Monday Night Preview
Can the Colts stop the revitalized Antonio Gates and Philip Rivers, and how will San Diego cope with Indy’s downfield threat?
Chargers offense vs. Colts defense
Indianapolis cornerbacks Vontae Davis, Greg Toler and Darius Butler are getting better each week in man coverage. That’s the best coverage to play against a San Diego spread passing attack that is well-designed but deprived of a go-to wide receiver.
San Diego does, however, have a go-to tight end. Thirty-three-year-old Antonio Gates is healthier and moving better than he has over the past two seasons. The closest the Colts have come to facing a threatening tight end was Week 3, when they saw an injured Vernon Davis in street clothes on the Niners’ sideline. Don’t be surprised if they play a lot of man-free coverage with a lurk defender underneath to help propagate interior double-teams against Gates. Their other alternative would be to play quarters coverage, which would have the outside corners essentially playing man and the shallow underneath defenders playing zone.
Whatever coverage the Colts play, it will be interesting to see how much, if any, disguising they do. Philip Rivers, who you could argue is so far having a career-year in Mike McCoy’s system, has been outstanding at diagnosing and adjusting to defensive looks before the snap. After Gates, Rivers’ best weapon is new running back Danny Woodhead. The ex-Patriot is a movable chess piece who can create his own space on carries out of a single-man backfield or as a route runner split out wide. If the Colts do go with quarters coverage, Rivers will almost certainly split Woodhead out to occupy one of Indy’s top corners. That would create mismatches for receivers Vincent Brown, Keenan Allen and Eddie Royal inside or, possibly, get Gates against a linebacker.
Of course, it’s one thing to create mismatches. It’s another to exploit them. Rivers and the Chargers must be sharper Monday night than they were last Sunday night.
Colts offense vs. Chargers defense
We’ll dive deeper into Andrew Luck later this week in preparation for his showdown with Peyton Manning. For now we’ll focus on the guys around Luck. In trading for Trent Richardson, the Colts made it clear that they’re committed to having a classic power running game. So far Richardson has given them exactly what he gave the Browns: a bunch of unimaginative two- and three-yard gains. The second-year pro runs hard, but having little lateral agility or initial burst, he’s basically at the mercy of his blockers. Richardson’s blockers, quite frankly, are not very good. Every Colts offensive lineman, save for surging left tackle Anthony Castonzo, lacks the necessary athleticism to consistently reach the second level or quickly get out in front when on the move.
Fortunately, thanks to Luck and receivers Reggie Wayne and T.Y. Hilton—who are good at creating separation late in their routes—the Colts have a downfield-oriented passing game to fall back on. That’s what they’ll do Monday night, as Chargers cornerbacks Richard Marshall and Derek Cox can be exploited.