LOLRivers

Hitchhiker’s Guide to Colts at Chargers, NFL Week 6

 

After the Colts' week 3 victory over the San Francisco 49ers, Chuck Pagano placed mousetraps in the players' lockers as a reminder to stay focused on the task at hand rather than getting caught up in the emotional and hysteria of dominating one of the best teams in the league. Hopefully Pagano saved those mousetraps. While no one would mistake this week's opponent, the San Diego Chargers, for the worst team in NFL history, the Jacksonville Jaguars, you could argue that the pitfalls surrounding this game are more treacherous.

To wit: the Colts are coming off an even bigger win than their week 3 triumph, having shocked the world with the 34-28 win over the NFC-favorite Seahawks. Their opponent this week, the aforementioned Chargers, are leaps and bounds better than the Jaguars. And finally, next week the Colts will take part in the most-watched, most-anticipated, most pressure-filled regular season game in NFL history, when Peyt… that guy… and the Denver Broncos come to town for Sunday Night Football.

The Colts have plenty to feel good about, but like we said going into week 4: a loss this week erases much of the good they did last week. Focus.

Tale of the tape

How do the Colts and Chargers measure up against each other on offense and defense? Let us take a look. NFL.com conventional rankings are listed first, with FootballOutsiders.com advanced stats (DVOA) in parenthesis. 

 

Indianapolis Colts

   

San Diego Chargers

 
  Offense Defense   Offense Defense
Passing 24th (10th) 6th (7th)   5th (2nd) 27th (32nd)
Rushing 4th (2nd) 30th (28th)   21st (22nd) 24th (30th)
Total 13th (4th) 11th (17th)   5th (2nd) 27th (32nd)

   

When the Colts have the ball

Indianapolis Colts Offense San Diego Chargers Defense
87 WR R. Wayne 94 RDE C. Liuget
80 TE C. Fleener 92 DT C. Thomas
74 LT A. Castonzo 91 LDE K. Reyes
69 LG H. Thornton 51 OLB L. English
64 C S. Satele 50 ILB M. T'eo
75 RG M. McGlynn 56 ILB D. Butler
78 RT G. Cherilus 97 OLB J. Johnson
81 WR D. Heyward-Bey 38 SS M. Gilchrist
12 QB A. Luck 29 CB S. Wright
39 FB S. Havili 22 CB D. Cox
34 RB T. Richardson 32 FS E. Weddle

 
Last year I argued that Andrew Luck was the Rookie of the Year. That distinction went to RGIII. Last year I argued that Andrew Luck was a Pro Bowler. Matt Schaub made the team over him. While I was obviously correct on both accounts, it took reality a little longer to set in for the majority of humanity, who can't see past hype and a box score. This year I'm back with a new proclamation: Andrew Luck is the 2nd-best quarterback in the AFC and one of the top-5 best quarterbacks in the NFL.
 
And he is not close to reaching his ceiling.
 
He ranks t-3rd in PFF's QB metrics, he ranks 4th in QBR, and 8th in DVOA. He is the best QB in the league on 3rd downs with a near-perfect 97.6 QBR in 3rd-down situations.
 
The Colts are 7th in the league in Red Zone Efficiency. They are 2nd in the league on 3rd down.
 
He is doing this behind a mediocre OL. Without his starting LG, his starting TE (and the 2nd-most important player on this offense, in my humble opinion), his starting RB, his #2 RB, and with the rest of the team still learning Pep Hamilton's offense.
 
On Sunday, I counted four perfect passes: his two TDs to TY Hilton, the 3rd-down "Houdini" pass to Hilton that picked up a 1st down, and his 4th-quarter pass to Reggie Wayne, just over the head of a defender. But it goes beyond the perfect passes. Sometimes it's the passes he doesn't make. Watch the dropped pass by DHB in the 4th quarter. The screen was there, but Luck held it, he waited. He knew that if he threw it immediately, it would be dangerous. He held on, waited, and made the best-possible play. That DHB dropped it has no bearing on how great Luck's play was.
 
