News From Terre Haute, Indiana

January 1, 2009

Pressuring Rivers vital to Colts’ success in San Diego

By Tom James

INDIANAPOLIS — Tony Dungy doesn’t expect a whole lot of surprises from either team when the Indianapolis Colts face the San Diego Chargers in an AFC wildcard game Saturday night.

The fact that matchup will be the fourth meeting in the last two seasons between the Colts and Chargers means that both franchises know each other pretty well by now.

The key for Indianapolis to be successful on defense, coach Tony Dungy said, centers on his team’s ability to put pressure on San Diego quarterback Philip Rivers throughout the game.

“I think it’ll be very important. That was big in the last playoff game [against the Chargers] that we lost [at the RCA Dome last season]. We didn’t get much pressure, didn’t get around him. They threw a lot of deep balls up the field, made big plays. We need to be better than we were in the [2007] playoffs game for sure,” the Colts coach said before the start of Thursday’s workout.

Rivers finished the 2008 regular season as the NFL’s top-rated passer with a team-record 105.5 rating. He set a franchise record with 34 touchdown passes, which led the league this season, while throwing for 4,009 yards.

“[San Diego has been] making big plays. And they’ve always been a big play offense. The mistakes are down. The thing that I see most is the fourth-quarter scoring. They’ve scored a ton of points in the fourth quarter,” Dungy said.

“When they’ve had to move the ball and had to get points, they’ve done it. That’s probably the mark of a great quarterback, how you do in the pressure situations.”

• Hagler earns starting job — Tyjuan Hagler, who has been bothered by a series of injuries since being a fifth-round draft pick in 2005, has worked his way back into the starting defensive lineup for the Colts.

Hagler will start at weak side linebacker against San Diego Saturday night, with Freddy Keiaho moving inside to middle linebacker Clint Session will remain as Indianapolis’ starting strong side linebacker.

The move was made in an effort to help bolster the team’s inconsistent run defense as well as getting the team’s best three linebackers on the field at the same time. Starting middle linebacker Gary Brackett is out indefinitely with a broken right fibula.

Buster Davis took over at middle linebacker for the final four regular season games, but Keiaho has had experience in the middle as well. Davis will remain as the primary backup in the middle.

“That’s the way we’ve practiced and they look pretty comfortable. Buster Davis will be the first substitute if we have any injuries. That’s probably the way we would start the game,” Dungy said Thursday.

There is no timetable for when Brackett may be able to return to practice, although there is an outside chance that he may start to get some work in next week should the Colts register a win over San Diego.

“It’s hard to say [when Brackett will return]. He still hasn’t practiced yet, so I don’t think it’s imminent. I think if he could get out and practice next week, we would certainly play him. I don’t know where he is. We’ll find that out, probably, on Tuesday if we win,” the Colts coach said.

• Injury list — Rookie offensive linemen Jamey Richard (ankle) and Mike Pollak (foot/ankle) missed a third day of practice on Thursday. Their availability for the Chargers’ game remains undecided. If neither Pollak and Richard are given the green light to play this weekend, third-year veteran Dan Federkeil will take over at right offensive guard.

“[Federkeil will] do fine. He’s practiced well, and he’ll do fine,” Dungy said, adding that he hasn’t decided on whether Richard would see any work at offensive guard if he’s able to play.

Returning to practice Thursday were rookie defensive tackle Eric Foster (finger), rookie wide receiver Pierre Garcon (knee), cornerback Tim Jennings (rest), cornerback Keiwan Ratliff (groin), and safety Bob Sanders (knee). Rookie running back Chad Simpson (rest), Richard, Pollak and Brackett did not take part in the workout.

The Colts, who have been hit hard by injuries to key players this season, would appear to be as healthy as they’ve been in a while as they continue to make preparations for the Chargers game.

“Obviously, we’d like to have Gary [Brackett]. Everybody would like to have all of their guys, but I think we just look at last year’s [playoff] game and how San Diego was. They’re missing guys and guys get hurt in the course of the game and other guys step in and play,” Dungy said.

“I think that’s what good teams do. You’re at a point where you can’t worry about who’s not there. You have to play, and the guys that play will determine the game.”

• MVP Award to be announced today — The Associated Press is expected to announce the winner of the 2008 National Football League Most Valuable Player award sometime today.

Colts quarterback Peyton Manning is considered to be one of leading candidates for the honor this season. Manning won the award in 2003 (sharing it with former Tennessee Titans quarterback Steve McNair) and again in 2004.

“I’d be very surprised if he doesn’t win [the MVP award] based on how we played and what we had to do to get back in it and the performance he’s had the last nine weeks of the year. I said after we left Pittsburgh [on Nov. 9] that I would vote for [Pittsburgh outside linebacker] James Harrison. If I was voting today, I’d vote for Peyton Manning,” Dungy said.

“I’ve seen some stretches where he’s been hotter, but how we’ve done it and the fact that they’ve been must win games from November 1 on and how he’s prepared, that’s the thing that people don’t see. As far as making the throws and being hot and putting up big numbers, we had a stretch in [2004] that I didn’t know if I’d see anything like that again and probably won’t. But, for winning under pressure and doing it consistently when we needed it, this has been a great stretch.”