Mano A Mano: Freeney vs. McNeill

Colts defensive end Dwight Freeney is in the midst of a rejuvenation. Freeney, recently named to his fourth Pro Bowl, missed the last seven games of 2007 with a foot injury. After starting this season still nursing the ill effects of that injury, Freeney came on strong late, ending the season with 10.5 sacks, including 7.5 in the last seven games.

The player Freeney will line up against this Saturday, Marcus McNeill, is a tough one to figure out. Some Sundays he is exceptional and one of the top left tackles in the league, but on others, the exact opposite is true.

Just like last season, McNeill has been anything but consistent. After a dominating rookie campaign, he's started each of the past two seasons very slowly and has struggled in both pass protection and in the run game.

When San Diego was struggling through the first three-quarters of the season, many were blaming their struggles on their offensive line and especially the play of McNeill.

Despite his massive size, McNeill has struggled this season
Stephen Dunn/Getty

On December 5, Pro Football Weekly reported on McNeil's struggles: "Those within the Chargers' organization are struggling to pinpoint what exactly made this season such a flop, but from what we hear, the poor play of OLT Marcus McNeill has been a major factor. McNeill, a Pro Bowler in each of the past two seasons, has been consistently "getting dusted" off the line, which has contributed to nine sacks of QB Philip Rivers in the last five games. The mountain of a man also hasn't been as effective at clearing space for RB LaDainian Tomlinson, who is on track for the least productive season of his career."

Despite some poor performances this season, McNeill has showed more consistency in recent weeks. However, in the Week 12 clash between Indianapolis and San Diego, Dwight Freeney had so much success using both the speed and bull rush to consistently beat McNeill that the Chargers were forced to change protection schemes in the second half and slid OG Kris Dielman over to help the two-time Pro Bowler with Freeney.

McNeill plays fairly agile for a player nearing 350 pounds. He shows good balance, has long arms and strong hands that he uses to pack a powerful punch. The mammoth tackle will struggle with speed and against a good first step because he isn't overly quick or explosive.

If you can get the big guy out of position or chasing its a very good thing. Freeney seems to enjoy success against the bigger massive type tackles like McNeill or the recently retired Jonathan Ogden.

Freeney is much more than just a speed guy, however. He shows an assortment of moves — he can bull-rush, counter with his spin or swim moves and use his arms to beat you to either shoulder. McNeill knows this and will be looking to prove himself on Saturday. He knows he under-performed when these two matched up in Week 12 and will be looking for some redemption.

In reality, the only team that had success slowing Dwight Freeney in the second half of 2008 was the Detroit Lions, who did it by employing max protections schemes all game long. San Diego doesn't want to do that. They like what their tight ends and backs out of the backfield bring to the passing game. So the Chargers would prefer to let McNeill handle his assignment this week without help and might actually start the game that way.

But except help to come from either OG Kris Dielman or TE Brandon Manumaleuna at the first sign of trouble. Besides that, look for San Diego to attempt to wear Freeney down by calling plenty of run plays in his direction. This will give the 350-pound McNeill an opportunity to get his large mitts on Freeney. Indianapolis' Defensive Line Coach John Teerlinck, though, employs a line rotation that makes it a tad harder to wear down his linemen.

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