A Capsule Look at the Colts' Sunday Showdown against the Chargers
San Diego Chargers (5-5) vs. Indianapolis Colts (6-4) Sunday, November 28, 2010 (8:20 p.m. ET) Lucas Oil Stadium (63,000 capacity) – Indianapolis, Indiana Television/Radio: NBC Sports, Westwood One and 1070-The Fan/HANK-FM 97.1
Entering Week 12 of the NFL season, the Colts only have played four games inside Lucas Oil Stadium. This ties them with four other teams for the fewest home games thus far in the season.
The Colts will be glad to return to their three-year old home on Sunday as the team is 19-3 in regular season and post-season games in the stadium. The Colts actually dropped their first two home games ever played in Lucas Oil Stadium, so heading into the Chargers game the team has won 19 of their last 20 games in the building with the only loss coming to the New York Jets last December when the Colts rested several starters in the second half as they already had clinched homefield advantage throughout the playoffs.
It is clear to San Diego quarterback Philip Rivers that the Colts, while a formidable opponent anywhere, are even tougher when playing at home.
"They play better at home, as you would expect most teams to be," Rivers said. "Certainly (they have) a great crowd, and I think both sides of the ball are perfectly made for indoors in a dome with what they do both offensively and defensively; fast and explosive offensively and defensively they win with speed and putting pressure on the passer. They have two of the best guys rushing in the league and guys in the secondary that can make plays. (It) certainly is going to be a challenge."
Making the home games even more important this season is the fact the Colts, who have the NFL's best road record since the 2002 season, have not had their normal success on the road, going 2-4 in road games this season.
"We've certainly played better at home than we have on the road so far to date," Colts quarterback Peyton Manning said. "That's a good and a bad thing. We need to try and get the road thing fixed, but hopefully we can continue to win at home. (We're playing) probably one of the hottest teams, playing with a lot of momentum right now, coming off a little winning streak here. This is definitely one of our toughest tests to date here at home."
It is not easy to pinpoint an exact reason why the Colts have not had the success they've become accustomed to on the road. In the team's four losses, three of them have been decided by a field goal or less.
"I can't really (identify one reason)," Manning said. "I'm sure you can look at each game and certain reasons or whatever that we've lost the game. Some haven't been so close, some of them have been real close games. I don't think it's really a factor where it's been. For whatever reason, we haven't played a full 60-minute game in order to close out some of those games. We've certainly had chances in just about all of them."
The Colts believe the success at home and even the difficulties on the road are helping them as they hit the backend of their schedule in search of their seventh AFC South title in eight seasons.
"We've been very good at home," Colts tight end Jacob Tamme said. "Our crowds are always great. It's a good atmosphere for us. We just have to keep fighting on the road. We've had three really tough road losses now. Hopefully, that will be good for us down the stretch and continue to get better."
San Diego Head Coach Norv Turner says no matter where the game is, his team is in for a battle when they are facing the Colts.
"I think they play awfully well wherever they play," Turner said. "We've played them (at home) and we've played them there and they are a very talented, very good football team. They've gone through a lot, like we've gone through, they've had a lot of their guys out. It's amazing to me what they've done with the offensive guys being out still, continuing to be productive. It's much like what our guys have done, and I do believe it starts if you have stability in your offensive line and if you have a quarterback, and obviously they have the best."
Colts Head Coach Jim Caldwell says home or away should not matter. If the team concentrates on the little things, they will find the success they are looking for.
"This year, we've kind of been up-and-down a little bit, but there have been times when we've been pretty good on the road, meaning that home teams don't always have an advantage," Caldwell said. "You still have to play and play well, no matter where you are. I think that's the thing, we have to play well, and we have to make certain that we continue to do that. This week is no different. If you don't play well, the parity and the competition is so fierce that homefield is not that much of an advantage if you're not lined up where you're supposed to and playing as well as you can. But I can tell you this, our fans do help us, there is no question about that, just in terms of noise and enthusiasm and all of those things that are generated in that setting. Don't think that that is not a factor. That part goes without saying. The guys love to play and love to play in that environment, and we've got a great environment to play in."
FOCUS ON THE COLTS
On Wednesday, during his weekly Q&A with the media, Manning joked he might need nametags at Thanksgiving dinner for some of the new players on the team he invited to his house.
While Manning was joking, the Colts have had so many unfortunate injuries this season that only once has the team had the same 53-man roster from one game to the next.
The injuries have tested the Colts' philosophy of 'Next Man Up,' and many players have answered the call.
"We take it very seriously," Tamme said. "We all prepare hard every week and I feel like tight end-wise, we prepare hard every single week. Whether we get a couple snaps in the game or a lot, it helps you out in times like this. Offensively, guys just pick each other up, keep moving the ball and keep scoring. The 'Next Man Up' thing is great when you can go down the field and score with the 'Next Man Up' motto going. Our offensive line just looks at us in the huddle and says, 'Let's go.' Everybody has confidence in everybody, and that is the neat part about being a part of this team."
Tamme has been one of the players the team has needed to step up. A fourth-round selection in 2008, the former Kentucky Wildcat was mostly a special teams performer in his first two seasons, making 15 tackles on special teams while only having six receptions on offense.
