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Eyes in the Backfield
18 things to watch for in the Chargers/Colts game
I don't know about Petty, but the rest of these guys always seem to show up with the Chargers
Other than Bob Sanders absence killing the defense, we were pretty happy with how last week's Eyes turned out. This week the Horse faces the toughest test left on it's regular season slate: the San Diego Chargers. With both teams fighting for potentially the same playoff berth, Sunday's prime time clash should be true test of Indy's progress. This week watch out for:
1. Watch for 300. Manning has gone over three hundred yards in his last three games against San Diego, and went over 400 last January. The Chargers have one of the worst pass defenses in football, so it stands to reason that Manning is going to pile up the numbers. He's gotten on a roll in recent weeks, and there seems to be no reason to think that will stop this week.
2. Watch Cromartie. Thanks to a bizarre set of circumstances in San Diego last year (including rain, hurt linemen, and something called a Craphonso) Manning threw 6 picks, 3 to Antonio Cromartie. Cromartie used that game to springboard himself to the Pro Bowl with 10 picks on the season. Whether teams have wised up to him, or he's having a down year, he only has 2 picks this season. Because of the connection with Manning, he'll be in spotlight Sunday night.
3. Watch 88. His fumble stopped what looked to be a sure rout of the Chargers at home last year in the playoffs. He elevated his game last week, and he surely wants revenge in a big spot on Sunday. Another 8 catch, 80+ yard game, and Colts fans will start to feel like he's really back. The Chargers don't have a strong secondary, so now is the time for him to shine.
4. Watch LT, while you still can. It's folly to ever call a player done, but there are natural laws which govern most running backs in the NFL. Age catches up to everyone eventually, and despite being one of the dominant backs in history, the whispers are there that LaDainian Tomlinson is starting to show his mileage. His numbers are down across the board, but Sunday night is the test. If his 3.8 YPC holds to form against the Colts, it may well signal curtains for this near legend's days at the top of fantasy drafts.
5. Watch the inactive list right up until the end. The Zombie hasn't really practiced all week, and Dungy has called him a game time decision. None of us really expect him to play tomorrow night, but we can hold out hope. If he's in the game, the Charger run game is automatically that much more suspect. If he's not, you can expect a lot of points from the Chargers.
6. Watch for the drops. They've plagued the Colts all season, and they killed Indy against San Diego last January. Virtually every pass catcher on the team has struggled with not catching passes this season. Ironically, Dallas Clark has been reasonably steady after leading the NFL in drops last year culminating in his killer on fourth down in the playoffs to end the Colts season. Fortunately, once the Colts catch the ball, they hang on to it, and lead the NFL in fewest fumbles. Still, the receivers need to look the ball in this week to keep the chains moving.
7. Watch the slot. Kelvin Hayden's return comes at a great time for the Colts. It will be interesting to see how the Colts organize the secondary now that he's back. Instead of an overmatched Bethea in the slot on third downs, the Colts can now run Ratliff (or Jennings) into that spot, and keep Giordano off the field altogether. Phil Rivers is one of the highest rated QBs in the NFL this year, and will abuse big gaps in the zone and soft coverage. He doesn't have a big arm, so the Colts can afford to press more.
8. Watch for sweet weather. The rain didn't help last year as Manning threw picks, players got hurt, and AV missed a couple of FGs. San Diego is legendary for being 80 degrees and sunny every effing day of the effing year except for one freaky night last November. Seriously, if it it's anything less than pristine, it'll be shocking.
9. Watch for a grudge. There are plenty to go around in this game. Freeney hates the whole stadium. The Chargers hate the Mannings. AJ Smith hates the fans of San Diego. Norv Turner hates winning. The atmosphere could get testy.
10. Watch Ron Rivera. The last time the Colts saw him as a D-coordinator, he was at the helm of the Bears defense in the Super Bowl. The Bears played that game terrified of the deep ball (thank you Reggie Wayne!), and allowed Manning to call plenty of runs and check downs that eventually broke the will of the Bears. This time, watch for him to try and take away the run first, and force Manning to go long, knowing that part of the Colts attack has been inconsistent.
11. Watch for breathing room. At 7-4 and facing a run of some of the worst teams in the NFL in coming weeks, the Colts would finally be able to feel confident about their playoff prospects for the first time in many weeks. A win takes a lot of the heat off the rest of the season, and allows them room to stumble later. A loss, and the Horse drops to 6-5 and must win every game to be truly assured of a berth (though 10-6 will likely make it as well).
12. Watch the train pick up speed. We started calling for the Manning for MVP train three weeks ago, and it's gathering steam. More and more writers and columnists are recognizing the amazing job 18 has done in keeping this rag tag band of misfits afloat long enough for them to get healthy and back on their feet. If Manning has a 3 score, zero pick day, the media din will really get loud. This is a prime time road game against a tough opponent. A win for Manning will be hard to overlook.
13. Watch for greeks. The Pythagorean theorem for football essentially stats that points for and against are a better predictor of future success than is actual wins and losses. The Chargers may prove to be poster children for this. The Colts are essentially a .500 team, but the Chargers have actually outscored their opponents this year. They've lost some close, even dubious games that have hurt their record, but there is some evidence they might actually be a pretty good team.
14. Watch special teams play. The Colts were KILLED last year in San Diego when they allowed both kick and punt return for scores. The Colts are actually greatly improved in coverage this year, and have done a solid job of not giving up too many huge run backs. Closing down this part of the Chargers game, may well make up the difference for the Colts.
15. Watch for the fantastic. Yeah, its that time of year. Demond needs some inspired play from Peyton in order to make the 18to88 league playoffs. Several members of the Colts surging offense have suddenly become hot commodities in the fantasy world. Check it out here
16. Watch for too little too late. Philip Rivers is having a great year. He has 21 TDs and a passer rating of over 100. It's too bad it took him three years to become a consistently useful player. Especially considering Drew Brees was already a good qb when he was given the boot. We think Rivers will play just fine against the Colts, but that won't give LT back his wasted prime. We almost feel bad for him.
17. Watch for the killer turnover. The Colts have won each of their last three games by virtue of a huge pick in the fourth quarter. We expect that trend to continue, despite the fact that both teams have been stingy with the football in 2008. Remember there was a total of 9 turnovers in last November's game.
18. Watch for hedged bets. If Sanders plays, I think he saves the Colts 10 points a game (and helps the offense with field position and possibly a turnover). If he doesn't, I think a desperate Chargers team will outscore Indy. So you get two predictions this week: with Bob Indy 35 SD 21. Without Bob: San Diego 31 Indy 28. For what it's worth Demond says it'll be Colts 37 Chargers 34.
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