Breaking Down the Colts Defense v. the Chargers

Antonio Johnson and Antoine Bethea sack Chargers quarterback Phillip Rivers. (AJ Mast | AP Photo)

As Colts fans continue to react to an extremely disappointing home loss that keeps Indianapolis in a tie with Jacksonville for first place in the AFC South, one common opinion is that the Colts defense played poorly against the Chargers.  Granted, most fans agree that the offense failed to get anything going and may have been primarily responsible for letting the game get away, but they still argue that the defense did not do enough to stop the Chargers and showed another example of how bad the unit is in 2010.

While statistics are not my favorite form of displaying a perspective or making an argument, the statistical breakdown of how the defense fared against the number one offense in the NFL is so telling and difficult to argue with that I think it will do a better job than complex explanations of where individual players did things right.

The Chargers had nine meaningful offensive possessions.  The possessions at the end of the first half and to finish the game were victory formation (kneel down) situations and should not count against their averages, nor against the Colts defense.


1st Half

In the first half, San Diego had four possessions that went as follows:

1st possession – SD started at the Chargers 45 – the defense allowed 45 yards and a field goal from the 10.
2nd possession – SD started at the Chargers 40 – the defense allowed 45 yards and a field goal from the 15.
3rd possession – SD started at the Chargers 42 – the defense allowed 26 yards and a field goal from the 32.
4th possession – SD started at the Chargers 14 – the defense allowed 8 yards and forced a punt on a three-and-out.  (The offense took the punt for a touchdown — a pass to Blair White to end the half)

This means the Colts defense held the Chargers offense to a net of 124 total yards and 9 points, even though San Diego’s average starting position was on their own 42 yard line.


2nd Half

In the second half, San Diego had five possessions that went as follows:

1st possession – SD started at the Chargers 33 – the defense allowed 55 yards for a field goal from the 12.
2nd possession – SD started at the Chargers 30 – the defense allowed 5 yards and forced a punt on a three-and-out.
3rd possession – SD started at the Chargers 39 – the defense allowed 61 yards for a Tolbert rushing touchdown.
4th possession – SD started at the Colts 33 – the defense allowed 31 yards for a field goal from the 2.
5th possession – SD started at the Chargers 41 – the defense allowed 4 yards and forced a punt on a three-and-out.

This means the Colts defense held the Chargers offense to a net of 156 total yards and 13 points, even though San Diego’s average starting position was on their own 42 yard line.


As mentioned previously, San Diego has the league’s top rated offense.  They average 407.5 yards and 28 points per game.  Against the Colts their offense put up 280 net yards and 22 points (with 3 coming on a possession that started in field goal range).

Phillip Rivers is averaging 305.6 yards and 2 touchdowns per game.  Against the Colts, he threw for 185 yards and 0 touchdowns.

The Chargers are averaging 113.3 rushing yards a game at a 4.0 yards per carry clip.  Against the Colts they ran for 129 yards on 32 carries, which is right at their 4.0 yards per carry average on the year.

The Colts defense forced three-and-outs on a third of the Chargers possessions.  They did not allow a single third down conversion — the Chargers were 0/8 on third downs.  They generated two sacks and five quarterback hurries.  The defense was on the field for 35 minutes and 38 seconds of the 60 minutes, even though two pick sixes gave the ball right back to the Colts offense.  They gave the offense back the ball with a chance to take the lead three times.  In two of those three opportunities Manning threw a pick-six.

Even counting two San Diego field goals off of turnovers, one after the Javarris James fumble in the fourth quarter and another off of the Stephen Cooper interception in the second quarter, the defense allowed only 22 points.  This kept the offense in a one possession game, if not for the pick sixes.  Coming into the game, if analysts were told the Chargers were only going to generate 22 points on offense, and 280 net offensive yards, the vote would have been nearly unanimous that the Colts would win at home.

No, the defense was not outstanding.  They did not play one of the best defensive games of the year.  That said, the Colts defense was the best unit Indianapolis put on the field Sunday night and fought to give the offense plenty of opportunities to turn things around.  There are a lot of reasons to be frustrated with the defense’s inconsistent play in 2010 but in the Chargers rout at home, the defense is not a legitimate culprit.

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