A Capsule Look at this Week's Colts Opponent, the San Diego Chargers
Synopsis: The Colts' once again this week will play a team fighting for a spot in the AFC playoff picture.
This week's opponent is a familiar one.
And while the San Diego Chargers face unfamiliar and surprising circumstances this season, they're a few late losses from being in first place in the AFC West, and they're far from being out of a tightly-contested AFC postseason chase.
The Chargers, the defending AFC West champions and a team widely selected to contend for the AFC title, have lost three of their last four games – including an 11-10 loss at Pittsburgh Sunday – but remain just two games behind Denver in the West.
That deficit doesn't mean the Chargers aren't dangerous, Colts President Bill Polian said.
And neither does a sub.-500 record.
"They are a very, very good football team," Colts President Bill Polian said. "They have talent that is rare."
That talent includes quarterback Philip Rivers, the AFC's leading passer, as well as Pro Bowl tight end Antonio Gates and perennial Pro Bowl running back LaDainian Tomlinson.
The Chargers this season have struggled at times offensively on the road, and against the Steelers on Sunday, they produced just 213 total yards, but they are 3-1 at home this season, and have averaged 30.5 points per game. Their lone loss came in the season-opener, when Carolina scored a touchdown on the final play of a 26-24 Panthers victory.
San Diego has two victories over plus-.500 teams at home this season, having beaten the AFC East-leading New York Jets, 48-29, there in September and defending AFC Champion New England, 30-10, there in October.
"They're a good football team," Colts Head Coach Tony Dungy said. "They have a lot of talented guys. That New England game . . . that was one of the most impressive games I've seen played this year. That's what they're capable of, so that's what we have to go out expecting to get, that type of game from them."
With Pro Bowl linebacker Shawne Merriman – one of the league's top pass rushers – out for the season, San Diego this season is last in the NFL in pass defense. The Chargers have registered just 22 sacks, the 12th highest total in the league. They were fifth in the NFL with 42 sacks last season.
San Diego last season led the NFL in turnover margin at plus-24 and takeaways with 48. The Chargers are 23rd in turnover margin at minus-5 this season and their 10 takeaways are tied for 29th in the NFL.
The Colts and Chargers have played four times in Dungy's six previous seasons, with San Diego having won the last three meetings – in the 2005 and 2007 regular seasons, and in an AFC Divisional Playoff in Indianapolis this past January.
The Chargers beat the Colts, 23-21, in San Diego last November, a game the Colts trailed 23-0 and had a chance to win before kicker Adam Vinatieri missed a 29-yard field goal in the final two minutes. Colts quarterback Peyton Manning threw a career-high six interceptions before leading a second-half rally.
San Diego then rallied from deficits of 7-0, 10-7, 17-14 and 24-21 to beat the Colts, 28-24, in the playoffs last season.
"This is a team that very easily could be and probably should be 7-3 except for a couple of bad calls and a bad bounce here and there," Polian said. "They're a very formidable opponent. You would much rather be playing them here, but we're not, so we have to go out to California and do our best."
2008 Record: 4-6, 2nd in AFC West.
Head Coach: Norv Turner, second season as Chargers Head Coach (15-11, 16-12 including postseason) and 11th season as an NFL Head Coach (73-93-1, 76-95-1 including postseason).
Last game: Playing the defending AFC North Champion Pittsburgh Steelers, the Chargers led much of the first half and held a 10-8 lead in the fourth quarter before losing, 11-10. The loss, the 13th for the Chargers in as many regular-season trips to Pittsburgh, was secured when Steelers kicker Josh Reed converted a 32-yard field goal with 11 seconds remaining. Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers completed 15 of 29 passes for 159 yards and was intercepted twice.
2008 NFL Rankings: Offense – Overall, 14th (335.7 yards per game); Rushing, 26th (93.1 ypg); Passing, 7th (242.6 ypg); Defense – Overall, 27th (372.2 yards per game); Rushing, 15th (105.2 ypg); Passing, 32nd (267.0 ypg).
2008 Leading Passer: Philip Rivers (191-296 completions, 2,513 yards, 64.5 pct., 21 TD, 10 INT, 100.8 rating).
2008 Leading Rusher(s): LaDainian Tomlinson (182 carries, 686 yards, 5 TD); Darren Sproles (34 carries, 161 yards, 0 TD).
2008 Leading Receiver(s): Antonio Gates (40 receptions, 479 yards, 6 TD); Vincent Jackson (37 receptions, 646 yards, 4 TD); LaDainian Tomlinson (36 receptions, 294 yards, 1 TD); Chris Chambers (19 receptions, 294 yards, 5 TD).
2008 Leading Sacker(s): Shaun Phillips (4); Jyles Tucker (4).
2008 Turnover Breakdown: Minus-5 (10 forced, 15 committed).
First-round draft choice: Antoine Cason, cornerback. With the 27th overall selection in the 2008 NFL Draft, the Chargers selected Cason, a cornerback from the University of Arizona.
Cason (6-feet, 190 pounds) has played in all 10 games as a reserve this season, intercepting one pass and defensing five. He currently is listed as the backup to Pro Bowl corner Antonio Cromartie and has played mostly as a nickel back this season.
Cason had 15 interceptions at Arizona and was named the Thorpe Award winner for the nation's top defensive back as a senior.
Key free agents acquired: L.J. Shelton (Miami), OT; Derek Smith (San Francisco), LB.
Key free agents lost: Drayton Florence (Jacksonville), CB; Michael Turner (Atlanta), RB.
2008 Review: The Chargers, a season after winning the AFC West, have struggled at times this season, and they enter Sunday's game with the Colts having lost four of six games.
They began the season with a 26-24 loss at home to Carolina, losing when Panthers quarterback Jake Delhomme completed a 14-yard touchdown pass to tight end Dante Rosario as time expired, and after a 39-38 loss at Denver, they beat the New York Jets at home and Oakland on the road to even their record.
They then lost at Miami before a 30-10 victory over New England, but a 23-14 loss at Buffalo and a 37-32 loss to New Orleans in London pushed them to 3-5 entering a Week 9 bye.
They held off a late rally to beat Kansas City at home before losing a late lead at Pittsburgh Sunday.
Last time in Playoffs: 2007.
Last time in Super Bowl: 1994.
Super Bowl Championships: None.
2007 Pro Bowl Selections: Antonio Gates, TE; Lorenzo Neal, FB; LaDainian Tomlinson, RB; Antonio Cromartie, CB; Kris Dielman, G; Marcus McNeill, OT; Shawne Merriman, LB; Kassim Osgood, ST; Jamal Williams, DT.
Quotable I: "The reality is what it is. We know time is running out. We can't continue to settle for these, 'OK, we lost and we're almost there.' That's going to get us sent home.''
--- Chargers Tight End Antonio Gates
Quotable II: "We've been up against the wall. Even more so now."
--- Chargers Quarterback Philip Rivers