And that's just one example. If you watch all of Luck's 2012 plays and then follow it up with all of his 2013 plays, you'll notice one huge difference: patience. Last year, Luck was playing at NFL speed. He would make great plays with his arm and his legs. He wasn't behind, he was a good player playing in a tough scheme. This year, Luck is playing at "Neo" speed. He can see the play, he understands what's going to happen before it happens. He isn't throwing into coverage. He isn't "missing" players. He understands who should be where and why. It's amazing to watch. On top of that, he's corrected so many of the accuracy problems he dealt with last year. No more "high heaters." No more deep balls floating into the nether. Andrew Luck has taken a step. I don't want to say "the next step," because I don't believe his progression is close to finished. But he's damn good. It's important to remember that. No matter what happens over the next two weeks. Andrew Luck is great.
 
Gushing aside, how should the Colts attack the Chargers? However they want.

San Diego ranks 32nd in DVOA for total defense. They are 32nd against the pass and 30th against the run. I cover the specific pass rush and coverage numbers later, but trust me: they're bad.
 
So let's focus on the running game:  (All stats DVOA) San Diego is 30th against the run. They stuff opposing runs only 14% of the time (31st in the league). They are 31st in the league in surrendering yards in the 2nd level. They are 19th against runs around left tackle, 32nd against runs up the middle, and 27th against runs around right tackle.
 
How do those numbers line up with the Colts? Indy's running game gets stuffed only 15% of the time, 6th-best. They are 8th-best at getting yards in the 2nd level. They are 1st in the league on runs behind the left tackle. They are 8th in the league in runs up the middle. They are 1st in the league on runs behind the right tackle.

Long story short: the Colts should find success in the running game.

It's how they find that success that should change. Against the Seahawks, the Colts offense struggled in their base offense: their 2 WR, 2 TE (or 1 TE/1FB) sets just weren't doing much.
 
Here are the first half stats from Sunday:  Luck – 5 of 13 (38.4%) for 97yds, 1 TD, 0 INT.  Running game: 9 carries for 25 yards (2.78ypc)
Here are the second half stats from Sunday: Luck – 11 of 16 (68.8%) for 132 yards, 1 TD, 0INT. Running game: 15 carries for 68yards (4.53ypc) and a TD.   Note: Of Luck's 5 incompletions, 4 were on passes to DHB.
 
The hurry-up offense and the fullback-less formations combined to created an offense that was not only able to consistently move the chains against one of the best defenses in the NFL, but also an offense capable of making explosive, dynamic plays as needed. This needs to be the Colts' offensive blueprint going forward. It is the best way for Luck to have success. It is the best way for the team to have success. Do it.
 

What I'm watching for, offense:

1. #2 for TY - Both Kyle Rodriguez and I wrote about this earlier this week, but it needs to be emphasized: TY Hilton should be the Colts' #2 WR. Whatever he lacks in run blocking (the reasoning for playing DHB over Hilton), he more than makes up for in his pass catching (he has a 58% catch rate to DHB's 50%) and big-play ability (Hilton averages 17.1ypc to DHB's 10.4ypc, Hilton has 5 plays of 20+ yards, DHB has 0). And as both Kyle and I have pointed out: his presence will affect the defense more than DHB's run blocking ever could. No DB is going to aggressively play the run with Hilton on the field. If they do, they'll be Jason David-levels of burnt.

2. Hurry up and Hurry-up! - Finally, we saw it! Trailing 22-17 in the 3rd quarter, Pep Hamilton answered our cries and let Luck run the hurry-up. The results were magnificent. Three 2nd-half scoring drives (2 TD, 1 FG), a worn-out Seattle defense, and BALANCE! Trent Richard's ypc in the 2nd half was 4.5 (up from 0.3 in the 1st half), as he was able to exploit the tired defense from the Colts' passing formations. I'm not saying the Colts need to run the hurry-up every drive of every game, but it should be used every game. It allows Luck to diagnose the defense and put his team in the best play, exploiting coverages, formations, and personnel packages. It's the most-effective way for Hamilton to put Luck in a position to succeed. It should be used as more than just a change of pace for a struggle offense.

