowboys. Rookie backup running back Nyheim Hines has also been effective as a pass-catcher out of the backfield with 56 catches, which ranks third on the team. Hines has 16 catches for 111 yards in the last three games. The Colts like to throw short-range passes to disrupt the timing of the pass rush and prevent defenses from crowding the box to limit the run game. The Giants will key on Colts tight end Eric Ebron, who has made his share of big plays with 12 touchdown receptions. The fact that T.Y. Hilton has a gimpy ankle means Andrew Luck might look to Ebron more often.

The Giants offense makes no secret that much of the production comes from rookie running back Saquon Barkley, who has amassed 1,809 yards rushing and receiving with 13 touchdowns. The Colts didn’t stop NFL leading rusher Ezekiel Elliott on Sunday, but they limited his big plays and that will be the same focus against Barkley, who couldn’t get going against the Titans in finishing with just 31 yards rushing on 14 carries with four receptions for 25 yards. Colts coaches will try to take a page from the Titans defensive playbook in crowding the box and shadowing Barkley on every play. Before Sunday’s struggles, Barkley had ripped off four consecutive 100-yard rushing efforts including 170 the previous week against Washington. Giants quarterback Eli Manning has struggled to generate enough offense on a team that ranks 20th in points scored at 21.9 per game. He’s thrown just 18 touchdown passes with nine interceptions, in large part because of a lack of protection. Manning has taken a career-high 46 sacks, seven more than his previous high. The Colts defense has improved to 10th in fewest total yards allowed and 11th in fewest points allowed. But the unit is 15th against the pass, which means the pass rush must continue the Giants trend of not allowing Manning much time to throw. The Colts have 38 sacks, a marked improvement from 25 last season, with eight players registering more than one.

–Colts RCB Pierre Desir/Quincy Wilson vs. Giants WR Odell Beckham Jr. The Giants’ best wide receiver has missed the last two starts with a quad injury and didn’t practice on Wednesday, but Giants head coach Pat Shurmur advised that Beckham feels better and the team isn’t ready to place him on injured reserve despite the season being a lost cause. The Colts must prepare to face him. Although not always listed as a starter, Desir started on the right side against the Houston Texans two weeks ago and is expected to get his share of snaps in splitting time with Wilson. Beckham, a three-time Pro Bowl star, ranks 16th with 1,052 receiving yards. He’s caught 77 passes with six TDs.

–Colts DT Denico Autry vs. Giants LG Will Hernandez. Autry has been one of the league’s most productive defensive tackles in the past three weeks from the right side, where he’ll face Hernandez, a second-round selection who has started all 14 games this season. Autry has six sacks in the last three games and has been a continual backfield presence, be it quarterback hurries or tackles. He’s one of four Colts with 12 tackles for loss (Margus Hunt 13, Sheard 13, Leonard 12). Hernandez will have his hands full.