You can't pin this one on the defense: With five turnovers by the offense, 20 points by San Diego off turnovers, two interceptions returned for touchdowns, and the fact that the Chargers offense faced a short field all night, the defense actually did fairly well.
They held Philip Rivers — who had been averaging over 300 yards per game through ten games — to 185 yards passing. They sacked Rivers twice. They held San Diego to 3.8 yards per carry and held the Chargers offense to 301 net yards, which is over 100 yards below their season average. San Diego did not convert a third down in the game and was one for five in the red zone. Those are all very impressive stats and not at all indicative of a defense that gave up 36 points.
They continued to fight throughout the game, continued to get three-and-outs in most crucial situations, and didn't back down from bruising tailback Mike Tolbert as they could have. They were on the field for almost 36 minutes against the number one offense in the NFL and they yielded only 22 points.
When the coaches look at the film, they'll find things that they need to fix. Tackling was better, but could be improved, allowing a 100 yard rusher cannot be considered a success, they need to be more aggressive with their blitzes in order to generate a pass rush, and they need to find a way to force turnovers. But, they were not the reason the Colts lost so badly on Sunday night. That responsibility falls to the offense and Peyton Manning's four interceptions.
The league needs to re-emphasize defensive holding: After the last game in which Indianapolis receivers were mugged after five yards, NFL officials announced that there would be a new emphasis on calling defensive holding. Colts receivers were held at the line, at ten yards, and with the ball in the air on Sunday night, which does not indicate an emphasis of any kind on upholding this rule.
The officials were not the reason Indianapolis lost this game — there were mental and physical mistakes abound — but they certainly didn't help. A call here or a call there would have made the Chargers cornerbacks a little less grabby and would have opened up the Indianapolis passing game, but it wouldn't have been enough. This is something to file away for future consideration and to be put behind us.
On the non-call on Eric Weddle that directly led to his interception return for a touchdown, there should have been an illegal chuck or defensive holding. But, it also looked as though Reggie Wayne took a dive on that play in the hopes of getting the call. That could be why he didn't get the call. The pass from Manning was also ill-advised and into tight coverage, so it may have been intercepted anyway.
"You never see (dropped passes) from Reggie Wayne": That was what announcer Chris Collinsworth said after a Wayne drop in the fourth quarter. The trouble is, that was his second drop of the game and the third time an announcer said this season that "you never see that from Reggie Wayne." Once in a career qualifies for never, three times in a season is a pattern. With Wayne's apparent regression into a possession receiver, Pierre Garcon's short arms and inconsistent hands, and no Dallas Clark, the Colts no longer have a "go to guy" or an elite receiver.
Getting Austin Collie back will help and the continued development of Blair White should strengthen the receiving corps, but, without a running game, Indianapolis needs an elite receiver and two other very good or great receivers to compensate. They just don't have the horses.
Injuries are not to blame, either: Manning was working with a skeleton crew on offense, but so was Rivers. Rivers completed 82.6 percent of his passes, didn't turn the ball over, and got the victory. Manning threw four picks and the fact that his timing is off with his receivers is killing him and this offense. Manning's work ethic and extra hours on the practice field are well known, but his supporting cast just isn't good enough and he can't improve them enough to make them good enough.
At this point, he is trying to force them to be good enough and that's not working, either. Players will come back, but it's questionable as to whether a bunch of new faces — even familiar ones — will fix the situation or make it worse.
The ongoing science experiment at the guard position is not working: Please, Indianapolis coaches. If you can hear me, just stop.
Kyle DeVan at left guard and Mike Pollak at right guard give this team the best chance to win. Antonio Garay is a great player and would have made an impact regardless of who was lined up at right guard, but the damage he caused would have been less had Pollak been there instead of Jeff Linkenbach. The book on Linkenbach is that he isn't strong enough or tough enough to play left tackle. How does that qualify him to be a guard?
This year's team is like a dry river bed: Things seem barren now, but every time you pick up a rock, you find water. This is still a talented team. They are still the best team in the division with the best quarterback in the division. They have an opportunity to prove that with three division games out of five to close the season. The other two games are against the 3-8 Cowboys and the 5-6 Raiders.
They have a solid defense, one of the best quarterbacks in the league, a level-headed coaching staff, and a great deal of veteran leadership in every unit. When Joseph Addai or Mike Hart returns, the running game will improve. Roger Goodell is not going to call off the remainder of the 2010 season just because it's mathematically impossible for the Colts to win 12 games and Peyton Manning is not going to give up. This team still has enough to beat a marginal or bad team and there are five marginal or bad teams left on the schedule.
They may not have enough this season to go all the way, but Indianapolis has enough to keep fighting, win the division, and try to make some noise when the postseason starts and all the records go back to zero. How they proceed from here is entirely up to them.
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