3. Give Richardson more Passing Formation runs – I've mentioned it before. I alluded to it in the previous point. I'll keep it short: Trent Richardson isn't going to be a dynamic back the way the Colts have been using him. It's possible he'll never be a dynamic back, but until they put him in a position to succeed, we'll never know. Richardson did his best work of the game (and of the season) on Sunday out of 3-WR sets. He was able to perform with Luck under center and in the shotgun. All he needed was the defense spread out. Keep it up.

When the Chargers have the ball

Indianapolis Colts Defense San Diego Chargers Offense
90 DE C. Redding 13 WR K. Allen
97 NT A. Franklin 85 TE A. Gates
95 DT F. Moala 77 LT K. Dunlap
93 OLB E. Walden 78 LG C. Rinehart
51 ILB P. Angerer 61 C C. Hardwick
50 ILB J. Freeman 66 RG J. Clary
98 OLB R. Mathis 76 RT DJ Fluker
28 CB G. Toler 86 WR V. Brown
26 FS D. Howell 17 QB P. Rivers
41 SS A. Bethea 33 FB L. McClain
23 CB V. Davis 24 RB R. Mathews

I'll be honest, I haven't really bought into the narrative that this Colts defense is a physical force, capable of bullying opposing offenses. Now, don't get me wrong, I'm not saying they're bad, I just don't think they're doing the things they want you to believe they're doing. Look at the stats: they are top-10 in both yards-per-game and DVOA against the pass and bottom-5 in ypg and DVOA against the run.

In fact, they remind me of the defenses they are trying to "distance" themselves from: the 2005-2006 Indianapolis Colts. Watch!

You have LaRon Landry in the Bob Sanders, "Big hitter, oft-injured" Strong Safety role.
You have Antoine Bethea in the conveniently named "Antoine Bethea, great, dependable, reliable Free Safety" role.
You have Greg Toler and Vontae Davis playing the parts of Marlin Jackson and Kevlin Hayden – the bigger, physical guys who mix in a few horrible plays for a handful of great ones, while also being good against the run.
You have Robert Mathis playing the role of Robert Freeney.
You have Cory Redding playing the Booger McFarland/Raheem Brock Memorial Lineman role.
You have Jerrell Freeman in the UDFA, no one believes how good this guy is, Gary Brackett role.

Put a bionic arm on Pat Angerer, and the 2005-2007 Colts could sue these Colts for copyright infringement.

That's not an insult. The 2006 Colts won a Super Bowl. The 2005 Colts were the best team of that era. And the 2007 Colts were every bit the equal to the 18-1 Patriots before injuries to Marvin Harrison, Joseph Addai, Anthony Gonzalez, Dallas Clark, Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis derailed the season. That Colts' defense finished 3rd in total yards, 1st in scoring, and 2nd in total defensive DVOA.

There is nothing wrong with being great against the pass and just okay against the run. It's good enough to win Super Bowls.

So this is where I am on the 2013 Colts defense: I'm not 100% sure what they are, but I know what they aren't. They aren't a physical force. They aren't going to beat you up. But I do think they can be very good against the pass, especially against offenses that don't have 3+ valid receiving options. I think Vontae Davis is developing into a legitimate #1 cover guy. I believe Darius Butler is one of, if not the best, slot cornerbacks in the NFL. I love Antoine Bethea's game. I was impressed with LaRon Landry before he went down with an injury. I'm not sold on Greg Toler, but that won't be a huge problem against most offenses. With those five guys, plus Robert Mathis playing out of his mind, this Colts defense can… do enough to win games.

On Monday, they'll play an offense that ranks near the top of all passing statistics. I'm not sure how Philip Rivers is doing it. Antonio Gates is a household name, but Eddie Royal, Keenan Allen, Vincent Brown and Danny Woodhead? This year's performance has been a testament to the greatness of Philip Rivers and the coaching acumen of new HC Mike McCoy.

Look at the DVOA rankings for those players: Gates – 6th, Royal – 9th, Allen – 6th, Brown – 62nd (every team needs one), Woodhead – 6th in receiving RBs.  That's really impressive.  And not only has their offense been efficient, they've been explosive, notching 20 plays of 20+ yards on the season (the Colts, for comparison's sake, have 15 such plays).

Household names or not, the Colts have their hands full Monday night.

