Chargers tackle Oben draws Colts sackmaster Freeney

Friday, December 24th 2004, 3:55 pm
By: News On 6

SAN DIEGO (AP) _ Chargers defenders won't be the only ones trying to avoid being overrun by Colts on Sunday at Indianapolis.

Check out Roman Oben's assignment _ the left tackle, charged with protecting Drew Brees' blind side, will go up against defensive end Dwight Freeney, who leads the NFL with 15 sacks.

``He earns everything he gets,'' Oben said Friday. ``It's definitely been one of the games that you circle on your calendar because you know it's going to be a big game with playoff implications, and we're going to have to throw the ball, I'm sure, to be successful.''

The two division champions, both 11-3, will be playing for the AFC's No. 3 playoff seed.

While the Chargers' defense will try to keep Peyton Manning from breaking Dan Marino's 20-year-old record of 48 touchdown passes _ Manning has 47 _ Oben will have his big hands more than full.

Freeney has eight sacks in his last three games, and worked over Baltimore's Jonathan Ogden, one of the NFL's top left tackles, for two sacks last Sunday.

``He's the best rusher in the league,'' said Oben, who was with Tampa Bay last year when the Colts beat the Buccaneers.

``It's one of those kind of games where you've really got to do everything you can to make sure that he's not in your backfield, because if he gets a sack or a hurry or a pressure, you hope it's not the determining factor in the game,'' Oben said. ``We pride ourselves trying to protect our quarterback. The other guy's got 10 1/2. He's pretty good, too.''

Robert Mathis, the Colts' other end, has 10 1/2 sacks and will go up against Chargers rookie right tackle Shane Olivea.

The Chargers will have to contend with both the Colts' speed on the turf and the crowd noise in the RCA Dome.

``That whole football team, on defense as well as offense, is built for that arena _ indoor, crowd noise, all of those things,'' coach Marty Schottenheimer said.

Freeney, the Colts' first-round draft pick in 2002, also played in a dome at Syracuse.

``Just like St. Louis, they draft those guys who maybe played on turf on college or that are good for that environment,'' Oben said. ``He's a little shorter, so he can do more things athletically. He's quicker with his feet, he can change direction. You'll see him come up the field and spin at the drop of a dime, and you've really got to be on your toes and not your heels when that happens, so to speak.''

The Chargers played crowd noise over speakers during practice this week. They have won eight straight games; their last loss came in their last game in a dome, at Atlanta on Oct. 17.

``It's a factor if you let it,'' Oben said of crowd noise. ``You've got to focus on every little thing. The quarterback's cadence is so faint with the crowd noise that you really have to listen for it.''