Eyes in the Backfield – Chargers

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:

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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

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.

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.

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.

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.

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).

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.

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.

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.

 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 

 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.

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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