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2022 NFL season: Four things to watch for in Chargers-Colts game on 'Monday Night Football'

Los Angeles Chargers
2022 · 8-6-0
Indianapolis Colts
2022 · 4-9-1

The Chargers and Colts meet Monday night as franchises trending in opposite directions.

Los Angeles has wins in three of its last four and is on the doorstep of clinching its first postseason berth since 2018.

Indianapolis has gone 1-4 since plucking Jeff Saturday from an ESPN studio and installing him as interim head coach, and the club was officially eliminated from playoff contention with Jacksonville’s victory over the Jets on Thursday night. 

That doesn’t mean the Colts have nothing to play for, especially as Saturday uses the remaining three games as a continued audition for next season’s full-time gig. 

Plus, the Chargers still need to prove they’re capable of soundly handling teams they are expected to beat. That thorn in the side of past Justin Herbert-led teams is part of the reason he’s 23-23 as a starter without a playoff trip to his name.

Will the Colts surprise by punching above their weight, or can the Chargers take care of business?

Here are four things to watch for when the Colts host the Chargers on Monday Night Football:

  1. Justin Herbert has weapons, needs protection. The young QB did look uncharacteristically out of sorts and threw two interceptions against the Titans last week, but he’s still a different beast when both Keenan Allen and Mike Williams are on the field. Look no further than his 44-second, 57-yard drive to set up the game-winning field goal over Tennessee, or his outclassing of draft classmate, Dolphins QB Tua Tagovailoa, a week earlier. Allen has 36 receptions for 409 yards and two touchdowns since his Week 11 return from a hamstring injury, while Williams has put up 183 yards and a score on 10 catches in the last two games following his own two-week absence. The offense hums with all three in tandem, creating space for running back Austin Ekeler to tear defenses apart in the screen game. That’ll be the Chargers’ bread and butter again come Monday night. Herbert just needs enough protection to get the ball where it needs to go. He has been pressured 201 times in 2022, which trails only Kirk Cousins (208), per Next Gen Stats. With the Colts tied for seventh-most sacks on the year, the battle in the trenches and along the edge bears watching.  
  2. How do the Colts respond? In some type of tortuous karmic reckoning, the Colts blew a 33-0 lead to the Minnesota Vikings in Week 15. The record-breaking Minnesota win supplanted a 32-point comeback in the 1992 Wild Card Round by the Buffalo Bills and Frank Reich, the head coach Indy parted ways with midseason. And Matt Ryan, benched Wednesday for a second time this season, now stands on the wrong side of the biggest comeback in NFL history and the biggest comeback in Super Bowl history. It’s difficult enough to rebound from a nail-biter, but to rally from a loss after holding a five-possession lead? Saturday has his work cut out for him. Defensive leaders Zaire Franklin and DeForest Buckner will be integral, and the offense has to find new ways to move the chains now that Jonathan Taylor is lost for the year. Expect to see a lot of running backs Zack Moss and Deon Jackson, who combined for 136 yards on 37 carries last weekend, plus target magnet Michael Pittman when the Colts put the ball in the air.
  3. Chargers defense is rounding into shape. Although the Chargers defense is still ranked 25th in scoring and 21st overall, it has been far from a liability in two straight season-altering wins. After allowing 25.8 points per game and 371.7 yards per game in their first 12 contests, the Chargers allowed an average of just 15.5 points and 251.5 total yards in wins over the Dolphins and Titans. They have the potential to extend that success against an opposing offense that's seemingly throwing stuff at the wall now with its third starting QB. Offseason addition Khalil Mack leads the team with seven sacks, 10 tackles for loss, and 10 quarterback hits, but it’s been linebackers Drue Tranquill and Kyle Van Noy on a tear of late. Tranquil, the team leader in tackles with 118, has a sack, two QB hits, two passes defensed and a forced fumble since Week 14. Van Noy is working on a two-game sack streak. If the defense continues to turn a corner, Los Angeles poses a massive threat to the Colts -- and beyond.
  4. Death, taxes and Nick Foles. Saturday bumped Ryan back to the bench this week after the “Minneapolis Meltdown” and tabbed Foles as the third Colts starting quarterback of the year. The former Super Bowl MVP is now in his 11th season, and he’s never gone a year without making at least one start. His most famous excursions off the bench both came in Philadelphia -- first in 2013 when he threw 27 TDs and two interceptions in 13 games, and again in 2017 when he captured the Eagles’ first Super Bowl and earned a statue outside Lincoln Financial Field. Recent history has been less kind to Foles. In 12 starts spread between three seasons with the Jaguars and Bears before joining Indianapolis, he’s gone 3-9 with 2,838 yards, 14 TDs and 10 INTs. It’s far from a given he recaptures the Philly magic, and it would be of little use to a 4-9-1 Colts team regardless. Saturday’s apparent goal, considering he passed over more in-game evaluation for the younger Sam Ehlinger, is to eke out a few wins and strengthen his resume for the full-time head coaching position.

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