Who Has The Edge? (Position Grid)  

 

Colts already have proven they can win at Qualcomm

  • By Vic Carucci NFL.com
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Peyton Manning is one of the hottest passers in the league and the primary reason the Colts closed the season with a nine-game winning streak. After struggling early while recovering from two knee operations, he has regained the form that makes him one of the greatest quarterbacks in NFL history.

Joseph Addai and Dominic Rhodes have had ordinary seasons. Addai does have good speed and is especially dangerous when he turns the corner. Rhodes is a tough inside runner. Still, the Colts' ground game ranks 31st in the NFL with 79.6 yards per game, forcing Manning to carry the offense with his arm.

Joseph Addai

Reggie Wayne is a superb route-runner with considerable speed. Marvin Harrison isn't the player he was in his prime, but remains a threat. Anthony Gonzalez continues to grow into a very reliable target. Focus on taking them away, and tight end Dallas Clark, a red-zone terror, will make plays down the seam

This unit overcame a series of injuries to keep Manning well protected for most of the season. Its run-blocking hasn't been quite as effective, however. Jeff Saturday is among the best centers in the game and is crucial to keeping things organized as Manning goes through his litany of calls and adjustments at the line.

Jeff Saturday

Dwight Freeney is one of the best defensive ends in the league. His tremendous quickness off the ball makes him a constant challenge to contain off the edge. Robert Mathis is another pass-rushing force that blockers must respect. The vulnerability of the Colts' four-man line is that it's relatively small, especially in the middle.

Middle linebacker Gary Brackett will miss his fifth game in a row with a cracked bone in his lower right leg. And that means continued shuffling within this group. Freddie Keiaho is expected to move from the outside to replace Buster Davis, who had previously started for Brackett. Tyjuan Hagler likely will start in place of Keiaho.

Freddie Keiaho

The best news for the Colts' defense is that strong safety Bob Sanders, who has missed nine games this season with knee and ankle injuries, is healthy. He continues to make everyone around him better. The Colts' cornerbacks aren't accomplished, but they have stepped up at key times.

Bob Sanders

Adam Vinatieri isn't quite as money as he used to be on field goals, but he still has a strong leg. Hunter Smith is an effective punter who can consistently put the ball inside the opponents' 20. The Colts' kickoff coverage is inconsistent. They have the league's worst punt-return average and are near the bottom in kickoff returns.

Tony Dungy won a Super Bowl two years ago, but he might be doing a better coaching job this season. He didn't allow the Colts' early season struggles to snowball and led the team to the playoffs for the ninth time in 10 years. He gets particularly high marks for his defense's play during the 9-0 stretch.

Tony Dungy

The fact the Colts have lost three of their last four games against the Chargers, including a 2007 divisional-round playoff, doesn't factor into what will likely happen Saturday night. The Colts are the better team and proved on Nov. 23 they can win at Qualcomm Stadium. Manning should find his share of success against a blitzing defense.


Philip Rivers' prolific passing numbers should have been worthy of a spot in the Pro Bowl. Besides Denver's collapse, the Chargers reached the postseason largely because of the big plays he consistently produced with his arm. His brash and tough personality rubs off on the rest of the offense.

Who said LaDainian Tomlinson lost a step? He looked as explosive as ever in the division-clinching win over Denver. Darren Sproles is an incredibly fast complement who becomes even more dangerous in the open field as defenses wear down from chasing Tomlinson, who is dealing with a groin-muscle injury.

LaDainian Tomlinson

Most opponents look to shut down Antonio Gates, one of the best and most athletic tight ends in the league, and force Rivers to go elsewhere. The other options are pretty good. Vincent Jackson and Chris Chambers are play-makers. And Tomlinson and Sproles can always find a mismatch in coverage.

When Tomlinson struggled at points earlier in the season many critics were quick to put the blame on him. However, the real problem was that his line wasn't opening enough holes. The unit does a better job in pass protection, although Tomlinson and Sproles
are good enough to overcome inconsistent blocking.

Nose tackle Jamal Williams has played much better in the second half of the season than he did in the first. At his best, he can be a dominant force. Ends Luis Castillo and Igor Olshansky have been disappointing. They haven't generated much as pass-rushers and their run-stopping has left something to be desired.

Jamal Williams

This unit never overcame the season-long absence of OLB Shawne Merriman. For that matter, neither has San Diego's defense, which has allowed at least three touchdowns in four of its last five games. Until lately, Shaun Phillips hasn't picked up much of the slack. Stephen Cooper and Matt Wilhelm are solid inside.

Opponent after opponent found it far too easy to make big plays through the air agaisnt the Chargers. Antonio Cromartie is not the ball-hawker he was a year ago. None of San Diego's other defensive backs are making many big plays, either. The Chargers are especially soft against short and intermediate passes.

Sproles is an extremely dangerous return man, capable of going the distance on any kick. The Chargers do a solid job in kick coverage. Mike Scifres is one of the best punters in the league, with an exceptionally strong leg and good hang time. Nate Kaeding remains one of the NFL's more reliable kickers, and has excellent range.

Nate Kaeding

Norv Turner's future with the Chargers seemed in question at one point, with the team falling well short of expectations. Speculation about whether he would keep his job subsided after the team made a strong finish to win the AFC West. Since Ron Rivera took over the defense, it has been more aggressive.

There's no denying this team is hot, winning its last four games. But the Chargers' AFC West championship wasn't something they won so much as the Broncos lost with an epic collapse. Their offense is explosive and will give the Colts' defense a strong challenge. In the end, however, it probably won't be enough.

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