When the Chargers let Drew Brees walk in free agency and handed the reins over to Philip Rivers, the arrangement initially seemed to work out well for everyone. Brees had a big year for the Saints and Rivers managed the San Diego's offense well, keeping attention off of LaDanian Tomlinson with almost 3,400 yards passing, 22 touchdowns, only 9 interceptions, and a passer rating of 92.0.
While he's on pace to match his yardage total from last season, he has already thrown 8 interceptions and his passer rating has dipped to 82.9. He has not been asked to do much when the Chargers have won, averaging only 20 attempts per game in San Diego's four victories, and when the Chargers have lost, he has been asked to do too much, averaging 38 attempts in their four losses.
The key for the Colts, obviously, would be to stop -- or at least slow down -- Tomlinson and force Rivers to beat them. Last season, Rivers was able to open up the running game by playing efficiently in the passing game. Early on, mixing in the run, the Chargers used the pass to set up the run. Tomlinson had most of his yardage and touchdowns last season late in the second quarter and in the second half due to the fact that Rivers had already loosened up the defense.
This season, as Rivers has struggled, so has Tomlinson to a lesser extent and the offense in general. Aside from offensive explosions against the Texans and Broncos, the Chargers have lacked the punch that they displayed last season when they led the league in scoring.
To insure that they are successful on defense Sunday night, the Chargers need to get to Rivers early and force coach Norv Turner into a conservative game plan. By mixing in blitzes from the linebackers and Bob Sanders, Indianapolis should be able to pressure Rivers where it makes him most uncomfortable -- up the middle. Sanders and Gary Brackett should be able to shoot the gaps and penetrate the soft middle of San Diego's offensive line since Kris Dielman, Nick Hardwick, and Mike Goff are much more accomplished as run blockers than they are as pass blockers.
AP Photo/Winslow Townson
Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis will be responsible for collapsing the pocket from the outside and cleaning up the play if Rivers is forced out of the tackle box by pressure up the middle. As the game progresses -- and if the Colts are playing with the lead -- head coach Norv Turner will start to have Rivers work more from the shotgun. In this situation, Freeney and Mathis will be in their element, allowed to pin their ears back and rush the quarterback.
Given his three-quarters delivery throwing style and lack of big-time arm strength, Rivers and the Chargers offense has not stretched the field vertically too much thus far this season, even though they have two excellent deep threats in Vincent Jackson and Chris Chambers. If the blitz is not effective early on, Rivers is certainly savvy enough and has enough arm strength to make the Colts pay deep, which will in turn open up the running game and soften the defense for Tomlinson.
If the Chargers do not have early success throwing the football, Rivers will begin to lean on his two security blankets -- Tomlinson and tight end Antonio Gates. When this happens, it will play directly into Indianapolis' hands, setting them up perfectly to focus on the players they were going to focus on anyway, and allowing them to tee up and punish Rivers every time he drops back to pass. That will also effectively take Tomlinson out of the game as a running back.
Above all, Indianapolis must get in Rivers' head early, pressuring him between the tackles and forcing the Chargers to keep Tomlinson in to block. If they are able to start the game with a few sacks, Rivers will start to hear footsteps, even when there are none.