Colts-Chargers: Why Are the Bolts So Disruptive to Peyton Manning?

Ian PhilipAnalyst IIIJanuary 3, 2009

Peyton Manning drops back to pass. He looks left then right, quickly realizing that, once again, he is quickly running out of time. Manning quickly dumps off a pass before a group of lightning-bolt-clad behemoths have the opportunity to bury him in the turf.

The date? Nov. 23, 2008. Minus one Shawne Merriman.

The Chargers only sacked Manning once on the day but kept steady pressure in Manning's face, which prevented the perennial All Pro from eclipsing 300 yards passing. Perfect Peyton completed 32 of 44 passes for 255 yards in the game while taking all of the short passes the Chargers were giving him.

Let's get one thing straight.  The Chargers' defense has not been dominating Peyton Manning in every game.  They have done just enough to allow the Charger offense to keep the game competitive.

Peyton Manning is not just going to simply pick the Chargers defense apart like former Colts head coach Jim Mora suggests, nor will the Colts "beat the brakes off" the Chargers as Deion Sanders so eloquently stated. 

There is nothing to suggest this will happen based on the recent history between the two teams. 

First of all, quarterbacks that give the Chargers the most trouble can make plays with their feet, and I don't mean sliding around in the pocket, I mean scrambling out of the pocket. Tyler Thigpen was a tremendous thorn in the Chargers' side, as was the fleet-footed Jeff Garcia.

Another situation that gives the Chargers' defense fits is a strong running game coupled with the play action pass.

The Colts do not pose either one of these threats.

Some of the talking heads on TV are saying that the Chargers 3-4 style of defense is what gives Manning trouble, but that is only part of the equation. What gives Manning problems is that San Diego refuses to allow him to get a good pre-snap read by moving their defenders around prior to the snap of the ball.

This forces Manning to try to figure out what kind of coverage the Chargers are playing on on the fly. Anything the Chargers can do to make Manning think during a play as opposed to before the play could lead to pressure, a sack, or an interception. The Chargers have the athletes to make plays on errant Manning strikes that other teams don't.

The 3-4 further complicates matters for Manning. No matter how many times he faces it, Manning still doesn't know who the fourth rusher will be on any given play. Will linebacker Shaun Phillips come flying off the edge or will Jyles Tucker? Will Stephen Cooper come storming through the middle of the line or will Tim Dobbins?

A mobile, yet unaware quarterback like Tyler Thingpin who only looks for his big playmakers Tony Gonzales or Dwayne Bowe will not have as many problems with this as Peyton Manning. At the first sign of trouble, a Tyler Thigpen will take off and run with the ball. 

Manning will try to find that third or fourth receiving option, while simultaneously trying to figure out what coverage the Chargers are playing, while also trying to look off safeties who know he's trying to look them off.

The Chargers create pressure on Manning by using his cerebral nature against him.  Force Manning to make decisions on the fly and he is all but guaranteed to throw at least two passes right into a defender's hands during the game.

This has been the Chargers' philosophy about Manning since the 1999 game when he burned them for over 404 yards and Chargers defenders had no less than four interceptions clank off their hands.

The Chargers love to create doubt in Manning's mind by moving defenders around before the snap of the ball. Then they create confusion by switching up which linebacker(s) rushes the pocket.

Don't get me wrong, there is very little doubt or confusion in Manning's mind (if any) on most plays. Manning will get his yards and make his plays. But throw an extra pass rusher or two in there and Manning will give up the occasional sack, fumble, or interception. These have been game changing plays in the previous battles on both sides. 

Dwight Freeney's strip sack of Philip Rivers may have possibly won the game for the Colts in the game earlier this season.

The Colts inability to run the ball against the Chargers has been their biggest problem.  The Chargers have been stuffing the Colts running game for years. The Colts have run for 91, 44, 75, and  24 yards while losing three out of their last four games to the Chargers.  Not surprisingly, the game in which the Colts ran for 91 yards was the game they won.

No defense can hang with a Peyton Manning who is unbothered by the pass rush after a play action pass. Not with receivers like Dallas Clark, Marvin Harrison, Anthony Gonzales, and Reggie Wayne. However, since the Chargers are generally unconcerned with the Colts rushing attack, Manning's biggest weapon is effectively neutralized.

When the Colts beat the Chargers earlier this year, the game-winning play was a Manning play-action pass to Marvin Harrison on 4th-and-inches. Well I'm contradicting myself right? Wrong. 

On the play, Jamal Williams stormed into the backfield causing Manning to throw up a wounded duck to a wide open Marvin Harrison... who was only open because Quentin Jammer ran into an official. 

Sometimes, it's better to be lucky than good—as the Chargers can attest to after last season's regular season win as the Colts kicker Adam Vinatieri shanked a 29-yard field goal at the end of the game.

To me, this game is a toss up. I have no idea who is going to win it, but it will likely depend on which team can make plays in the running game to set up the play-action pass.


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