Behind Enemy Lines: Chargers vs. Colts II

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

Ed Thompson: So what are the aftershocks from the Adrian Peterson performance against San Diego last weekend? Is it being viewed as a fluke or are there serious concerns with the Colts coming to town with a pretty good running back in Joseph Addai?

Mike Lombardo: Peterson demoralized the Chargers with his 296-yard, three-touchdown performance. The Chargers haven't had a running back wear down their defense like that since Larry Johnson did it on Christmas Eve back in 2005. It was a rude wakeup call for a team that was riding high on a three-game winning streak.

The players blame Peterson's big day on poor tackling and a lack of execution. However, injuries also played a big part of it. Shaun Phillips missed the game with a groin injury, and Luis Castillo (ankle) and Quentin Jammer (hamstring) missed the second half, when Peterson gained 253 yards. Phillips will be back this week, while Castillo and Jammer are out.

Several defenders, most notably Shawne Merriman, have blamed the meltdown on a lack of attitude. With their season hanging in the balance, I expect the defense to have plenty of attitude on Sunday night.

ET: What's at the root of the Chargers running so hot and cold this season? Sometimes they look like two totally different teams?

ML: The Chargers have two powerful forces pulling in opposite directions. On one side, you have a supremely talented team with a dozen Pro Bowlers. On the other, you have an unqualified coaching staff that has made a habit of losing. In Norv Turner's 10 years as a head coach, his win totals are as follows: 3,6,9,8,6,10,7,5,4.

Another factor has been the schedule. The aggregate record of the four teams that defeated the Chargers is 23-10. The Chargers struggle to beat top-notch teams, which was true even last year. Of the team's 14 wins in 2006, only two came against opponents that went on to make the playoffs.

ET: Do you think San Diego will have to stray from their normal defensive game plan to help the secondary against Peyton Manning? And where are the strengths and weaknesses in that secondary?

ML: In past meetings, the Chargers have used their nickel formation as the base defense when facing the Colts. However, given San Diego's struggles against the run and the lack of healthy depth in the secondary, that will likely change on Sunday. Ted Cottrell will bring in extra defensive backs on passing downs, but expect the Chargers to stay true to their base 3-4 on most early downs.

With Jammer down on Sunday, the secondary has no strengths. Drayton Florence has the highest burn rate of any starting cornerback, Antonio Cromartie is a poor tackler, and Marlon McCree and Clinton Hart give up big plays and take bad angles to the ball. Eric Weddle has been impressive in the dime packages, but that is a slim silver lining.

ET: What's up with Phillip Rivers this season? He's failed to throw for even 200 yards in five of his games. What should the Colts defense expect to see from him this weekend?

ML: Rivers has obviously regressed this season. He is badly missing open receivers downfield and seems to have lost his poise in the pocket. The two stats that hurt the most: 1) he is on pace to finish with 24 turnovers, more than twice as many as last season; and 2) after leading the league in fourth-quarter passer rating in 2006 (113.2), he has seen that number more than cut in half (57.4).

The book is out on how defeat Rivers, something Vikings defenders acknowledged after last week's game. If teams bring pressure and get in his face early, Rivers becomes unsettled and loses his trademark accuracy. Recent opponents have tested this theory with a barrage of blitzes; the Colts will likely settle for the pass rush of Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis.

ET: Tight end Antonio Gates is having another strong year, leading San Diego in receptions and yardage. What's the Colts' best chance of limiting his effectiveness on Sunday?

ML: Gates is hands down the best tight end in the NFL. In fact, I could make a pretty good argument for him being the best pass-catcher, period. He sells his routes well, runs with deceptive speed and utilizes incredible body control to dominant one-on-one matchups.

The catch is that Gates is not a burner and needs time if he is going to make plays downfield. If the Colts can get to Rivers before Gates comes out of his breaks, then they can neutralize the Chargers' most important offensive player (yes, more important than even Tomlinson). It is up to Marcus McNeill and Shane Olivea to make sure that doesn't happen. Personally, I like McNeill's chances against Freeney more than Olivea's against Mathis.

ET: How have the Chargers' special teams looked, both in the returns game and in coverage?

ML: The Chargers are one of the best kick-coverage teams in the league. In the last four games, rivals have started 28 of 42 drives at or inside the 20-yard line. As for returns, Darren Sproles has breakaway speed but doesn't break enough tackles.

Of course, Cromartie has been hogging the special teams headlines in San Diego lately. He recovered a botched punt attempt for a score in week eight, then returned a missed field goal 109 yards for a score against the Vikings. Fans and media personnel are clamoring for Cromartie to get a chance to return kicks -- he returned 10 kickoffs for 297 yards last season, including a 91-yard return against the Oakland Raiders -- but for now, Norv Turner wants the youngster focusing on defense.

Michael Lombardo is a member of the Pro Football Writers of America and a long-time contributor to the network. He has followed the Chargers for more than 14 years and covered the team since 2003.

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