The Chargers go to Indianapolis Sunday night to play to Colts in a game that has playoff implications for both teams. The Colts, at 6-4 are wondering for the first time in awhile if they will make the playoffs. The Chargers at 5-5, and having won their last three games, are feeling more confident after blowing out the Broncos on Monday Night Football. Both teams face significant injury issues and will be relying on their Hall of Fame bound quarterbacks to pull this one out.
The Colts have an advantage in playing at home as they've been perfect there and the Chargers have been generally horrible on the road this year, but the Chargers have a superior supporting cast that will be the difference in this game.
San Diego's defense, as in last week's match against the Broncos, will be the difference in this game. Corners, Jammer and Cason, are playing at a high level and will be up for this game. The Broncos tried to pick on Cason last week and he responded with several break-ups and an interception. Safeties, Weddle and Oliver, have shown they understand the scheme and are showing excellent teamwork and communication in not allowing big plays.
With Joseph Addai out and a suspect run blocking scheme and commitment to begin with, the Chargers front seven will stifle the Colts' running game, forcing Manning to try and win it with his arm. The Chargers' athletic linebackers and sure tackling corners will limit the short passing game's effectiveness, forcing Peyton to throw the ball deeper, exposing him to the mistakes, interceptions and general lack of efficiency we've seen in the last four weeks. Looking at Peyton's stats, his quarterback rating has fallen dramatically over the last four weeks. Some of this can be attributed to injuries, and some to playing better defenses like the Patriots (and Chargers).
On the other side of the ball, the Colts have one of the worst run defenses in the league. The Chargers will take advantage of this and Rivers' efficiency, and methodically move the ball, keeping Peyton off the field. This will further frustrate the Colts, causing Manning to take even more chances. I expect the Chargers to come up with two or three interceptions en route to this victory.
In the passing game, the Colts' defense is stronger, with a lot of the credit going to defensive ends Mathis and Freeney coming off the edge. Chargers left tackle Marcus McNeil has shown he can handle Freeney in the past. We'll see how right tackle Jeromey Clary does with Mathis. In general, the Chargers' pass protection has been extremely solid since the return of McNeil, and they should be able to handle this challenge. If the Chargers do lose this game, it will be because they put themselves in a hole on special teams or with fumbles...or both, forcing Rivers' to make a late comeback with Freeney and Mathis pinning their ears back causing sacks, fumbles and general mayhem. The Chargers showed us last week that they are now a confident and aggressive football team again and I think those major mistakes of the first half of the season are behind them.
A couple other factors will contribute to Sunday's victory for San Diego: Sproles loves the fake stuff. While the little guy may have trouble churning those little legs on the wet and muddy stuff, he thrives on the field turf. Look for him to have an extra spark in the return game, on screens, and sneaky short passes up the middle like last week. He'll have at least one huge play...On the Chargers defense, I noticed something I hadn't seen all year that just might be the harbinger of interesting things to come: the aggressiveness of the defensive line. This group has been in survival mode since the injury and departure of Jamal Williams last year. Last week though, second year player Vaughn Martin and rookie Cam Thomas both had sacks and looked like they were actually having fun out there. Luis Castillo even made a couple of tackles for negative yardage. This group may be realizing their athletic potential and how aggressive they can be. If so, the Chargers can really become a legitimate top defense in the NFL (in accordance with their previously suspect stats).
A victory this week should set San Diego up perfectly to catch the Chiefs, at the same time, put the Indiapolis Mannings'...I mean Colts', season in jeopardy. Both teams are at a crossroads as franchises. The Chargers have attempted to reload with some younger players with great potential that may just be starting to pay off. The Colts may have put too many of their eggs in Manning's basket, with this game being the tipping point to a long frustrating slide downward.
Chargers 27, Colts 17