The Chargers' domination of the Colts — San Diego has won five of the last seven meetings, including two playoff victories — continued on Sunday night, as they handed Indianapolis its first loss of the season at Lucas Oil Stadium, 36-14. It was only the third home loss by the Colts since 2007, and their worst home defeat of the Peyton Manning era.
After an impressive 12-play, 78-yard opening drive, ending in a four-yard TD catch by Jacob Tamme, it appeared the offense might get back on track following its mistake-filled Week 11 loss to the Patriots. But interceptions on the next two offensive possessions — Chargers LB Kevin Burnett returned the first pick 29 yards for a TD — set the tone for another sloppy performance from Manning, who threw four more interceptions, giving him seven in the past two games.
The defense kept them around in the first half, holding Philip Rivers and his injury-depleted offense to three field goals, but three second-half turnovers — two Manning picks and a Javarris James fumble — doomed the Colts, who have now lost two in a row and 3-of-4 overall.
The PFW Spin
The Chargers always seem to bring out the worst in Manning. In his last six games against them, they have intercepted him 15 times, and his passer rating is 74.5.
Although Manning always protects his teammates from criticism following a loss, his teammates did little to protect him on Sunday.
The running game, if you can call it that, was invisible (Donald Brown and Javarris James combined for 24 yards on 13 carries). Pro Bowl WR Reggie Wayne, who was targeted a team-high 14 times, managed only five receptions. It seemed like Wayne dropped more passes in this game than he has his entire career.
And while we have been saying all season that the ground game, the receiving corps and the "D" should all improve once the key players in each area get healthy, one area where reinforcements are not on the way is along the offensive line — a big concern for the Colts, considering tough tests loom against dangerous pass-rushing teams like the Cowboys this Sunday, and two meetings with the Titans.
Manning was sacked only once on Sunday, but he was hit five times, and hurried countless others. Holes to run through were non-existent. Offensive linemen on their backs were far too prevalent.
ORG Jeff Linkenbach, the undrafted rookie tackle who was promoted and moved to guard two weeks ago because the coaching staff believed he was a better pass protector than the underachieving Mike Pollak, was awful. Linkenbach was constantly walked back by the interior of the Chargers' D-line. He was so bad, in fact, that the Colts temporarily went back to the struggling Pollak in the second half.
ORT Ryan Diem has been a solid player for the Colts for years, but he is having a season he would just as soon forget. While Diem didn't struggle as much as teammate OLT Charlie Johnson did on Sunday, he clearly has become a liability in pass protection and looks slower and slower with each passing week.
Even Johnson and C Jeff Saturday, both of whom have played fairly well at less than 100 percent this season, were beaten regularly.
The Colts set out to fix their offensive line in the offseason, but the plan has backfired miserably. The new starters have appeared clueless, and the returning starters are far from ageless.
Head coach Jim Caldwell said following the game that he thinks a lot of the issues of the offensive line stemmed from poor technique, and he believes they are correctable. But we have been hearing similar coach-speak from Caldwell all season, and we're still waiting to see the problems rectified.
Despite another sorry display by the offense on Sunday, the Colts find themselves exactly where they were heading into Week 12 — tied for first place in the AFC South, with three divisional games remaining.
They didn't lose any ground. But can they magically start to gain any with the same guys up front?