By Jonathan Comey
Cold, Hard Football Facts Gates-keeper
The status of Antonio Gates for Sunday's Chargers at Colts game will be one of the stories of the week.
According to the San Diego Union-Tribune
, Gates will "almost certainly" miss the game at Indianapolis, a huge blow to San Diego. But the Chargers, as they should, are keeping him active and making the Colts at least plan for the possibility he'll play.
For the Chargers, losing Gates is akin to the Colts losing Reggie Wayne or the Patriots losing Randy Moss – he's their go-to guy.
Gates, after all, has represented more than a quarter of San Diego's passing offense over his four-year run as a full-time starter:
- 2004: 964 yards (27.4 percent)
- 2005: 1,101 yards (29.5 percent)
- 2006: 924 yards (27.1 percent)
- 2007: 984 yards (31 percent)
And he's represented an even greater chunk of San Diego's passing touchdowns:
- 2004: 13/29 (44.8 percent)
- 2005: 10/27 (37 percent)
- 2006: 9/24 (37.6 percent)
- 2007: 9/22 (40.9 percent)
That's an awful lot of production to lose from one player, especially when there's no reason to believe that backup TE Brandon Manumaleuna (10 TDs in 110 games, including 62 starts) can even begin to replace him.
However, there is a very small silver lining to Gates' probable absence – their opponent, Indianapolis, has been incredibly tough on tight ends this year.
The Colts' pass defense numbers are truly bizarre, but quite good. They're not going to sack you (28, tied for 26th), and they're not going to force a lot of incompletions (65.3 percent complete against them, 29th). Basically, if you want to throw a short slant or quick turnaround route, they'll let you do it. Hell, they want you to do it.
But in the end, only Pittsburgh (5.7 yards per pass, unadjusted for sacks) allowed fewer yards per pass than Indy (5.9), because the Colts led the league in yards-per-catch allowed by a longshot.
The average completion against the Colts went for 9.0 yards, almost a yard lower of No. 2 Tennessee and 2.4 yards lower than the league average.
And the Colts were very, very stingy against tight ends.
In most seasons, tight ends average somewhere between 10 and 11 yards a catch league-wide. But the Colts limited TEs to 559 yards on 70 catches this year – 7.99 yards per grab, in keeping with Indy's overall lockdown on long passes.
And here's the best stat: the Colts didn't allow a tight end a catch of 20+ yards until Tennessee's Ben Hartsock stretched out for a 21-yarder in that meaningless Week 17 loss at home.
Gates, in his first meeting with the Colts, caught 3 passes for 26 yards. Kansas City's great Tony Gonzalez caught 4 for 46 yards in a 13-10 Indy victory in November.
The Panthers, in a 31-7 October loss to Indy, produced 11 tight end catches for 96 yards against the Colts, the only standout game by an opposing TE group. Overall, the Colts held 14 of 16 opponents under 60 total TE yards.
Are the Chargers better off without Gates? Of course not. But last week against Tennessee, their passing offense took off after Gates went out with his toe injury. WRs Vincent Jackson and Chris Chambers both went over 100 yards, after both failed to do so once during the regular season in San Diego.
That was surely more of a fluke than a trend, but it at least should give Norv Turner a shove in that direction vs. Indy.
San Diego's game plan figures to be a lot of LaDainian Tomlinson and whatever the Colts will give them through the air.
Which, regardless of Gates' status, doesn't figure to be much to the tight ends.