Mano A Mano: Gonzalez vs. Cason

Conventional wisdom has said you can beat San Diego by passing the football. That was definitely true throughout the first part of the season. San Diego has ranked near the bottom all season in pass defense. So the pass-happy Colts and their Hall of Fame quarterback should have a field day against an underperforming Chargers secondary, right? Maybe, maybe not.

Coordinator Ron Rivera took over a defense that ranked last in the league against the pass when he replaced Ted Cottrell in Week 10. Recently, though, things have started to look up.

Over the last three games, the Chargers have allowed the fifth-fewest passing yards in the league (178.6 per game), have more interceptions (six) than any team and have given up just three passing touchdowns. Over the first 13 games, they allowed 249.8 passing yards a game (31st), had seven interceptions and surrendered 21 passing TDs.

Gonzalez scores in front of Cason earlier this season
AP Photo/Denis Poroy

So what can we expect and where might Indianapolis attempt to exploit an improving Chargers secondary? Let's look at the two teams previous meeting this season and see what that tells us. In that game, slot receiver Anthony Gonzalez led all Colts receivers with six catches for 95 yards and a touchdown.

Gonzalez had success, especially on third down, getting behind Chargers slot corner Antoine Cason and finding the open seam. He even beat the rookie corner for a 12-yard touchdown reception. Look for Peyton Manning to test that matchup again this weekend.

After the draft, reports were that San Diego drafted Cason specifically to handle New England slot receiver Wes Welker. Chargers Assistant General Manager Buddy Nix noted in post-draft commentary that he believed Cason's skills translated well to playing inside.

"You'd also like to see a guy that's got some size, a guy that can bang those guys inside," Nix said. "He's got to be a decent run player, which he is. A lot of those corners won't hit a lick until they have to. This guy will contribute verses the run. (He's) a guy that's got ball skills and can cover."

In the end, just how often Gonzalez gets on the field against Cason depends on the game of wits between Colts offensive coordinator Tom Moore and Chargers defensive coordinator Ron Rivera. Does Moore prefer using Gonzalez has his slot receiver or is he more comfortable moving TE Dallas Clark out into the slot?

This is where the matchups come into play. Can the Colts, by using Gonzalez, exploit the Chargers third corner in the passing game more than the safeties or linebackers that would likely bracket Clark?

When Anthony Gonzalez is on the field Saturday Night watch his matchup with Cason and how San Diego defends him. Last time, San Diego was more likely to use their safeties to help on the Colts outside receivers or with Dallas Clark. This in turn left Gonzalez and Cason in plenty of one-on-one matchups. Look for the Colts to try to take advantage again Saturday.

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