Colts vs. Chargers: Breaking Down San Diego's Game Plan
San Diego coughed up five turnovers in the loss to Oakland—something it can ill afford against a high-powered Indianapolis offense led by former No. 1 overall pick Andrew Luck. The Chargers are 0-2 against AFC South opponents this season with losses to Houston and Tennessee, and matchups with the Colts and Jacksonville Jaguars still remain before their bye week.
San Diego's game plan heading into this matchup will revolve around stopping the Colts' star quarterback and getting Philip Rivers into a groove against a stifling pass defense.
1. The Magic Number is Five
According to ESPN, Luck completed just over 50 percent of his pass attempts when facing five or more pass-rushers last season and was sacked 41 times—fourth-most in 2012. This season, however, the Colts' quarterback has improved his percentage to 68 percent.
The stats prove Luck has progressively gotten better when under duress, but the five-man rush was still an issue for the second-year quarterback in a Week 2 loss to the Miami Dolphins. With his team down by four in the fourth quarter, Luck desperately needed to get his team in the end zone on Indy's final drive of the game, but good coverage in the secondary and a menacing pass rush flustered Luck.
Miami's defense sacked Luck twice on this pivotal drive, and a series of incompletions helped the Dolphins pick up the win.
Even without Dwight Freeney, the Chargers defense is fully capable of getting pressure with the five-man rush, which it demonstrated against Raiders quarterback Terrelle Pryor. Despite his mobility, Pryor was sacked four times by John Pagano's defense.
The Colts' offensive line has surrendered 12 sacks through five games—tied for eighth-most this season.
2. Limit Big Plays in the Secondary
San Diego's secondary has been absolutely torched by opposing quarterbacks this season, but the team average of 289 passing yards allowed doesn't tell the whole story.
Take these stat lines into account: Matt Schaub (346 YDS), Michael Vick (428 YDS), Jake Locker (299 YDS), Tony Romo (246 YDS), Pryor (221 YDS). All huge totals and all of them contributing to the team's average of more than 400 total yards allowed per game.
What the Colts have on offense that the Chargers haven't really seen this season is a dynamic receiving duo in Reggie Wayne and T.Y. Hilton. Both are dangerous, and the Seattle Seahawks learned that quickly when Luck connected with Hilton for a 73-yard score in the first quarter of last Sunday's game.
The Seahawks' "Legion of Boom" was helpless as Hilton blew by coverage, and the Chargers' secondary could find itself in a similar position if they're not careful.
The long ball fooled San Diego this past Sunday in the opening quarter when Pryor hooked up with Rod Streater for a 44-yard score. Derek Cox was matched one-on-one with no help over the top and was easily beaten by the quicker Streater.
3. Don't Let History Repeat Itself
When Trent Richardson sported a Cleveland Browns uniform in 2012, he dropped a career-high 122 rushing yards on a Chargers run defense that finished sixth in the league in rushing yards allowed per game (96.4).
Richardson hasn't put up numbers like that this season, but he continues to get more and more comfortable with his new team. On top of that, news of Ahmad Bradshaw being done for the year places a heavier workload on Richardson heading into this matchup with the Chargers.
San Diego has done a decent job limiting the individual performances of some of the league's better running backs, but 117.2 rushing yards per game is still one of the worst averages this season.
1. Don't Give in to Old Habits
Rivers struggled with turnovers the past two seasons, but he had thrown just two interceptions in 2013 leading up to last Sunday's matchup with the Raiders. Against Oakland, Rivers reverted back to old habits of forcing passes and making poor decisions, which resulted in a total of three interceptions—his first multi-interception game of the season.
Looking back at some of those turnovers, the two that really stand out came at the very beginning of the game and toward the end. On San Diego's opening drive, Rivers forced a pass down the middle of the field to Eddie Royal in double coverage, but the worst part of that throw was how far off target it was.
Then, in the fourth quarter, Rivers attempted to hit Keenan Allen in the end zone, but a hesitant Rivers allowed D.J. Hayden the time he needed to recover and beat Allen to the ball.
The Colts' defense has six interceptions on the year, and throws like these will be picked off all day long.
2. Establish a Run Game
This is probably easier said than done considering the Chargers may be without Ryan Mathews, who suffered a concussion in the loss to Oakland. Still, the offense has to take advantage of the league's 30th-ranked run defense in yards allowed per game (129).
Danny Woodhead and Ronnie Brown are known more for their receiving than anything, but establishing them early will help Rivers in the passing game.
3. Robert Mathis vs. King Dunlap/Nick Becton
As has been the case through a couple games this season already, the Chargers will likely be down some starters on the offensive line. The big question going into Monday's game is who will start at left tackle and protect Rivers' blind side from the league's sack leader (9.5) in Robert Mathis.
Dunlap has missed two starts due to a concussion he suffered in Week 3, and it's a possibility he could miss a third, which could force the Chargers to start an undrafted rookie. Becton started 13 games at left tackle for Virginia Tech, but it's probably safe to say he never faced a pass-rusher of Mathis' caliber in college.
The Chargers' O-line has done pretty well in protecting its quarterback, giving up just eight sacks on the year, but injuries took their course last season when Rivers was sacked 49 times.
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