Behind Enemy Lines: Chargers vs. Colts II

Our Scout.com experts, Eric Hartz of ColtPower.com and Michael Lombardo of SDBoltReport.com, analyze Sunday's playoff game between the Colts and Chargers at the RCA Dome. Let's wrap up this series with six questions from Michael to Eric.

Michael Lombardo: What is the latest on Marvin Harrison? If he is able to go on Sunday, will he be on a limited snap count? How much rust do you expect, given his 10-week layoff?

Eric Hartz: It's difficult to say. On the one hand, the Colts have been so cautious with Harrison's injury that it's hard to believe they would bring him back if he wasn't going to be at full strength. So if he's able to play, he probably won't be under any limitations.

The question is if he will play, which we won't know until kickoff. He has been able to practice on and off for the last month and should be in relatively good shape. But it's unrealistic to believe that there won't be any rust after a three-month layoff.

ML: In the Chargers' last two meetings with the Colts, they've sacked Peyton Manning six times and intercepted him eight times. What is it about San Diego 's defense that gives Manning such difficulty? What will the Colts do to prevent a repeat performance?

EH: The Colts have traditionally struggled more offensively against a 3-4 front, and the Chargers have exceptionally good personnel in the linebacker corps and defensive backfield.

In the teams' first meeting, the offensive line was in shambles, as well, which helps explain it a little more. With the Colts healthier this time around, they should be able to protect Manning better, but he needs to be cautious of trying to do too much and forcing throws.

ML: San Diego 's strategy against the Colts has been to load up against the run and make them one-dimensional. In 2005, Edgerrin James averaged less than 2 yards per carry against the Chargers. This season, Joseph Addai averaged only 2.5 yards per rush. Has this strategy proven effective against the Colts? Or is this just inviting a monster day by Manning?

EH: I would say it's been effective, since the Chargers have won the last two matchups between the two teams. The Colts quickly fell behind in the earlier meeting this year, and the truth is the injuries along the offensive line have limited the Colts' rushing attack for the entire second half of the season.

Addai hasn't had a 100-yard rushing game since Week 9, and he's averaged just 32 yards per game over the Colts' last four. With the time the Colts had to rest up, they're quite a bit healthier, so I'd expect to see the Colts attempt to re-establish their running game for the playoffs.

ML: How has the loss of Dwight Freeney affected the Colts' defense? Has Robert Mathis seen more double-teams as a result?

EH: The Colts young defensive line has done a nice job in Freeney's absence, but the loss of Freeney affects the entire defense because of the constant pressure he's able to bring.

Freeney was injured in the first game with San Diego, and it appeared to be an opportunity for Mathis to take the next step to stardom. But with extra attention paid to Mathis, he's recorded just two sacks since then and has missed the last three games with injuries. He'll be back this week, but the Colts young defensive linemen will need to continue to contribute.

ML: Bob Sanders is the most aggressive safety in football. Is there a way to expose his aggression, either with the run or in the passing game? Have any teams effectively neutralized him this season?

EH: The rest of the Colts' defensive backs, safety Antoine Bethea and cornerbacks Kelvin Hayden and Marlin Jackson, have had exceptionally strong seasons as well, which allows Sanders to be more aggressive.

Sanders is difficult to neutralize because he's such a factor in run support for the Colts, but I think opportunities are available for team's in the play-action passing game.

ML: How will the Colts handle Darren Sproles the second time around? Will they kick to him again or give him the Devin Hester treatment?

EH: The Colts' coverage teams make fans want to cover their face, or at least watch through their fingers. But they have improved in the last two games, thanks in part to the recent play of Darrell Reid.

Reid's hit on Tennessee's Chris Brown got the attention of the entire league, so hopefully Sproles will have one eye on Reid and the rest of the Colts' coverage team will clean things up. That said, it probably wouldn't be a bad idea to avoid Sproles altogether.


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