A plan of attack for the Colts? Try to get pressure on Rivers without blitzing. Here are Rivers' stats when blitzed: 50 of 70 (71.4%) with 8 TDs, 1 INT.  That's good, by the way.

Rivers two-worst performances of the season came in games in which the opponent rarely used the blitz (week 3 vs the Titans and week 5 vs the Raiders). With the way Robert Mathis (and, as of late, Erik Walden) has been playing, I believe the Colts can do this. And since Rivers doesn't present the same running threat that Wilson (and others) have, they can feel free to pin their ears back and rush wildly, freely, lovingly. Don't know where I'm going with this.

Rivers and the Chargers present the Colts with their first real test against a good pocket QB this year. I believe the Colts have what it takes to pass the test.

What I'm watching for, defense:

1. Watch for the "German Meaning" – When he's not playing quarterback, Philip Rivers is throwing temper tantrums, kicking footballs, and serving as a pitchman for Summer's Eve.  As the great philosopher Ron Burgundy told us, San Diego means _____ ______ in German. Clearly, Philip Rivers, in olde Germish, is the term for when you get sand in your San Diego.

Get to Rivers. Hit him. Sack him. Score on his team. Get a lead on him. I don't like to call professional athletes mentally weak. Instead, I'll just call Rivers mentally Blaine Gabbert.

2. Lay the Wood on Woodhead – I don't like Danny Woodhead. He comes from a long line of unassuming backups turned average, obnoxious role players after a stint in New England. The only thing worse than Danny Woodhead getting a 1st down (or touchdown) is having to look at his smug, smarmy face after he does it. So save me the trouble, Colts Defense.

Keys to the game (Besides outscoring your opponent)

1. Protect Luck (For the sixth-consecutive week!) –  Protecting the quarterback is the key to winning in the NFL. That's why I'm being obnoxious by listing it each and every week! But I must confess: I have an ulterior motive. This is a great place for me to throw some stats and information about the opposing team's pass rush at you.

So good news: coming off of their toughest test of the year (to date) the Colts offensive line has a much easier task this week against the San Diego Chargers. SD is tied for 14th in the league with 13 sacks, 22nd in PFF's pass rushing statistics, and 20th in Adjusted Sack Rate.

"But Greg, that seems average, how is that good news?"

GREAT QUESTION, READER!

All of these stats include Dwight Freeney's contributions. Dwight Freeney is, unfortunately (I mean that sincerely) out for the year with a torn quad. Let's good deeper in the numbers: the Chargers have 63 hurries on the year. 15 of those came from Freeney. The Chargers have 9 QB hits on the year. 3 of those came from Freeney. The Chargers have 14 sacks on the year. 1 of those came from Freeney (okay, that's not impressive). The point is, a significant portion of San Diego's pass rush production came from 93. 93's not there. It's a problem.

We saw against the Jaguars that this OL can struggle against even the worst pass rushes in the league, but Luck should have enough time to pick apart one of, if not the worst, secondaries in the league.

2. Go West Young Man. And then Go Deep – When Luck has time, he should have no trouble finding an open receiver. 3 of the Chargers' 4 starting DBs – Marshall, Cox, and Wright – rank in the bottom-20 of all DBs in PFF's player rankings. According to DVOA, here is how the Chargers' secondary does against specific receivers: 29th against #1s, 28th against #2s, 31st against #3/4s, #15 against TEs, #24 against RBs.

The Chargers are 2-3. They are 2 plays from 4-1. The plays that gave them a chance at 4-1 came from the offense. The plays that made them 2-3 came from the defense. If the Colts can move the ball against the Seahawks, they'd better be able to move mountains against the Chargers.

3. Get to Rivers – If protecting the QB is the biggest key to winning in the NFL, then surely getting to the opposing QB must be the second-biggest key to winning, right? Right. Rivers has undergone a mini-Renaissance this year, despite being surrounded by cast-offs and relatively unknown players.

Thankfully, after an opening schedule that included the likes of Terrelle Pryor, Colin Kaepernick and Russell Wilson, the Colts' defense can rest easy knowing that the last 40-yard dash Philip Rivers ran was timed in Archaeological Periods (The Rivers Age?). No more pass rush negated by nimble feet, sick agility, and other-worldly elusiveness. On the flip side, Rivers has only taken 8 sacks this year, a testament to his ability to read defenses and get rid of the ball quickly.

