The Colts are heading into their big playoff matchup against the San Diego Chargers. The Colts and Chargers did play in Week 10, but the situation is much different from that game. Here is what has changed over the past nine weeks.
~The Colts are not coming off of a tough game against New England Patriots. This time, the Colts have two weeks of rest.
~In this game, the Colts will have future Hall of Famer Marvin Harrison, touchdown machine Dallas Clark, rookie stud Tony Ugoh, veteran lineman Ryan Diem, quality run blocker Charlie Johnson, breakout linebackers Tyjuan Hagler and Freddie Keiaho, and defensive tackle Raheem Brock.
~Phillip Rivers' best target Antonio Gates will most likely miss the game, and even if he plays, he will not be at full strength.
~The Colts are now more prepared for Darren Sproles in the return game.
~This game happens to be in the RCA Dome, so the crowd is pro-Colts, and there will not be rain.
The Colts are in line to win this; however, you can't overlook any opponent. The 3-4 defense has had success against the Colts, especially in the playoffs. New England beat them in 2003 and 2004. Pittsburgh knocked them off in 2005. Last year, their closest game was against the Patriots. Now, they can reverse the pattern. All they have to do is win.
Tony Ugoh, OT: Ugoh is in his first game against the 3-4 defense. In this scheme, he will be relied upon to stop the blitzing outside linebackers, in this case sack artists Shawne Merriman and Shaun Phillips. Ugoh is a very mobile offensive tackle, much more mobile than Michael Toudouze, the backup who played in Ugoh's place against the Chargers. If the linebackers cannot get consistent pressure on Peyton Manning, he will be able to find holes in the Chargers secondary.
Chris Chambers, WR: The Chargers will not have Antonio Gates for this game. In my opinion, this shouldn't make a huge difference in the passing game. The Colts linebackers are fast enough to cover a tight end, and tight ends rarely have success against the Colts. However, the Colts are definitely going to focus on the run this game. There will be eight men in the box for almost the entire game trying to stop LaDanian Tomlinson. This means that Chris Chambers will have single coverage against Marlin Jackson. Chambers needs to get separation from Jackson and the Colts' secondary in general. Jackson, Sanders, Bethea, and Hayden are the hardest-hitting secondary in the league. If Chambers gets rattled, this could be a long day for the San Diego offense.
When the Colts have the ball
Peyton Manning versus Antonio Cromartie: This is battle number two for the Pro Bowlers. Last time, Antonio Cromartie intercepted three passes, including a one-handed circus catch that is now a Youtube legend. Now, Peyton will have Marvin Harrison and Anthony Gonzalez. Cromartie will have to play lock down defense on Reggie Wayne to keep him out of the game. If Wayne gets going, this game will be O-V-E-R.
When the Chargers have the ball
Bob Sanders versus LaDanian Tomlinson: Did you know LaDanian Tomlinson wears a tinted mask so he never has to look Bob Sanders in the eyes? Not really, but yeah. This week, LT has to look him in the eyes, since he will be coming after him. Although his name is awesome, Brandon Manumaleuna does not command the safeties' attention. Sanders will pretty much be a fourth linebacker this week. If they can stop the run game, there will be no way the Super Chargers can move the ball.
Colts pass offense versus Chargers pass defense: The Chargers have the advantage here. Even though I think Peyton will bounce back, the Chargers dominated him last time. I can't give the Colts the benefit of the doubt.
Colts run offense versus Chargers run defense: I will give it to the Colts. Joseph Addai has been injured all year. If these two weeks can heal him, then the Chargers are in trouble. The inside linebackers and safeties are just not good enough to stop the run.
Colts pass defense versus Chargers pass offense: Obviously, the Colts. The Colts pass defense is crazy good. It's the best in the league. The corners hit hard and aren't afraid to put themselves in danger for a big hit. The linebackers are very fast, and Gary Brackett is the best linebacker in pass coverage.
Colts run defense versus Chargers run offense: I will go with the Chargers. The Chargers have the best running back in the league. However, he is very inconsistent. The Colts are just a year off from having one of the worst run defenses in NFL history. This is closer than it appears, however. Sanders has been great in run defense, and LaDanian Tomlinson did nothing last week besides score a touchdown and show his awesome running sideways skills.
My Homer Prediction
Colts 24 Chargers 7: Peyton Manning will have three touchdown passes, all to Marvin Harrison. LaDanian Tomlinson will have 78 yards and a touchdown run, but Phillip Rivers will throw three interceptions and lose a fumble. Joseph Addai and Reggie Wayne will each lose a fumble as well.
Some other pro-Colts tidbits
~Tony Dungy may step down. Again. This happens every year. I was sure that last year was his last year. At the beginning of this year, I knew it was his last year. Now that I am looking it in the eye, it's sad. He's the biggest coach in this city since Slick Leonard. It would be sad if the Colts lost a legend like that. However, I could see him take an advisory role in the front office. Jim Caldwell would most likely be his successor, but don't count out Peyton Manning if player-coaches is allowed like it is in the NBA. He's already the offensive coordinator. I would love to see Peyton running practice and taking snaps at the same time. Bill Cowher and Pete Carroll would also be looked at. If those happen, I will be disgruntled until they led the Colts to a Super Bowl.
~TJ Rushing and Tim Jennings have been the only players to miss practice this week due to an injury (Bob Sanders does not practice on Thursday). For the most of the year, the injury list has been a novelette. Now it's a returner who ate a bad hot dog and a nickelback who has had a concussion for a long time. It feels like the first week of the year. Knock on wood that this continues for the remainder of the postseason, and all of the Colts will be healthy enough to lift the Lombardi Trophy in Glendale.
~The Colts have 17 rookies on the roster and the IR, 12 on defense. I guess the draft and free agency don't equal winning, huh?
~Bob Sanders won Defensive Player of the Year. It's only a matter of time before he is elected Overlord of Indiana. If they do run a ballot for that. He's winning, and he's got my vote.
~This could be the last game in the RCA Dome, and more importantly, the last time fans will be able to leave through the real doors (not the revolving doors Bob Sanders slams) and be thrown out almost to the railing. Good times. Good, good times.
~The Colts are not the only team playing this weekend. The Giants are playing the Cowboys, where the three days of vacation with Jessica Simpson and Jason Witten (Mr. Third Wheel!) will surely affect the way Tony Romo throws a football. The Packers and Seahawks are playing in the *Yawn, falls asleep* Bowl. The Jaguars and Patriots are playing in the Teams That Annoy Me Bowl.
Remember, tune into the Colts-Chargers game at 1:00 PM Sunday on CBS, being broadcast by Greg Gumbel and Dan Dierdorf. Also, do not forget: Bob Sanders pities Mr. T.