It might only be Week 6 but a win this time of year can put a very different complexion on your outlook for the season. The San Diego Chargers found themselves in such a game, entering at 2-3 and knowing a defeat would leave them looking a long way up to the Chiefs and Broncos at the summit of the AFC West. As it was, they halted the momentum of the Colts and instead moved back to .500.
The Chargers controlled the clock and the tempo for almost the entirety of this game, never letting the Colts hold onto the football (though the Indy receivers helped in that regard) to really build a way back into the game. This wasn’t a Monday Night Football game for the ages, but San Diego will be rightly pleased at defending their home turf and grinding out a win over a team that was looking to establish a two-game lead in the AFC South.
For Indianapolis, this was another wake up call to those who might have been looking to crown them too early in their growth this season. The offense struggled to keep hold of the football and build drives (losing the time of possession battle by 17 minutes) and though the defense limited the Chargers for the most part, they always looked short of that momentum-changing play to ignite the team. Having responded well to their first defeat with a road win over the 49ers a week later, a similar rebound against the Broncos on Sunday night (be that in terms of result or performance) would really lay down a marker of where this Colts team could get to this season.
Indianapolis – Three Performances of Note
Down Display from Franklin and Redding
There’s no spin to put on this Colts’ defense to suggest that it is in any way one of the league’s best, but we have seen better than this from them especially up front where Cory Redding and Aubrayo Franklin (both -2.4 overall) failed to match the performances they have put in early in this young season. Unable to make impact plays, the Colts needed to roll up the sleeves and grind the Chargers down-to-down and, this week at least, they didn’t manage to do that as the defensive line was fairly consistently bested on the efficient gains the Chargers’ running game was able to generate.
Redding hasn’t lived on making stops this season but controlling blocks and re-directing runners, but this week it was him being controlled and neutralized up front. Similarly Franklin, playing a season-high 34 snaps, struggled to make an impact against the Chargers’ running game, never really getting to grips with the down blocks that came his way and unable to hold his ground and consistently squeeze runs as we have seen so far this season.
Few Opportunities for Luck to Shine
Trailing in the fourth quarter, this game was made for another Andrew Luck comeback victory but circumstances conspired against him and he never really got the opportunity to engineer anything — missing high on his final throw to Reggie Wayne to end a drive that would have had to be the first of two in the final two minutes to have been successful. Prior to that, the Colts’ inability to stay on the field, conservative play calling, and a few notable drops limited Luck’s impact.
Those drops were so memorable and perceptibly crucial that you might think the four drops we awarded is less than you’d remember from watching. Drops such as Coby Fleener’s inside the two-minute warning in the second quarter, with plenty of yards after the catch at his beckoning, tend to stick in the mind more than some others, allowing your mind to create the image of their having been more. Of Luck’s 29 targeted passes in this game 19 of them were aimed less than 10 yards in the air, with only three aimed more than 20 yards downfield and none of them completed after the 35-yard completion to Wayne on the Colts’ first snap of the game.
Richardson Working Hard for Minimal Gains
Once again Trent Richardson fell short in terms of base stats in this game and some will be looking for reasons to justify the Colts’ decision to trade for him — though he did, at least for the box-score watchers, net a 4.0 yard per carry average for the first time in Colts’ blue.
What those base stats don’t show is the hard work Richardson had to do in order to engineer those minimal gains, making cuts in backfield and picking up the majority of his yards after contact for the third straight week. Richardson tied a season high with 2.8 yards per carry after first contact and forced two missed tackles as a runner. With a little more help up front, displays like that might lead to him gaining more yards off the back of his effort.
San Diego – Three Performances of Note
Allen Continues to Shine
The common theme for the San Diego Chargers this season at wide receiver has been losing players at the top of their depth chart to injury, leaving Philip Rivers short of options out wide to continue his fine start to the season. Step forward third-round pick Keenan Allen who continued his fine recent form with another strong outing. Registering 70+ snaps for the third straight week Allen has put up 100 receiving yards in consecutive games, along with a touchdown and a forced missed tackle for the second straight week.
His 22-yard reception (third week in a row with a 20+ yard play) showed his ability to find his way through coverage to the ball, as he rode a crease through what should have been a comfortable double coverage from the Colts to leave Vontae Davis and Delano Howell trailing while he laid out for Rivers’ pass. More performances like this will keep San Diego fans optimistic about their passing game further into the season.
Seamless Return for Dunlap
Having missed the Chargers’ last two games, King Dunlap returned to the field with comfortably his best performance of the season. Solid in pass protection, surrendering just three slow-developing hurries (only one to Robert Mathis), Dunlap did his best work as a run blocker by picking up and sealing a host of Colts’ defenders as the Chargers efficiently shortened this game en route to victory.
The Chargers rushed 13 times off left end and left tackle with an average gain of 4.2 yards per carry, with Dunlap consistently sealing defenders down at the first- and second-level to help these marching gains, even if Ryan Mathews and Danny Woodhead never really broke off a big run. On these 13 runs behind Dunlap, Charger runners gained 55 yards, with 35 of those coming before contact, illustrating the hard work the blockers were doing to set up these consistent and efficient gains.
Return to Form for Weddle
After a rough start to the season with eight missed tackles in the first three games, Eric Weddle has settled down in recent weeks and got back to his best on Monday night, especially in coverage. Even a safety like Weddle who moves around the defense isn’t very busy in a game, so it’s about making the plays you are involved in count and Weddle did just that with a pair of stops on third down and a pass defense seeing him maximize his impact in coverage. Weddle added to this with an early diversion in the running game and a pressure on Luck (skipping inside of Donald Brown) on Fleener’s drop just prior to the half. Weddle is one of a number of last year’s top performers re-finding their form after an inconsistent start.
– Donald Brown almost matched Trent Richardson in terms of snaps (24 for Brown, 25 for Richardson), but was on the field for pass plays on 21 of those 24 plays, in pass protection 12 times.
– On 49 combined pass rushes, Larry English and Thomas Keiser recorded only four hurries. Those injuries are really starting to bite on the edge for the Chargers.
– In spite of leaving the game early, Jerrell Freeman still led both teams for the game registering five defensive stops, and taking his season total to 26, fifth-most in the league among inside linebackers.
PFF Game Ball
As Philip Rivers’ go-to and most productive receiver in this game, Keenan Allen was the man to come up with the big plays that gave the Chargers the margin of victory that their control deserved.
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