But his role saw a dramatic change on October 25, when the team put Pro Bowl tight end Dallas Clark on injured reserve with a wrist injury. Since then, Tamme has taken on a much larger role in the offense, and in the past four games he has caught 31 passes for 305 yards and two touchdowns. The receptions and yards are the most by any tight end in the league since Week 8.
MOST RECEIVING YARDS BY TE SINCE OCT. 31
Player Team Yards
Jacob Tamme COLTS 305
Jason Witten DAL 295*
Joel Dreessen HOU 197
MOST RECEPTIONS BY TE SINCE OCT. 31
Player Team Receptions
Jacob Tamme COLTS 31
Jason Witten DAL 28*
Brandon Pettigrew DET 22*
*-Pettigrew and Witten both played on Thanksgiving and their numbers reflect one more game played than Tamme's
Rookie wide receiver Blair White is another player who has stepped up for the offense.
White went undrafted in April's draft out of Michigan State and signed with the Colts as a free agent in April. After being cut from the team after training camp, White spent the first two weeks of the season on the team's practice squad, but was called up to the 53-man roster prior to the September 26 Denver game when the team was without wide receivers Pierre Garcon and Anthony Gonzalez.
White caught three passes for 27 yards and one touchdown against the Broncos and has stayed on the 53-man roster. In November, White has seen his role increase again as a concussion has limited Austin Collie to just two halves of play in the team's last three games. White caught three passes for 42 yards against Philadelphia, and after missing the Cincinnati game with an injury of his own, he caught five passes for 42 yards and two touchdowns last week at New England.
"Blair has performed and performed extremely well under some circumstances that typically you would anticipate that a rookie may not be able to function at a high level, but he has been able to do that," Caldwell said. "He's been able to create space and find openings and make outstanding catches. He's a very, very integral part of what we do. He's just worked himself into that position. He's one of those guys that works extremely hard at his craft. He pays attention to all the little details and tries to find a way to get better. We certainly are glad that he's able to step up and perform for us consistently."
A CLOSER LOOK AT THE CHARGERS
San Diego comes into the game with a 5-5 record and winners of their last three games.
The team struggled early with turnovers and special teams play in getting off to a 2-5 start.
"I think the biggest reason for the slow start was offensively we turned the football over," Rivers said. "We turned it over too much in general, but especially in some critical moments we turned the ball over. That's one thing we haven't done over the last three weeks and it's resulted in some wins. We've cleaned some things up on special teams. Obviously, we've given some points away there. Our defense is playing really well now. It's just a matter of getting some of those things straightened out. They are never permanently fixed, it's a week-to-week deal, you have to go out and do it week-after-week-after-week. We've got a little run now of three in a row, but number four doesn't get any easier."
Turner said he did not panic when the team got off to a slow start, but wanted to make sure the players understood why they were not getting the results they wanted.
"First of all, you have to understand why you are or aren't winning games," Turner said. "Our issue this year has been two things; we turned the ball over early in the year at an alarmingly high rate and not only that, we had five turnovers in the red zone in games that were decided by less than a touchdown, so that obviously has a major impact. And we've had some big issues in the kicking game. We had some injuries early, and we were playing some young guys and have since made changes to get some veteran players in there. We think we've improved a great deal there. I think the biggest thing was to make sure your guys understand why you aren't winning and handle those situations, and then keep trying to get better at the things you're doing well. That's what our guys have been able to do."
One of the things the team has been doing well is passing the ball. Rivers is on pace to become just the third quarterback in NFL history to throw for more than 5,000 yards in a season. The seventh-year player has thrown 23 touchdown passes this season and is averaging 317.7 yards passing per game with a QB rating of 105.0
"Philip is just continuing to grow as a player," Turner said. "This is his fourth year in this offense and how we run it. He just continues to get better. He obviously has always had great games. He had that stretch run my first year here and in the playoffs had that great game in Indianapolis and gave us a chance to win that game. He's just gotten better every year. He's playing as well as you can."
Rivers says even though he had a hand in some of the team's early turnover problems, he feels like he is playing some of the best football of his career.
"I'm probably playing as consistent as I've played. I had my hand in and was a part of some of those turnovers in those early-season losses, but for the most part in these games, I've played pretty consistent, but that's due in large part to the guys around me. The guys up front are playing unbelievable right now in their protection and 15 guys have caught a pass. There are a lot of guys making plays in order for that to happen.
"I think you just grow as a player every game you play, every snap you take, you benefit and grow. I think the comfort level has just continued to rise each year you are in this system and around this group of guys. Other than that, there is no specific part of my play that necessarily has changed. I like to think I've gotten better in the last two or three years, but as far as the player, very, very similar."
Rivers and the Chargers have three consecutive home games after Sunday's game at the Colts, and are only one game out of first place in the AFC West.
"We're fortunate," Turner said. "You lose three in a row early in the year and you can lose confidence, you can get yourself in such a hole that you can't get out of it. We have a tough schedule ahead of us. I think Indy is probably the best team we've played to this point, particularly playing them at their place, and then we get back into our division for a stretch. I'm excited that we've been able to get back to this point, and I like the health of our team and the way we're playing, but we're like a lot of teams, we have a tough stretch ahead of us."
