While the San Diego Chargers aren't at the level of either of those two teams, they are dangerous, and this week presents a trap game unlike any other on the Colts' roster. The Colts are traveling to the West Coast for a Monday night game, and have more important foes on the mind.
The Colts have played like one of the NFL's best teams over the last three weeks, and the statistics reflect that. The Colts are currently fourth in the league in total DVOA (Defense-adjusted Value Over Average), powered by an offense that has been incredibly efficient and a defense that's been opportunistic.
On the other side, the Chargers have had one of the few offenses that has been as impressive, if not more so, as the Colts' offense. Philip Rivers is currently the only quarterback in the AFC that could challenge Andrew Luck for the label of "Best 2013 AFC quarterback not named Peyton Manning." However, the San Diego defense has been one of the least effective in the league, and is currently dead last in DVOA.
But with the offense being as effective as it has been, San Diego is a threat to any team.
So how can the Colts go into their first prime-time game of 2013 with the confidence that they won't fall victim to the infamous trap game? That's what we'll look at in this week's edition of #TheGameplan.
Bend Don't Break
That phrase is not beloved by many Colts fans, but the fact is that it's continued to be the Colts' mode of operation this season. The Colts are currently 16th in the league in yards per drive, but they're in the top five in third-down stop percentage and have been able to force a few turnovers.
On the other side of the field, San Diego is one of the best teams at moving the football, but has struggled with turnovers at times.
San Diego should be able to move the ball, but the Colts should be able to get a few turnovers. If they can get pressure on Philip Rivers, they can take advantage of a few poorly placed throws, like this one against Oakland this past Sunday night.
The area that's going to be the biggest battle between the two units is third downs. The Colts have been very good on third downs, highlighted by holding Seattle to just 2-of-12 on third down last week.
San Diego has been very good on third down in their own right, however, with only Denver and Indianapolis ahead of them (with ridiculously high plus 50 percent numbers).
How can the Colts stop the Chargers on third down? Probably with tight man coverage on the outsides, something the Colts have been using very effectively for the last few weeks.
The Chargers use an offensive system that's built around short and intermediate passes, for the most part (Rivers is just 20th in the league in deep pass attempt percentage), with Rivers' accuracy and quick reads the motor. The Colts have physical corners who can succeed in man coverage, and utilizing that with effective blitzes by the inside linebackers may be the best way to force low percentage throws by Philip Rivers.
Spread 'Em Out
The San Diego secondary is really bad. I'm a fan of Eric Weddle at safety, but he can't compensate for the lack of talent at cornerback.
The Chargers rank 29th, 28th and 31st against first, second and "other" receivers by DVOA, versus 15th against tight ends. Coby Fleener might not have a great day, but Reggie Wayne and T.Y. Hilton should be able to take advantage of the San Diego secondary.
The Chargers have allowed 10 passes of over 30 yards so far this season, tied for third-most in the league. The Colts haven't been one of the league's most dangerous offenses this season when it comes to big plays (rather, being efficient instead), but they did remind the league that they still have that ability.
This play, for example.
Or this one.
T.Y. Hilton is back, and he's better than ever. The Colts simply have to get him onto the field against San Diego. Even if he's not able to get big plays like that, the San Diego defense will have to pay him extra attention, opening the field up for others.
The Colts will try to run the ball, and that's fine, but Hilton gives the Colts the perfect weapon to test and stretch the Chargers defense.
The Colts can't afford to miss out on the opportunities when the come, and they'll come a lot faster with Hilton on the field instead of the sideline.