Can Chargers Corral the Colts?

The Chargers' three-game winning streak came to a screeching halt after last week's deflating loss to the Minnesota Vikings. However, a win over the 7-1 Indianapolis Colts would notify the league that the Chargers are for real. Here are some matchups to watch, game scenarios and final predictions.

Offensive matchup to watch: Shane Olivea vs. Robert Mathis

This matchup is intriguing because each player's strength coincides with the other's weakness. Olivea is a blue-collar mauler who wears defenders down in the running game and seals off the backside of plays, opening gaping cutback lanes for LaDainian Tomlinson. Olivea has 67 lbs. on Mathis and should be able to push him back off the line.

Mathis is a speed rusher who explodes off the line and uses tremendous leverage to dip his shoulder and get into the quarterback. Olivea's short wingspan and limited foot-speed give him a big disadvantage in pass protection, especially in obvious passing situation. On third-and-long, the Chargers will use Brandon Manumaleuna to help out against Mathis. That can debilitate the offense, however, if it forces Tomlinson to stay in and help with Dwight Freeney on the other side.

Defensive matchup to watch: Drayton Florence vs. Reggie Wayne

This is not how Florence wanted to play in a contract year. He has the worst burn ratio of any starting cornerback in the NFL and seems to give up big plays at the worst times, such as the 40-yard touchdown to rookie Sidney Rice last week. If he owns one redeeming quality that gives him a chance against Wayne, it's his ability to match Wayne's physicality.

Wayne will be the unquestioned No. 1 receiver as Marvin Harrison sits with a knee injury. Wayne is sure to garner his share of receptions and yards; the key for Florence is to disallow the big plays and to capitalize on any turnover opportunities that come his way.

The Chargers will win if…LaDainian Tomlinson runs for 5-plus yards per carry. A big game by L.T. is crucial for a couple of reasons: 1) it takes the pressure off Philip Rivers; and 2) it keeps Peyton Manning off the field. Time of possession will be especially important in this game now that the Chargers are without Luis Castillo. There are only three healthy defensive ends on the roster and they will get worn out if left on the field too long.

The Chargers will lose if…they register two or fewer sacks on Manning. The reason Manning typically struggles against 3-4 defenses is because of the unique brand of pressure they apply. That was true last time these teams met, when the Chargers got him four times en route to a 26-17 victory. Ted Cottrell has switched to a read-and-react system this year, but he will have to dial up some pressure to disrupt a potent Colts offense.

Final prediction: Colts 27, Chargers 24

Both teams are supremely talented so this should be a close game. If the Colts have the ball last, I like Manning's chances against a secondary missing Quentin Jammer. If the Chargers have the ball last, I don't believe Rivers can deliver during crunch time.

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


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