Coming off an emotionally draining loss, the Colts need to recharge and regroup quickly as they face another stiff challenge in the San Diego Chargers. And they face another talented and active defensive line that plays in the 3-4 alignment.
As with any 3-4 defense, the linebackers make the plays and appear on the highlight reels, but the defensive linemen set everything up by shooting their gaps and occupying blockers at the point of attack. There is, perhaps, no better space-eater in the league than massive nose tackle Jamal Williams. Williams had arthroscopic knee surgery earlier this year, but missed only one game. He's also listed as day-to-day with a foot injury, but was able to suit up and play against the Vikings in Week 9. In all likelihood, he will not be 100 percent until the offseason, as knee injuries tend to linger (just ask Marvin Harrison).
However, Jamal Williams at 80 or 90 percent is still better than most nose tackles in the NFL. At 6-foot-3, 348 pounds, Williams is a load to move. And most of the muscle mass in that 348 pounds is located in his legs. While he does have a sizeable midsection, he is very thick and powerful through his hips and legs. This allows him to either anchor against the run -- requiring at least two people to move him -- or collapse the pocket, often penetrating into the backfield in running or passing situations.
For Jeff Saturday and whichever offensive guard helps him double-team Williams, the entire key to running between the tackles will be to lock Williams into a position. They may not be able to move him because unlike Vince Wilfork, Williams tends to push straight ahead, usually not choosing one side or the other. But they can certainly lean him in a direction, keep him out of the backfield and create a seam that is large enough for Joseph Addai or Kenton Keith to run through. As a result of Williams' stellar play, the Chargers have not allocated much in salary cap dollars to their two inside linebackers. If Keith or Addai can find a crease past Williams and into the second level, the Colts will have some success running between the tackles.
Where they will have the most success, though, is on the perimeter -- especially to the strong side of the formation.
Indianapolis catches a break Sunday night in that 2005 first round selection Luis Castillo will not be able to suit up due to knee and ankle injuries. Whether San Diego chooses to plug the hole with Ryon Bingham or Jacques Cesaire, Addai and Keith should find plenty of running room behind Ryan Diem. A Diem versus Castillo matchup would have basically ended in a draw, especially considering that Castillo is by far the most talented pass rusher on the defensive line. But a player of Diem's caliber should be able to handle Bingham or Cesaire without any difficulty.
Igor Olshansky sacks Peyton Manning in 2005
Andy Lyons/Getty Images
If Tony Ugoh is not available, the improving-but-limited Charlie Johnson will have his hands full with right end Igor Olshansky. At 6-foot-6, 305 pounds, Olshansky is a big man who is perfectly suited and proportioned to play the two-gap scheme in the 3-4 defense -- and he's one of the strongest players in the NFL. If the Colts are to run to the weak side of the formation, they will most likely need to give Johnson or Ugoh help. They could either have the left tackle block down on Olshansky, pulling left guard Ryan Lilja and isolating him on Shawne Merriman, or they could line a second tight end up on the left tackle's side of the field.
Since Indianapolis showed a tendency to run behind the right side of the offensive line early in the season, they should have plenty of plays designed to go behind Diem, right guard Jake Scott, and tight end Dallas Clark or Ben Utecht. The Minnesota Vikings had considerable success in Week 9 running at Castillo's replacement as the Chargers rotated backups in and out, because both were performing dreadfully. Most of the big plays that running back Adrian Peterson authored on his way to a league-record 296 yards rushing were to the right side.
Given that the Chargers yielded 376 yards to a Minnesota squad that didn't pose much of a threat in the passing game and was fairly one-dimensional, the Chargers defense -- and by proxy their defensive line -- are obviously not the '85 Bears. However, the fact that Joseph Addai is obviously not Adrian Peterson needs to be considered as well.
The silver lining for the Colts is that Addai and Peterson do have similar running styles and similar skill sets. While it's too early to say definitively that Peterson is superior to Addai, it's also highly unlikely that Addai will rush for 290+ yards against San Diego on Sunday night. Where he can be successful, though, and where his skill set and running style are similar to Peterson, is by running to the outside on counter plays designed to take advantage of Addai's quick feet and an aggressive Chargers run defense.
By running counters to the outside -- a play that starts inside, but is bounced outside the tackles -- Indianapolis should be able to minimize nose tackle Jamal Williams' impact, suck Olshansky and Cesaire or Bingham to the inside, and give the tight end to that side a clean shot at the closest outside linebacker. Once Addai gets to the outside past the line and into the second level, he'll be able to feast on a linebacker corps and a secondary that does not defend the run particularly well and tends to over-pursue the play.
To find out how the Chargers' defensive line handles themselves on passing downs, watch for our scouting report on the San Diego linebackers as the defensive linemen are often working in tandem with those linebackers to create pressure on opposing quarterbacks.