Behind Enemy Lines: Chargers vs. Colts I

Our team experts, Eric Hartz of and Michael Lombardo of, analyze Sunday's game between the Chargers and Colts. Hartz starts things off by answering questions about getting the ball to Marvin Harrison, blocking Robert Mathis off the edge, and scheming to stop Darren Sproles.

Michael Lombardo: Riding a three-game winning streak, is it safe to say the Colts are back? Or are they still not quite back to their dominant form of recent seasons?

Eric Hartz: "Dominant" is not a word anyone would use to describe the Colts. With the exception of a 31-3 win over the Baltimore Ravens, the team's other five wins have come by three, four, three, four and six points. It's obvious they have little margin for error and that margin usually comes in the way of turnovers. In their six wins, the Colts have a plus-12 advantage in turnovers; in their four losses, they're minus-6.

ML: The Chargers have won three straight in this series, including last season's Divisional Round matchup. Why does San Diego have so much success against Indianapolis? We all know Peyton Manning struggles against 3-4 defenses, but there has to be more to it than that.

QB Peyton Manning
David J. Phillip/AP

EH: I think a lot of it has to do with the fact that the Chargers are one of the most talented teams in the league, and not only does Manning sometimes struggle against 3-4 defenses, the offensive line does, too.

Also, the Colts haven't finished the job the last few times out against the Chargers. Last year in the regular season, they still had a chance to win after giving up two kick return touchdowns and six interceptions, but Adam Vinatieri missed a field goal at the end of regulation.

In the playoffs, an interception at the goal line and a missed blitz pickup near the goal line did in the Colts. Breakdowns like that happen to all teams, but against a strong team like the Chargers, limiting mistakes is crucial, and the Colts haven't done that.

ML: Speaking of Manning, how close are he and Marvin Harrison to getting on the same page? Which of those two is more responsible for Marvin's statistical drop-off?

EH: They seem to be getting back into their groove and went back to basics last week, as Manning hit Marvin on a bunch of underneath routes. As they begin to click, the deep routes should come back, as well.

As far as who's responsible, Reggie Wayne may have as much to do with Harrison's statistical drop-off as anyone. He's become a bona fide top-10 receiver and led the league in receiving yards last year. Add in the looks Dallas Clark gets, the emergence of Anthony Gonzalez, the lack of offseason work for both Manning and Harrison, as well as their ages, and it's not too surprising.

DE Robert Mathis
Andy Lyons/Getty

ML: What's the latest on Robert Mathis and his injured toe? If healthy, do you believe he'll have a big day against second-year tackle Jeromey Clary?

EH: He was able to practice on Thursday after sitting out Wednesday, but the Colts typically rest anyone with an injury, no matter how small, on Wednesdays.

Mathis really had a stellar season going through the first few games but has leveled off recently. With a less-experienced player across from him and the Chargers focusing on Dwight Freeney, this week could be the week Mathis gets back on track.

ML: Three-fourths the Colts' starting secondary is battling injuries: S Bob Sanders (knee), CB Kelvin Hayden (hamstring) and S Antoine Bethea (ankle). Which of these players will play on Sunday? And how do all of these injuries expose Indy's pass defense, if at all?

EH: My guess is that Bethea will play and Sanders and Hayden will probably sit. Tony Dungy has said that if Sanders isn't going to play, he won't make the trip, so whether he's on the plane could be determinative.

We talked in the preseason about the Colts' depth, although that depth didn't have a lot of experience. But Tim Jennings, Keiwan Ratliff and particularly Melvin Bullitt have played well in relief, as has Matt Giordano. Jennings does have his struggles against against bigger, stronger receivers that can jump, so San Diego should look to get Chris Chambers in isolation against Jennings when possible on Sunday.

ML: Special teams have always played a key role in this rivalry. In 2004, a kickoff return TD by Dominic Rhodes helped the Colts knock off the Chargers in overtime. Last season, two kick returns by Darren Sproles helped the Bolts hold on for a win on Sunday Night Football. Who gets the better of the third-phase matchup this time around? Who are the Colts special teamers to keep an eye on?

EH: First of all, I'm terrified of Darren Sproles. That said, the Colts have fared well against some talented returners this season, and overall, their special teams are much, much improved over last season, when they seemed to give up big returns nearly every weekend.

The Colts have a lot of young, hungry players that know special teams are their best chance to get noticed. Keep an eye on Darrell Reid (No. 95), an athletic backup defensive tackle known for laying big hits, and Jamie Silva (No. 40), a rookie safety that doesn't have great speed but does have a nose for the ball.

On returns, rookie Chad Simpson (No. 35) had a nice kick return last week and will likely share return duties with Ratliff (No. 31) and rookie Pierre Garcon (No. 85).

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