Still, given the play of Robert Mathis, and hey, even Erik Walden the past two weeks, one has to believe the Colts will be able to pressure Rivers from time-to-time. And his offensive line isn't all that great, either: tackles King Dunlap and Michael Harris and guard Chad Rinehart all rank near the bottom of the league in pass blocking. In fact, the only San Diego OL with a positive pass blocking grade is C Chad Harwick, so look for Mathis, Walden, and even Cory Redding to have a big day in the QB pressure department.

4. TACKLE – The Colts' defense took a 30-minute tackling vacation against the Seahawks. While they were able to not only overcome those mistakes, but make great strides in correcting them in the 2nd half, the Colts would do well to show up focused and ready to tackle out of the gate Monday night. With players like Antonio Gates, Eddie Royal, and Danny Woodhead, the Chargers gain around 36% of their yards after the catch. Woodhead specifically is an issue, ranking 6th in DVOA among pass-catching RBs. His ability to get low and avoid and/or break tackles, get YAC, and convert 1st downs is a major concern for opposing defense. The Colts have shown flashes of a "swarm mentality" in previous weeks. They need to show it for 60 minutes this week.

5. Don't get Blinded by the Bright Lights - Under the leadership of Peyton Manning, prime time games were a commonality. And the Colts never let down TV networks or the fans, providing high scoring, exciting games, and even the occasional "OH MY GOSH!" comeback. (4th-and-2, Never Forget) But thanks to Peyton Manning's injury-related absence and Curtis Painter in New Orleans, network executives got a little gun shy when it came to scheduling the Colts in night games. So, in 2012, despite having drafted "the greatest quarterbacking prospect of the past decade," the Colts were scheduled for only the league-minimum number of prime time games: one. And that was actually an SEC showdown, under the bright lights of a mostly-empty EverBank field. That doesn't even count on your NFL resume! Such is life.

So really, when you think about it, Monday Night will be this team's first real taste of prime time. There will be no competing for headlines with another quarterbacking duel, there will be no Manning-Romo passing fest, there will be no Giants meltdown or an up-to-the-minute look-in on how RG3 is doing with his $5 footlong. No, on Monday night, the Colts will have the undivided attention of the football world.

It's just another game, sure, but the Colts are as emotionally-driven as any team I've ever followed, and nothing gets the blood and adrenaline flowing more than being in the spotlight. There are a lot of players on this team who deserve some national attention. But get it for the right reasons: for going out and playing within yourself, doing your job, and beating the San Diego Chargers. "New" media is just now coming to the realization that these Colts aren't a fluke. If they care how they're viewed by the rest of the world – and, look, the Colts DO care – then this is their first chance to make a statement. Make it a good one.

6. Don't get Scifres'd - presented without comment.

The injury reports

NOTE: This guide comes out Thursdays, official injury statuses are not released until Friday, the Probable or Questionable designation in these reports is based on Wed/Thur participation only.

 

Indianapolis Colts

I have no clue! Since this is a Monday night game, the first injury
updates don't come up until Thursday afternoon. I'll make some
speculative guesses, though: based on released players and
press conferences, I would expect Werner – who will miss another
2-4 weeks with a foot injury – to be the only non-Injured-Reserve player
to miss Monday's action. I hope this is legible!
   
OLB Bjoern Werner FOOT (OUT)


San Diego Chargers

   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   


 

Series note and a video

  • The Colts and the Chargers have squared off 24 times. F the Chargers.
  • NO VIDEO BECAUSE ALL I CAN FIND ARE COLTS-CHARGERS PLAYOFF HIGHLIGHTS
  • F the Chargers. SERIOUSLY.

Just kidding. Here's a video.

Identifying the coverage

Where(Visually): ESPN

Who(Visually): Mike Tirico and Jon Gruden

Where(Audio): 1070 AM The Fan WFNI and 97.1 HANK FM

Who(Audio): Bob Lamey and Jim Sorgi

Is the Game on in your area? Do you have cable?

Officiating Crew:  Pete Morelli

Prediction

Colts – 28, Chargers – 20

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