Behind Enemy Lines: Chargers vs. Colts II

Our Scout.com team experts, Eric Hartz of ColtPower.com and Michael Lombardo of SDBoltReport.com, analyze Saturday's game between the Chargers and Colts. Michael wraps up by talking about the emergence of Vincent Jackson, the playbook for Darren Sproles and the health of San Diego's stars.

Click here to read Part I of this series, where Eric talks about how the Indy offense will attack San Diego's secondary, and details how LT's groin injury affects the Colts.

Eric Hartz: Both LaDainian Tomlinson and Antonio Gates missed every practice this week. Whose injury is more serious, and is either enough to keep them out of Saturday's game? If not, will they be limited in any way?

Michael Lombardo: Tomlinson (groin) and Gates (ankle) are both expected to play, although both will be limited. On Thursday, Norv Turner said that if the game had been played two days earlier, Tomlinson would be able to go but Gates would not. However, it is easier to limit Gates' snaps, since he really only needs to be on the field in passing situations. The Chargers have two excellent blocking tight ends in Brandon Manumaleuna and Kris Wilson, and both will see the field on Saturday.

Even though Gates' injury is more severe, I suspect Tomlinson's injury will be more of a hindrance to the Chargers. LT is coming off his best game of the season in which he carried 14 times for 96 yards (6.9 avg) and three touchdowns. If he is not effective, the Chargers will have to abandon the power running game, as Darren Sproles is not nearly as effective between the tackles as he is out in space.

EH: With Tomlinson hurting, should fans expect to see more of Sproles? He got just two carries in the earlier meeting this year, but had a big impact on the Chargers two wins over the Colts last season.

RB Darren Sproles
Donald Miralle/Getty


ML: Sproles is going to play a significant role on offense and special teams. He is a terrific weapon against a defense like the Colts, which prides itself on aggressive pursuit. By using screens and misdirection plays to Sproles, the Chargers can make the Indy front seven play with a little less certainty.

The key for the Chargers is finding Sproles at the right time. Defenders yell "screen, screen!" whenever Sproles steps onto the field, so he will get some traditional touches to counteract that assumption. However, the main goal is to get him about a half-dozen offensive touches in space, where he can use his shiftiness and otherworldly acceleration to make people miss.

EH: Peyton Manning just won his third MVP, but Philip Rivers had seven more touchdowns, one less interception and a higher passer rating by over 10 points, in addition to leading his team to a dramatic division title. Was Rivers overlooked as an MVP candidate? Do you think he'll play as if he has something to prove when he meets up with Manning Saturday?

ML: Rivers was overlooked for a couple of reasons. Firstly, the Chargers did not win enough games to make Rivers a legitimate MVP candidate. He and Manning both enjoyed stellar seasons, but Manning led his team to four more wins in the process. Secondly, Rivers is not popular amongst fans outside the San Diego area, which explains why it took an end-of-the-season tear (13 touchdowns vs. one interception) to drum up any MVP banter.

Rivers insists he won't play with a chip on his shoulder. However, in his first game after being snubbed for the Pro Bowl, Rivers bounced back to complete 21-of-31 passes for 287 yards and four touchdowns against the third-ranked pass defense of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. He made a clear statement with that showing and would love to do the same on Saturday.

EH: With Shawne Merriman out, the Chargers didn't approach their remarkable sack total of 42 from 2007, and finished below the league average. Obviously, the Colts will have to keep an eye on Shaun Phillips, but what other pass rushers should the Colts be wary of?

ML: Honestly, if the Colts block-up Phillips, Manning should feel pretty comfortable in the pocket. The second-best pass rusher on the team is Jyles Tucker (5.5 sacks), but he is maddeningly inconsistent and disappears for long stretches. Tucker has just 1.5 sacks in the last six games.

The onus is squarely on Phillips' shoulders to disrupt Manning's rhythm, and there are two ways he'll go about it. First, Phillips will use his lightning-quick first step to get around the corner and pressure Manning. Secondly, he'll use his long arms and high vertical to disrupt zero-routes and bubble screens.

EH: Vincent Jackson, Tomlinson and Gates are the Chargers' three reception leaders. With two of the three banged up, will the developing Jackson be able to step up? Or does the burden fall on the other receivers like Chris Chambers, Malcom Floyd and Sproles to pick up the slack?


WR Vincent Jackson
Harry How/Getty

ML: Jackson is the unquestioned go-to receiver on this team, regardless of the health of any of his teammates. This season, he became the first Chargers receiver since 2001 to top 1,000 yards, going off with 59 catches for 1,098 yards (18.6 avg) and seven touchdowns. Jackson has a terrific matchup against the undersized Colts secondary because of his daunting physique (6-foot-5, 230 pounds).

With Gates and LT compromised, Chambers and Floyd have to step up. Floyd emerged as Rivers' favorite crunch-time target late in the season, but he's missed the last two games after suffering a collapsed lung in Week 15. He is expected to play for the first time since that injury this week; if he can't go, second-year WR Legedu Naanee steps in as the slot receiver.

EH: The losing coach of Sunday's AFC West showdown has already lost his job. Marty Schottenheimer was famously fired two years ago after going 14-2, but failing to win in the playoffs. If the Chargers lose on Saturday, is Norv Turner's job in jeopardy? Or did he gain enough security in last season's success to get another shot next year?

ML: Norv Turner will be back in 2009. Team President Dean Spanos and GM A.J. Smith have already come forward and assured that Turner will be back next season, and that was before the team went on a four-game winning streak to wins its second straight divisional title under Tuner's guidance.

The Chargers didn't fire Schottenheimer to improve their success in the regular season; the move was made to give the team a better chance in January. The results look good so far, as Turner won two more playoff games in his first year with the club than Schottenheimer won in his five seasons with the team.

Click here to read Part I of this series, where Eric talks about how the Indy offense will attack San Diego's secondary, and details how LT's groin injury affects the Colts.

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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