Behind Enemy Lines: Chargers vs. Colts I

Our Scout.com experts, Mike Lombardo of SDBoltReport.com and Ed Thompson of ColtPower.com, analyze Sunday's game between the Chargers and Colts at Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego. Let's start this two-part series with six questions from Mike to Ed.

Mike Lombardo: The Colts are coming off a tough defeat in the most over-hyped game of the season. What does this do to them mentally? Are they prime for a letdown after the marquee game with the Patriots? Or are they all the more dangerous coming off a loss?

Ed Thompson: I believe you're going to see a very focused effort from Indianapolis. The offense especially is not a real emotional group. They are a very business-like bunch even during the game. The defense feeds more off of emotion, so I think you'll see that group pretty fired up on the field in reaction to the loss. These guys take a lot of pride in performing at a high level, so I think they'll come out feeling as though they have something to prove.

Last year, after their first loss of the season against Dallas, they went into a bit of a slide. So I think that's going to be in the back of their minds and they'll want to quickly dispel any notion in their minds or in anyone else's that they're about to go through the same experience. I think the guy who will be the most dangerous this weekend will be Peyton Manning as he was clearly disappointed in how the offense performed and will undoubtedly be heading to San Diego feeling a high level of responsibility to turn that around.

ML: In recent meetings against the Chargers, the Colts have relied more on the short passing game than the running game. Will that change after the Colts saw what Adrian Peterson did to the Chargers? Or will the Colts stick with what has worked in the past?

ET: Joseph Addai is running very well, so I'm sure you're going to see them test the Chargers early. In fact, some observers wondered why the Colts didn't stick more consistently with the run than they did last week because the second-year back was clearly a dominant force when he got the ball in his hands in the first half. But the Colts are very consistent in their approach to each game. They will try to decipher what the opposing defense is trying to do and will take what they are giving them.

So if San Diego comes out in a nickel package, they'll challenge them with a higher mix of runs. If they blitz, they'll work the short-passing game. If they stay in a standard 3-4, you'll see a good balance of run and pass with Manning taking shots down the field wherever he spots the potential one-on-one matchups.

ML: What is the status of Marvin Harrison going into Sunday's game? Is he expected to play and will he be 100 percent if he does?

ET: Marvin saw some limited practice on Wednesday, and that's a good sign. Heading into last weekend, doctors reportedly said he could play, but that an extra week of resting the knee would help ensure that the knee would be stable the rest of the season. So the Colts took the more conservative route -- stacking the deck against themselves a bit with New England coming to town -- in hopes of keeping him healthy the rest of the way.

Unless he has a setback as he continues to increase his practice time, he should play. That's huge for Indianapolis as they lost their No. 3 wide receiver, rookie Anthony Gonzalez, who is likely to be out anywhere from 2-3 weeks reportedly due to a dislocated thumb.

ML: Several teams (Patriots, Chiefs and Vikings) have stifled the Chargers' offense by loading the box and unleashing blitzes early and often. However, the Colts are not a team that blitzes very often. Will they bring more blitzes against the Chargers or will they stay true to their zone-coverage roots?

ET: You're right, the Colts don't use the blitz often. Occasionally you may see cornerback Marlin Jackson blitz while covering the slot receiver. Although he's the team starting right cornerback, the Colts like to move him inside to cover the slot because he's their most physical cornerback and if teams run out of a three wide receiver set, it gives them another hitter inside.

You'll also see middle linebacker Gary Brackett bring it on a delayed blitz or a stunt from time to time. I'd be surprised to see them do it often, though. The Colts believe in their system, and other than to occasionally catch the opponent off guard, they usually come out and play their normal scheme.

ML: Bob Sanders seems to be all over the field delivering big hits and snuffing out runs in the backfield. Is there a way to capitalize on his over-aggression? Have any recent opponents succeeded in exposing this?

ET: I can't recall the last time I saw a team really neutralize him or get him out of position. I'd say that he more accurately plays with a controlled aggression, which is why he's so dangerous. The Colts defense is set up to keep runners funneled to the inside, which makes it easier for Sanders to come up and deliver the big hit.

When teams try to run to the outside, he uses good angles to slice past blockers. And in general, the Colts defense has such good team speed that teams have found it difficult to run outside as they have the speed to swarm to the ball carrier. When the Colts have given up a big running play, it's usually inside the tackles and due to someone missing their gap assignment.

ML: What Colts player will be the X-factor in Sunday's game? Is there anyone Chargers fans don't know about who could help decide the outcome of Sunday's game?

ET: Two come to mind, and they're both on defense. Rookie defensive tackle Ed Johnson is the team's surprise starter at left defensive tackle, filling in for the injured Anthony "Booger" McFarland who was placed on injured reserve before the start of the season. Johnson was not only an undrafted free agent, but the former Penn State player wasn't even signed by Indy until about the middle of May, two weeks after all teams had gone through the initial flurry of signing undrafted college players. He's really helped the run defense tremendously and could play a big role in helping slow LaDainian Tomlinson.

The other one is second-year safety Antoine Bethea out of Howard University. A sixth-round pick in 2006 who started as a rookie, Bethea has been the perfect complement to Sanders. While he doesn't lay the wood to opponents like Sanders, he's a very sure and consistent tackler, especially in open-field situations when the running back has broken loose. And he currently leads the team in interceptions with three, including one against Tom Brady last week.

Ed Thompson's player interviews and NFL features are published across the Scout.com network and are syndicated through FOXSports.com. You can contact him by email through this link.


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