Defense takes center stage

The Chargers defense took center stage on Sunday in their win over the Colts but they had help from other phases of the game to make it happen.

Chargers Report Card:

PASSING OFFENSE: C -- How rare is it to knock off a 13-0 team when the quarterback turns the ball over three times? That's was what Drew Brees did Sunday, but he completed enough big passes at critical times that the Chargers were able to overcome the miscues. He finished 22-of-33 for 255 yards and a touchdown. The pass-blocking was fine as he was sacked but once. Big catches downfield from Eric Parker and Keenan McCardell.

RUSHING OFFENSE: A -- You run for 206 yards against the Colts defense and you get an A. Eighty-three of those yards came on Michael Turner's big carry at the end. A bigger issue is Turner was on the field, and not LaDainian Tomlinson. Tomlinson started well but as the game wore on his bruised chest started to bother him so he took himself out for the final two minutes. Tomlinson ended up with 76 yards on 24 carries. He's now gone three games without a touchdown. The run-blocking was solid, and that includes FB Lorenzo Neal, who sprung Turner for his long touchdown with a devastating lead block.

PASS DEFENSE: B -- The Chargers feel fortunate to have Peyton Manning put it in the air 45 times and to only give up one score. He did throw for 336 yards. But Manning was under constant pressure as he was sacked four times; he had been sacked but 12 times in the previous 13 games. The Chargers made him uncomfortable, which allowed the defensive backs to not have to track the receivers for so long. Drayton Florence and Quentin Jammer -- the team's top two corners -- finally got their first interceptions of the season.

RUSH DEFENSE: A -- All the Colts could manage was but 24 rushing yards, as the Chargers proved once again why they are the NFL's top run defense. Edgerrin James, the NFL's second-leading rusher, had but 25 yards on 13 carries for a 1.9-yard average. Jamal Williams was the key, anchoring the line's middle. Donnie Edwards led the team with nine tackles, but don't overlook the work of Luis Castillo (five tackles, sack) and Igor Olshansky (four tackles, one sack).

SPECIAL TEAMS: A -- K Nate Kaeding had a career-day, hitting all four of his field goal attempts, giving him a big dose of confidence as he enters these critical two final games. The coverage units might have played as well as they have all year. Not much from the return game, especially with PR Eric Parker leaving early with a foot injury. But the big news here is the improvement of the coverage units.

COACHING: A -- Marty Schottenheimer did a masterful job of having his club put that disappointing loss to the Dolphins behind them and doing something no other NFL team has done all year: beat the Colts. But give credit, too, to defensive coordinator Wade Phillips. His defensive scheme caused the Colts problems all day, as he sent various rushers from various angles to pester Manning. The Chargers also played more man coverage than in games past, showing the Colts something that didn't reveal itself much on Film.

Colts Report Card:

PASS OFFENSE: B-minus - Yes, QB Peyton Manning completed 26 of 45 passes for 336 yards and a touchdown. Manning spread the ball around between six receivers. That's the good news. But the Colts also allowed Manning to be sacked a season-high four times while Manning was picked off twice. He also had a costly intentional grounding penalty called against him that took Indianapolis out of field goal range midway through the fourth quarter.

RUSH OFFENSE: D - It was, quite simply, the worst running performance of the season for the Colts. RB Edgerrin James was limited to 25 yards in 13 carries. Manning had minus-1 yard in two runs, including on a bootleg pass on a fourth-and-goal at the San Diego 1-yard line. James averaged 1.9 yards per rushing attempt. As a team, Indianapolis averaged 1.6 yards per rush.

PASS DEFENSE: C - Indianapolis got to San Diego QB Drew Brees once, but it was a big play as DE Dwight Freeney forced a fumble near the Chargers' end zone. The Colts intercepted Brees twice, by LB Gary Brackett and CB Nick Harper. But Brees managed to complete 22 of 33 passes for 255 yards and a touchdown, including a third-and-9 pass from deep in his own territory to WR Keenan McCardell, which went for 54 yards and allowed the Chargers the opportunity to kick the go-ahead field goal in the fourth quarter. The Colts allowed three pass plays of 20 yards or more and two of 40 yards or more.

RUSH DEFENSE: C - The Colts weren't doing too bad a job against the run. That is, until rookie RB Michael Turner picked up 113 yards on just eight carries. Turner's 83-yard touchdown run late in the fourth quarter was the back-breaker. Indianapolis had limited San Diego's LaDainian Tomlinson to 76 yards in 24 carries.

SPECIAL TEAMS: C-plus - Where do we start? A fumbled kickoff return by RB Dominic Rhodes. Inconsistent kickoffs by kickoff specialist Dave Rayner. Rayner's failed attempt on a 59-yard field goal attempt at the end of the first half. The bright spots included a pretty good performance by P Hunter Smith, who averaged 45 yards per punt overall and 37 yards net on six punts, and better than average kickoff coverage. PK Mike Vanderjagt made his only field goal attempt, from 32 yards out.

COACHING: C-plus - The Indianapolis Colts were mentally and physically prepared to play the San Diego Chargers on Sunday, that much is clear. But the question can be asked if the Colts were emotionally prepared to face a Chargers team that came into the game with its back to the wall and needing a win desperately in order to stay in contention for a wild-card spot in the AFC playoffs. Indianapolis couldn't match San Diego's intensity during the game and that may have proved to be the edge that the Chargers needed.


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