Behind Enemy Lines: Chargers vs. Colts II

Our Scout.com team experts, Eric Hartz of ColtPower.com and Michael Lombardo of SDBoltReport.com, analyze Sunday's game between the Chargers and Colts. We wrap things up with six questions for Mike, who talks about targeting Vincent Jackson, exploiting Antonio Cromartie, and lingering off-the-field issues.

Click here to read Part I of this series, where Eric talks about getting the ball to Marvin Harrison, blocking Robert Mathis, and scheming to stop Darren Sproles.

Eric Hartz: Is it possible to sum up in a paragraph or two how much this defense misses Shawne Merriman?

Michael Lombardo: Not really, but here's my best attempt: Without Merriman, the Chargers lose more than 10-plus sacks per season. His absence allows opposing offenses to better block Shaun Phillips, which exposes San Diego's secondary, which means the defense can't get off the field, which means the Chargers' offensive stars are stuck on the sidelines.

The numbers tell the story. Last season, the Bolts led the NFL in interceptions (30) and ranked No. 5 in sacks (42). This season, San Diego has just six interceptions and 22 sacks. San Diego ranks last in the NFL in pass defense, giving up more than 20 yards per game more than the second-worst team in the AFC.

EH: Chris Chambers had a nice start to the season, but missed some time with an injury and Philip Rivers hasn't looked his way much since. Is he still dealing with the injury, is Rivers more comfortable with other receivers, or is there some other issue?


WR Chris Chambers
Donald Miralle/Getty

ML: Chambers is still fighting through some pain in that injured ankle, but his statistical drop-off has more to do with the emergence of the players around him. Vincent Jackson is now San Diego's clear-cut No. 1 receiver, as he's one pace to finish with more than 1,000 yards for the first time in his career. Malcom Floyd has also carved out a prominent niche in the offense because of his ability to win jump-balls.

Last season, Chambers caught multiple passes in every game as a Charger, yet has been held to one catch or less in three games already this season. He will become more involved in the offense as he gets closer to 100 percent health, but in the interim, he'll have to settle for being Rivers' No. 3 option behind Antonio Gates and Jackson.

EH: The Colts have done a nice job taking away Antonio Gates as the Charger quarterback's go-to guy in the last three contests between these teams. Gates hasn't gained more than 30 yards in those games, although San Diego has won all three. If the Colts successfully neutralize Gates on Sunday, who will Rivers look to?

ML: The Chargers are going to ride Vincent Jackson early and often on Sunday. There is no defender in Indy's undersized secondary that has the physical skills to match up with the 6-foot-5, 241-pound Jackson. We saw that during last year's playoffs, when Jackson hit the Colts for seven receptions, 93 yards and a TD.

The Colts do a great job of taking away the deep ball, so look for Rivers and Jackson to work the intermediate zones along the sidelines with deep-outs and comebacks. Rivers has the luxury of being able to deliver the ball high, where either Jackson catches it or it sails out of bounds.

EH: Quentin Jammer and Antonio Cromartie are two pretty good cover corners. So why has the Chargers' pass defense struggled so much this season?


CB Quentin Jammer
Stephen Dunn/Getty

ML: Jammer has enjoyed a superb season and is one of the most underrated players in the NFL. Unfortunately, Cromartie has been abused on the other side and has been a massive liability all season long. He gambles, loses focus and commits costly penalties. No player has regressed more from 2007 to 2008 than Cromartie -- which I'm sure Peyton Manning is ecstatic to hear.

Of course, the cornerbacks aren't the only problem. In addition to the lack of a pass rush (as discussed above), the Chargers suffer from awful safety play. Second-year free safety Eric Weddle has actually improved substantially as the season has gone on, but Clinton Hart plays with a bull's-eye on his back. Hart's five interceptions last season were a fluke.

EH: Philip Rivers insured himself a career's worth of infamy from Colts fans with his behavior during last season's playoff game. He seems to be tremendously talented, is having a great season, and his performance in the later stages of the playoffs last year was commendable. But is his attitude really as bad as it seems or did Colts fans just see him on a bad day?

QB Philip Rivers
Nick Laham/Getty


ML: Rivers' banter with the Colts fans was one of the most over-hyped stories from last season. Players have given the middle finger to fans with less fallout. Rivers is so clean-cut that he doesn't even cuss, so that was blown way out of proportion. He has dialed it down this season, but more to keep the media off his back than anything else.

Colts fans were so furious about Rivers' actions because their team lost the game. If Indianapolis had held on for the victory, no one would have been talking about Rivers the next day. As Shannon Sharpe has often said so famously, "If you don't like what I have to say, shut me up." If the Colts win on Sunday, Rivers won't be yapping at anybody afterwards.

EH: The Chargers have been terrific at home the past few seasons, but much has been made of the struggles of West Coast teams traveling East lately. Of course, the Chargers have had an added travel wrinkle with the trip to London. But what do you make of the "West-goes-East" discussion — is it a myth or a legit concern?

ML: I think the numbers are significant enough to prove that West Coast teams are at a huge disadvantage when forced to jump ahead three time zones. The Chargers have done their part to prove the theory, losing games in Miami, Buffalo, London and Pittsburgh already this season.

However, this is just another homefield advantage for teams on the East Coast. For a Chargers team that considers itself among the most talented in the NFL, there is no excuse for dropping those games in Buffalo and Miami. The best squads in the NFL should be able to handle their business any place, any time.

Click here to read Part I of this series, where Eric talks about getting the ball to Marvin Harrison, blocking Robert Mathis, and scheming to stop Darren Sproles.

Michael Lombardo is a member of the Pro Football Writers of America and a long-time contributor to the Scout.com network. His analysis has been published by the NFL Network, Fox Sports and MySpace Sports. He has followed the Chargers for more than 15 years and covered the team since 2003.


SD Super Chargers Top Stories

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