Chargers-Colts speaks high for offensive balance

Dec 13, 2005 6:07 AM

Peyton Manning and the Indianapolis offense electrified the pro football history book in 2004 with a record 49 touchdown passes. It didn’t help in the playoffs, though.

That year, New England shut down the Colts in cold and windy Foxboro for the second straight season. That Colts team led the NFL in passing and was 15th in rushing.

While the biggest improvement in Indianapolis this season is the defense, it can’t be overlooked that the offense is more balanced. The Colts are passing less (No. 6 in the league) and rushing better (rated ninth).

Having a balanced offense is an important weapon in football. It often means an edge in time of possession. This may not seem like much when you’re watching a game, but being on the field longer can slowly tire the opposition’s defense. This can pay dividends in the fourth quarter.

A rule that Patriots coach Bill Belichick lives by is the ability to take away one thing the opposition does best. This forces opponents to try something that goes against their strength. In the last two playoff games against the Colts, his Patriots took away the Colts deep passing game. By playing various defensive backs deep. Indy was forced to go to a short-medium passing game, canceling the quick-strike ability.

A closer look at that 20-3 Colts playoff loss in January finds Patriots RB Corey Dillon with 144 rush yards and QB Tom Brady with 144 pass yards. Talk about balance! Close to a 2-to-1 edge in time of possession helped tire out the Colts defense. In fact, the final three games of the 2004 season finds the Colts rushing attack held in check — 34 yards against Denver (33-14 loss), 76 against the Broncos the next week in a playoff game (49-24 win with 453 pass yards) and then 46 to the Pats.

This season, Indianapolis has shown far better balance. Scoring is down slightly from 32 to 30 points per game, but the winning percentage is way up.

Offensive balance was a huge key to the 15-1 Steelers resurgence last season. Pittsburgh uncharacteristically went to the air in 2003, finishing 30th in the NFL in rushing (93 ypg, 3.3 per carry.) The result was a forgettable 6-10 season, failing to make the playoffs. In 2004, Pittsburgh finished second in the league in rushing, averaging 154 yards on the ground and a balanced 173 in the air.

Look at the top scoring teams in the NFL this season — Colts, Chargers, Seahawks, Bengals, Giants, Broncos, and Chiefs. These are not teams you would classify as one-dimensional offenses.

The Chargers are loaded on offense ewith QB Drew Brees leading a supremely balanced offense featuring RB LaDainian Tomlinson, TE Antonio Gates, along with WRs Keenan McCardell and Eric Parker. After a five-game win streak got the Chargers back into the playoff hunt, San Diego was seventh in rushing and No. 11 in passing.

The showdown with the Colts this Sunday in Indy will be a fascinating clash of red-hot, balanced teams, and a potential playoff preview. Last year as a seven-point dog, the Chargers took an eight-game win streak into Indianapolis and lost 34-31 in overtime, blowing a 15-point deficit in the fourth quarter. Both QBs were terrific that day, while Tomlinson collecting 81 yards rushing and 95 receiving.

For the record, Manning was 27-of-44 for 383 yards with two TDs. The game sailed "over" the posted total of 56. However, the Chargers defense confused Manning for 3½ quarters with blitzes and extra defensive backs. After being sacked just nine times all season, the Chargers got to Manning four times, forced two fumbles and intercepted him once.

Brees was 21-of-31 for 290 yards with TDs. Parker caught seven for 103. If Sunday’s game is half as exciting as last year’s meeting, it will be great.