Chargers-Colts Primer

The Chargers don their Powder Blues and run out under the bright lights of Sunday Night Football to take on Peyton Manning and the Colts. The Chargers will try to steal a page from the Vikings' book and run away with a victory, while Manning will pick on a depleted San Diego secondary. Catch up on the matchups in this week's game-day primer.

WHEN THE CHARGERS RUN

Establishing the running game will be key for the Chargers as they aim to make life easier for Philip Rivers and to keep Peyton Manning off the field. LaDainian Tomlinson saves his best for the home audience -- he has scored at least one touchdown in nine of the last 12 home games -- and a big game on Sunday night could cement his spot in the Hall of Fame.

Tomlinson is 167 rushing yards shy of 10,000 for his career. Also, he is three rushing scores away from tying Walter Payton (110) for third place on the all-time list.

However, the Indianapolis Colts' defensive speed makes life difficult for the shifty Tomlinson. The Colts' fast linebackers make it nearly impossible to bounce plays to the outside, and running up the middle will be tough with Nick Hardwick out another week. The Colts held L.T. under 4 yards per carry in each of their last two meetings.

The Chargers may give more carries to Michael Turner, whose bruising, north-and-south running style matches up well with Indy's undersized front seven. Turner averages fewer than five carries per game, but his per-carry average is more than 6 yards for the second consecutive season. The Colts have a strong dislike for Turner after his 83-yard touchdown run ended their bid for a perfect season back in 2005.


QB Philip Rivers
Christian Petersen/Getty

WHEN THE CHARGERS PASS

The Colts' passing defense ranks third in the league, allowing fewer than 175 yards per game. That is bad news for San Diego's struggling aerial attack. Last week against the Minnesota Vikings and their No. 32 pass defense, Rivers completed less than 50 percent of his passes for 197 yards with no scores, an interception and a lost fumble.

The key to turning those numbers around against the Colts is pass protection. Although Dwight Freeney's sack numbers have been down the last couple of seasons (5.5 in 2006, 3.5 in 2007), he still has the quicks to dominate off the edge. Robert Mathis has averaged 10 sacks over the last two seasons and comes off a two-sack game against the New England Patriots. Marcus McNeill and Shane Olivea will have their hands full, although they will get some help from Tomlinson and Brandon Manumaleuna.

When Rivers has time, his first read will be No. 85. Antonio Gates ranks second among tight ends in catches (47), yards (649) and touchdowns (five). Gates looks to bounce back from a tough outing against the Vikings in which he gained fewer yards than Legedu Naanee, Kassim Osgood and even Manumaleuna.

Rivers also hopes for improved chemistry with his wide receivers after he missed Chris Chambers once and Vincent Jackson twice on potential long touchdowns last week. The passing game gets a boost with the return of first-round pick Craig Davis from an ankle injury. Expect for Norv Turner to design a couple of plays for Davis early on before leaning on Chambers and Jackson as the game progresses.


NT Jamal Williams
Otto Greule Jr/Getty

WHEN THE COLTS RUN

One week after allowing Adrian Peterson to set a single-game rushing record (296 yards), the Chargers welcome in the league's third-leading rusher, Joseph Addai. The second-year running back in coming off a strong game in which he topped the century mark both rushing and receiving.

The Chargers will have to slow Addai short-handed. Luis Castillo, a Pro Bowl alternate a season ago, will miss this game and at least five more after undergoing ankle surgery. OLB Marques Harris and CB Quentin Jammer, arguably the top run-stuffing corner in the league, will also miss the contest.

The good news on the medical front is that Jamal Williams looks nimbler as he continues his recovery from bye-week knee surgery. If Williams, Igor Olshansky and Jacques Cesaire can occupy blockers up front, it will give Stephen Cooper and Matt Wilhelm a chance to redeem themselves for last week's shoddy performance. Cooper had just five tackles last week; Wilhelm recorded 14, although many of them came well down field.


WR Marvin Harrison
Al Messerschmidt/Getty

WHEN THE COLTS PASS

Marvin Harrison will miss Sunday's game, which gives a small reprieve to a secondary already missing its best player. Antonio Cromartie will make his first career start and go one-on-one with Harrison's replacement, Aaron Moorehead. Drayton Florence draws Reggie Wayne on the other side. Florence will mix up his coverages on Wayne to keep Manning guessing.

Dallas Clark will be in the mix, too. He is listed as questionable as he recovers from a concussion but is expected to play. Clark leads all NFL tight ends with six touchdowns and must be accounted for in the red zone.

The Colts have too many weapons to contain for very long. The key is to get to Manning and make him uncomfortable in the pocket. Shaun Phillips returns from a groin injury, and he and Shawne Merriman are charged with bringing the heat. If they fail, it will be a long day for the Chargers' defense.

JUST FOR KICKS

Cromartie made huge plays on special teams each of the last two weeks, scoring on a botched punt in week eight and returning a missed field goal 109 yards in week nine. If he can make something happen for a third consecutive game, that would go a long way towards boosting the upset efforts. It won't happen on a kick return though -- Darren Sproles will handle kickoffs and punts for at least one more week.

The Chargers' kick coverage teams are playing at an elite level. In the last four games, the Chargers have forced their opponents to start 28 of 42 total drives at or inside the 20-yard line following kickoffs or punts. Much of that is due to the strong play of Mike Scifres, who has landed 14 of his last 17 kicks inside the 20-yard line.

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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