Watch the Right Tackles

Both starting right tackles on the offensive lines should have their work cut out for them this week. How these linemen respond and handle their assignments should go a long way in determining just how much time the quarterbacks have.

LE Robert Mathis vs. RT Jeromey Clary

Robert Mathis owned Jeromey Clary when these two teams met in November, beating him for two sacks and a total of 15 yards lost. What hurt Cleary the most in that meeting was that San Diego was forced to slide a guard over to help LT Marcus McNeill with Dwight Freeney. That in turn created a constant one-on-one match up between the two on the right side.


Mathis had his way the first time these teams played this season
AP Photo/Lenny Ignelzi

So why not double-team both Freeney and Mathis? Well you can, but that's not San Diego's style. The Chargers love spread formations because it creates more natural running lanes for running backs LaDainian Tomlinson and Darren Sproles.

Plus, San Diego, as does Indianapolis, really likes what their tight ends and backs out of the backfield bring to the passing game — you can't catch the football if you're blocking a defensive linemen.

Clary has played better in December. "We haven't had the year we wanted to have, obviously, but it's a game of inches," the right tackle said. "It's sometimes a small error in an angle, maybe off one degree. I don't think we are that far off but we are just playing more consistent now."

Clary has good right tackle size, but isn't especially quick out of his stance or agile enough to consistently handle explosive defensive ends like Robert Mathis. For Indianapolis it all starts with the pressure up front, and Robert Mathis, like teammate Dwight Freeney, is enjoying a Pro Bowl season as a prolific pass rusher.

Mathis brings an explosive first step, which sets up his outside speed rush. He also sells it well with an inside-out move that gets tackles leaning inside and then he shoots outside. Besides that, he also has had success with his spin move and maintains very good body control when spinning.

Unless LT Marcus McNeill is having more success with Dwight Freeney this time, Clary can likely again expect plenty of one-on-one battles with Mathis. And that's something the Colts want to see.

Watch where San Diego places tight end Brandon Manumaleuna. He is an extremely talented blocker and I wouldn't be surprised to see him spend most of the evening lining up on Clary's outside shoulder.

LOLB Shaun Phillips vs. RT Ryan Diem

It's been a challenging season for Chargers OLB Shaun Phillips. For a guy that is usually over the double-digit mark for sacks in a season, Phillips has gotten to the quarterback 7.5 times this season. Why the lower numbers?

Well, a couple reasons. Under former defensive coordinator Ted Cottrell, Phillips often found himself dropping back into coverage more than getting after the quarterback. Plus, in past seasons Phillips often exploited the one-on-one blocking he received due to having Shawne Merriman on the opposite side. Now opponents focus those extra blockers on Phillips' side.


Keeping Phillips off Peyton Manning will be crucial to success
Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images

Phillips knows that making Colts QB Peyton Manning uncomfortable is the main ingredient to success against the Colts: "That's the most important thing," he said. "I thought we did a good job getting to him (In Week 12), touching him, having him dance around in the pocket a little bit," Phillips said. "That's our game plan. We have to get him to move his feet a little bit."

Phillips is the type of player who has given Diem problems in the past. Phillips' speed and quickness off the ball should present some troubles for Diem. Diem's problem against speed is that he has a habit of playing too upright. This in turn hinders his foot speed and ability to slide out and engage speed rushers. He will also get overextended at the top of a speed rush and as a result be out of position. To slow the speedy Phillips, Diem must use his arm length to engulf or push him past the pocket.

As Brad Keller has noted, "The key to creating pressure in any 3-4 defense is to disguise where the extra defender is coming from, confusing the offensive line into changing their protection to block someone that is not rushing the quarterback while allowing another defender a free path."

With that said, the Chargers may instead opt to create more Phillips vs. RG Mike Pollack matchups than Phillips vs. Diem ones. By either having the OLB come straight ahead instead off the edge or having LDE Igor Olshansky engage Diem then send Phillips around the edge and see if Pollack is quick enough to step out and protect the edge. Those are ways the Chargers might test the rookie offensive lineman, rather than take Diem head-on.


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