INDIANAPOLIS -- The San Diego Chargers have always given Peyton Manning trouble. On Sunday night, they brought it to a whole new level -- intercepting four Manning passes en route to a 36-14 drubbing of the Colts at Lucas Oil Stadium.
"They're an excellent defense," Manning would say later. "They got after us tonight and executed their defense better than we executed our offense."
Manning's first interception was indicative of how the Chargers repeatedly turn the mind of the NFL's best-thinking quarterback against itself.
On a third-and-5 from the Colts' 25-yard line, Manning brought the Colts to the line in a three-receiver, one-back set. The Chargers showed man-to-man coverage with a safety deep -- cover one. Prior to the snap, San Diego showed seven men preparing to rush the passer.
No one in the NFL handles the blitz better than Manning and, after receiving the snap, he identified Reggie Wayne in a shallow crossing pattern that would easily beat the blitz and pick up the first down.
The only problem was that San Diego has an exceptional ability to disguise its blitz and coverage patterns and anticipate where Manning will deliver the football.
While San Diego showed seven rushers, they only sent four -- this confused the blocking patterns so that defensive tackle Antonio Garay was matched up one-on-one against rookie guard Jeff Linkenbach. Garay got good penetration and disrupted Manning's timing. Meanwhile, linebacker Kevin Burnett initially showed blitz before dropping back into the flat zone at the last possible second.
While Wayne beat double-coverage, Manning never saw Burnett -- resulting in an easy interception and 29-yard return for the Chargers' first touchdown of the game.
"I think pressure always plays a part of it" said Chargers head coach Norv Turner. "I thought Burnett made an outstanding play and read (Manning) all the way. I don't think he ever saw him."
It was the first of four interceptions in what was one of Manning's most forgettable nights as a pro.
"It was a poor decision," Manning said. "Poor throw, poor decision."