INDIANAPOLIS – Areas of interest in the Indianapolis Colts’ Monday night meeting with the Los Angeles Chargers at Lucas Oil Stadium.
*Kickokff: 8:15 p.m.
*Spread: Chargers by 4.
*History lesson, Part I: The Colts are 11-19 in their overall series with the Chargers, and have lost seven of the last nine. Two of the losses bounced Indy from the postseason and a few other meetings have been noteworthy.
In 2008, Indy finished 12-4, but traveled to 8-8 San Diego as a wild card against the AFC West-winning Chargers. The Colts were upset 23-17 in overtime in large part because of Mike Scifres’ ridiculous punting. He dropped all six of his punts inside the 20, including at the 10, 3, 7, 9 and 1.
A year earlier, the 12-5 Chargers whipped the 13-3 and No. 2-seeded Colts in a divisional round despite losing quarterback Philip Rivers, running back LaDainian Tomlinson and tight end Antonio Gates during the game. Backup QB Billy Volek and running back Michael Turner were instrumental in the upset.
And then there was the Colts’ 34-31 overtime win in 2004 in the RCA Dome. Peyton Manning made history and forced OT with his 21-yard touchdown pass to Brandon Stokley. It was Manning’s 49th TD of the season, breaking Dan Marino’s single-season record.
One more. In 2005, the Chargers ended the Colts run at perfection – they entered the game 13-0 – with a 26-17 victory.
OK, one more. In the 1995 playoffs, the Colts shocked the NFL and the Chargers with a 35-20 first-round win in San Diego.
As we said, a ton of noteworthy meetings.
*History lesson, Part II: From Matt Ryan to Sam Ehlinger, back to Ryan, and now to Nick Foles. The Colts will start three quarterbacks in a season for just the third time since 1998.
In 2015, injuries forced them to utilize Andrew Luck, Matt Hasselbeck and Josh Freeman. In 2011, Manning missed the season with his neck issues and Indy used Kerry Collins, Curtis Painter and Dan Orlovsky. It didn’t matter who was under center that season. The Colts started 0-13, finished 2-14 and earned the first overall pick in the 2012 draft . . . which led to Luck’s arrival.
*Foles’ turn: Foles makes the 58th regular-season start in his 11-year career and the first since week 16 of last season. He passed for 250 yards and one TD in leading the Chicago Bears to a 25-24 win at Seattle. He’s been on the field for just two plays in his first season with the Colts, both in the week 2 blowout loss at Jacksonville. He took his first reps with the starting unit Wednesday.
Interim coach Jeff Saturday made the move to Foles hoping he brings a downfield threat to the offense. The Colts are among in the worst in the NFL in that area: 6.6 yards per attempt, 9.9 yards per completion. A constricted passing game is allowing defenses to crowd the line of scrimmage, which impacts both the passing game and run game.
The one concern with asking Foles to push the football down the field: protection. The Colts have allowed 49 sacks, including at least three in each of the last four games. If the pass protection doesn’t hold up, it’s doubtful Foles will have much more success than Ryan, who was either reluctant or unable to throw deep.
The Chargers will be without Joey Bosa for a 12th straight game because of a groin injury, but feature Khalil Mack. The veteran edge rusher leads L.A. with 7 sacks, 10 QB hits and 10 tackles for loss. The Chargers’ sack total has lagged without Bosa. They rank in the bottom third of the league with 28.
*Help Foles: We’re not talking about pass protection, although that’s Priority 1. We’re talking about giving him a reliable run game. And that must with done without Jonathan Taylor, who’ll miss the remainder for the season with an ankle injury.
Look for Saturday to rely on a backs-by-committee approach with Jordan Wilkins, Deon Jackson and Zack Moss. Last week against the Vikings, Jackson and Moss combined for 136 yards on 37 carries. That’s just 3.7 yards per attempt, and that’s not good enough. The Colts complemented their backs by getting 30 yards on two sweeps by wideout Michael Pittman Jr.
A legit run game also slows down the pass rush.
The Chargers are vulnerable to the run. They rank 28th in yards per game allowed (145.6) and 31st in yards per attempt (5.4).
*Limit Herbert: Justin Herbert is arguably the most dangerous passer the Colts have faced since Patrick Mahomes in week 3. He entered week 16 ranked 2nd in attempts (605), completions (407) and yards (4,019), and 5th in completion percentage (67.5%). He has 21 touchdowns against nine interceptions.
If the Colts’ pass rush isn’t able to get to him or at least disrupt Herbert, they’ll be in for long night on the national stage. He has top-end receivers in Mike Williams, Keenan Allen and Joshua Palmer. Running back Austin Ekler has just 692 rushing yards, but he’s an absolute pain the passing game with a team-high 95 receptions, 635 yards and five TDs.
Herbert is mobile, but gettable. He’s been sacked 33 times, including at least three times in five straight games.
*Finish: Here’s where we remind you coordinator Gus Bradley’s defense has pulled a disappearing act in the fourth quarter/overtime of the last four games. The most egregious fade came last week when the Colts turned in the greatest collapse in NFL history. After mounting a 33-0 halftime lead – the defense limited the Vikings to 82 yards and three first downs – Indy was outscored 39-3. In the fourth quarter and OT, the defense yielded 303 yards, 19 first downs, three TDs and the game-winning field goal.
The previous week in the 54-19 loss at Dallas, the Colts gave up 33 fourth-quarter points. That was tied for the second-most points allowed in the fourth quarter in league history.
In the last four fourth quarters – excluding the OT at Minnesota – which is equivalent to a game, the Colts have allowed 518 yards and 77 points. Opponents have scored 10 TDs and one field goal on 15 possessions.
*And the winner is: Chargers 30, Colts 20. Maybe Foles injects life into the offense and pushes the ball downfield to Pittman, Alec Pierce and Jelani Woods. Maybe the defense says “Enough is enough’’ and makes a stand in primetime.
But we doubt it.
You can follow Mike Chappell on Twitter at @mchappell51.