Colts at San Diego
Kickoff: 8:40 p.m. today in Qualcomm Stadium, San Diego
Radio: WOWO, 1190-AM
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Statistics don't tell everything in the NFL. Sometimes they reveal nothing, sometimes they're skewed. But the most basic of all statistical measures packs a certain punch.
Consider these stats:
Heading into Week 6, the Indianapolis Colts rank sixth in most points scored per game and fifth in fewest points allowed per game. Scoring and preventing scores – it doesn't get more basic than that. And the fact the only other teams in the top 10 in both categories were the New Orleans Saints and Seattle Seahawks only adds to the impact.
The Colts' recipe for success at San Diego tonight is that obvious – maintain those high standards on both sides of the ball. The Colts (4-1) play the Chargers (2-3) in ESPN's Monday Night Football at 8:40 tonight in Qualcomm Stadium, San Diego.
“We feel pretty good about where we're at,” Colts coach Chuck Pagano said. “I think we're just scratching the surface.”
Imagine if that's true. Imagine if the best of quarterback Andrew Luck and his offense is yet to come, with bigger contributions from running back Trent Richardson and more plays by receivers Reggie Wayne, T.Y. Hilton and Darrius Heyward-Bey. Imagine if the best is yet to come from Robert Mathis stalking quarterbacks, Jerrell Freeman flying in for tackles and Vontae Davis snagging interceptions.
After years of being known as an offensive team, the Colts have brought their defense up to a level similar to its offense. Both units seem to feed off each other's success.
“We've got to play the way we play, the way we've been playing, so we can get the ball back to (Luck),” Colts defensive end Cory Redding said. “Good things happen when the ball is in his hands. We know that. Why not play into our strong suit.”
Luck, meanwhile, understands and appreciates how beneficial it is to have a defense that gets stingier as the game progresses. If the Colts offense can stay within striking distance of opponents, it's likely to get a shot at putting up late points and pulling out wins.
“(The defense) has been incredibly opportunistic,” Luck said. “It's so much nicer watching them instead of going up against them in training camp very day and you get frustrated when you throw an interception in a two-minute drill. The game of football is so great because the defense relies on the offense, we rely on special teams. It's such a team game, even though you can fragment and segment it in so many different ways.”
The Colts beat two of the NFL's supposed Super Bowl favorites (San Francisco and Seattle) in the last three weeks. San Diego is not in the same league, but the Chargers have a quality quarterback in Philip Rivers who's playing as well as he has in his career. He has a major offensive threat in tight end Antonio Gates. He has a sense of how to best use the no-huddle.
But Rivers hasn't faced a defense with the effectiveness and big-play ability of the Colts.
“The inside guys, you look at Redding, obviously we know Aubrayo (Franklin) from here with us last year,” Rivers said. “It's a solid front. The linebackers are active and it's a heck of an experienced secondary, so it's a good defense. It's a complete team. All three phases, they're solid.”
Except for safety LaRon Landry, who remains sidelined with injury, the Colts should have the best defense on the open field and, hopefully, close out the Chargers. Ricky Jean Francois returns at tackle after missing the last few games.
The Colts still have room for improvement. They rank 30th in rushing yards allowed per game, although much better (sixth) in passing yards allowed per game. If San Diego hopes to win, it's most likely going to bank on the passing game. The Chargers rank fifth in passing yards per game, 21st in rushing.
“We talked about 'Don't judge,' ” Pagano said. “It means don't look at the scoreboard. Doesn't matter if you're up, if you're down. Play as hard as you can and make sure you're in position (so) when the play shows up, you're there to make it.”
Boil down the Colts' chances versus the Chargers and it comes to this: Keep doing what they've been doing. That sounds simple. In the NFL, it's not nearly as easy as it sounds.