The Colts on Friday issued the game status/injury report for Sunday's game against San Diego with the following players listed as out: WR-Austin Collie (concussion) and Bob Sanders (biceps). RB-Joseph Addai (neck) is listed as doubtful, while the following players are listed as questionable: LBs-Gary Brackett (toe) and Clint Session (elbow), TE-Brody Eldridge (rib), RBs-Mike Hart (ankle) and Javarris James (knee), DB-Justin Tryon (foot) and WR-Reggie Wayne (knee).
"He's going to let you know about it. It doesn't matter if you're an undrafted free agent or a first-round pick. He holds himself to the same standard, too. It resonates throughout the organization. He's the leader, and he's been here longer than anyone else. He knows what it is about, and if we aren't doing things up to his standard then we aren't doing it right. He knows what it takes to win."
-Colts wide receiver Blair White on QB-Peyton Manning having high expectations for all the players on offense.
"You certainly don't want have many three-and-outs because each time you punt it back to them it's another opportunity. We have a great deal of confidence in our defense. They are playing really well right now, but Peyton and that offense and what they've done for many, many years obviously is dangerous. I know our defense is excited for the challenge and up for it, but certainly, offensively each and every position is important and we want to go put the ball in the end zone."
-Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers on if he and the offense feel pressure to score knowing the defense has to deal with the Colts offense.
"It was an ugly game, I remember that. It was a bad game. Winning is better than losing. One of the few wins that year. I remember the preseason was a bad game for me. I know the regular season wasn't a whole lot better, but we did somehow score a few more points than them. I did throw a touchdown to (RB-Marshall) Faulk, I think. I do remember that."
-Colts quarterback Peyton Manning on what he remembers about his first win against San Diego, a 17-13 victory in 1998, his rookie season.
STORYLINES TO WATCH FOR…
1. Colts Defense Tough on Third Downs at Home
The Colts defense ranks eighth in the conference in third-down defense this season, holding opponents to a 40.7 percent conversion rate (50-123).
If the season ended today, the defenses' third-down percentage would be the unit's best mark since 2005 when they held opponents to a 36.7 conversion rate (76-207).
As good as the numbers overall are, the defense has been even better at home, allowing opponents to only convert 26.7 percent (12-45) of their third-down attempts.
In three of the four home games, the Colts have held opposing offenses to less than 30 percent on third-down attempts, including allowing Kansas City only one third-down conversion.
COLTS THIRD DOWN DEFENSE AT HOME
OPPONENT No.-Att. Percent
NY Giants 3-11 .273
Kansas City 1-10 .100
Houston 3-11 .273
Cincinnati 5-13 .385
2. Colts on Sunday Night
With the league's best record, 134-52, since 1999, it should come as no surprise the Colts are on prime-time television a lot.
But prime-time games often pit two of the league's best teams against each other, which makes the Colts 11-3 record on Sunday night regular season games since 2006 an impressive mark.
Heading into Sunday's showdown with the Chargers, the Colts have won their last seven regular season Sunday night games. The club's last loss on a Sunday night was the season-opener in 2008 to Chicago. That marked the first game back for Manning after missing all of the preseason recuperating from knee surgery.
In all regular season prime-time games since 2006, the Colts are 19-4 (.826) and have won their last 11.
COLTS SUNDAY NIGHT REGULAR SEASON GAMES SINCE 2006
Oct. 17, 2010 at Washington W, 27-24
Sept. 19, 2010 vs. NY Giants W, 38-14
Nov. 15, 2009 vs. New England W, 35-34
Oct. 11, 2009 at Tennessee W, 31-9
Sept. 27, 2009 at Arizona W, 31-10
Nov. 23, 2008 at San Diego W, 23-20
Nov. 2, 2008 vs. New England W, 18-15
Sept. 7, 2008 vs. Chicago L, 13-29
Dec. 30, 2007 vs. Tennessee L, 10-16
Dec. 9, 2007 at Baltimore W, 44-20
Nov. 11, 2007 at San Diego L, 21-23
Nov. 26, 2006 vs. Philadelphia W, 45-21
Nov. 5, 2006 at New England W, 27-20
Sept. 10, 2006 at NY Giants W, 26-21
3. Colts at home coming off a loss
The Colts are 55-13 at home since the 2002 season, the second-best mark in the league.
But the team that is already tough to beat at home becomes even tougher to beat when they are playing a game at home coming off a loss.
The Colts have won the last 12 games they've played in Indianapolis when they are coming off a loss the game before. Three times this season, the Colts have come home after a road loss and won. In the Colts' first home game this season, after losing the season-opener to Houston, the Colts came back to Lucas Oil Stadium to defeat the New York Giants, 38-14. In October, after falling on a last second field goal to Jacksonville, the Colts came home to beat Kansas City, 19-9. In their last home, the Colts defeated Cincinnati, 23-17, after dropping the previous week's game to Philadelphia. The last time the Colts extended a losing streak with a home loss was November 3, 2002.