What We Learned: Colts at Chargers

Greg Talmage watched Sunday night's game carefully, and he shares five things we learned about Adam Vinatieri, Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis, the defense on third-and-long, Peyton Manning, and Anthony Gonzalez. See the lessons Greg took away from the game inside!

1. Vinatieri is still spelled M-O-N-E-Y: There have been moments in the last two seasons that Adam Vinatieri has shown signs of wearing down after 13 NFL seasons. He's not as consistent from distance and can be shaking away from the friendly confines of home. But late in a game, with the outcome on the line, who would you rather have kicking?

Adam Vinatieri is the best clutch kicker in the history of the NFL. He proved that again Sunday night.


Robert Mathis continues to terrorize opposing quarterbacks
AP Photo/Lenny Ignelzi

2. Freeney and Mathis are officially playing like Freeney and Mathis: Dwight Freeney was having so much success with both the speed and bull rush to consistently beat Pro Bowl LT Marcus McNeill that the Chargers had to change protection schemes in the 2nd half and have OG Kris Dielman help the two-time Pro Bowler with Freeney.

With San Diego threatening to open the second half with a score, Mathis forced a huge fumble on Rivers deep in Colts territory. With Freeney now drawing more consistent double teams, it should also help create plenty of one-on-one blocking situations for Mathis.

Indianapolis's ability to get constant pressure with the front four makes the 7 players behind them even better, especially the secondary — which is very important because the Colts defensive backs are still giving up a few too many third-and-longs for first downs each week.

3. Coverage breakdowns on third-and-long still need to be cleaned up: The Colts still had problems getting off the field on third down. All in all it was a bad performance as San Diego was only 6-for-12 on third down for a 50 percent efficiency. But a couple of plays stick out.

On third-and-eight, pinned back on their own 14, QB Phillip Rivers completed a pass over the middle to Malcolm Floyd for 23 yards. San Diego capped that drive with a touchdown. Later, on third and third from their own 25, Rivers completed another deep pass over the middle to Floyd for 31 yards.

The coverage breakdowns here were simply a Charger receiver finding the seam in the middle of the Colts defense. Indianapolis needs to tighten that up from here on out. It also clears the middle of the field when the safeties decide to provide over the top cover to the outside receivers.

4. It's time for the Peyton Manning for MVP campaign begin in earnest: Long-time Peyton Manning critic and Patriots die-hard Bill Simmons over at ESPN sums it up well: "If Tom Brady played every down after two summer knee surgeries, limped around for all of September, kept his injury-depleted team alive with some clutch plays, rounded into shape and improbably positioned his team as a sleeper contender, I'd be covered in body oil and sparkle right now. Peyton Manning has to be the MVP through 11 weeks. As Mike "I Wish I Could Go Back In Time And Talk Dog Out of Leaving" Francesa would say, that is a yooge, YOOGE job by Peyton Manning. Gotta hand it to him."

Gotta hand it to him is right. Given what he's had to overcome when it's all said and done we might be calling this Manning's best performance. Yes, even better than the Super Bowl year or the 49-touchdown season.

5. Go to Gonzo: Second-year receiver Anthony Gonzalez is developing into a third-down security blanket. Much like Brandon Stokeley, when healthy, was for Peyton Manning a few years back, Gonzalez has moved up the Manning progression chart. Like Brandon, Gonzo is helped by the fact that he sees nothing but single coverage. He has a knack for knowing where the markers are.

As Peyton Manning's confidence in Gonzalez grows, the receiver will see more and more throws his way.


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