The AFC South-leading Tennessee Titans (doesn't that sound good?) will look to continue their winning ways at San Diego this Sunday. They'll attempt to do something no other Titans team has done -- defeat the Chargers.
There have been some games that were pretty close and that the Titans could have and should have won. Then there have been some which were in the butt-kicking category. The last meeting between these teams, in December, fell into the latter category.
It's time to correct that.
Overview: The Chargers (2-5) are an enigma. They lead the league in both offense and defense, yardage-wise. They've gained enough yards to win a lot of games and held opponents to few enough yards to prevent them from winning. Somehow, between special teams, turnovers and red zone problems, the Chargers are at the bottom of the perceived to be weak AFC West. Three of their losses have been to teams widely considered to be weak sisters: the Seahawks, Raiders and Rams. Despite their problems, the Chargers are favored by three points.
Offense: The Chargers present the Titans with the problem of facing the best aerial attack (yardage-wise) they've seen yet, which is saying something since the Titans have already faced the high powered passing games of the Giants, Broncos, Cowboys and Eagles. San Diego leads the league in passing offense at 317 yards per game, which is pretty remarkable given the injuries to their receivers and the absence of Vincent Jackson.
QB Philip Rivers leads the league in passing but his favorite targets are hurting. Future Hall of Fame tight end Antonio Gates is hobbled with a toe injury and #1 wide receiver Malcom Floyd (hamstring) is doubtful. Look for new trade acquisition Patrick Crayton to be Rivers' favorite WR target. Scatback Darren Sproles is another favorite Rivers target. Remember Sproles? The guy who scored three sixes against us last time? I hope our defense remembers him Sunday.
The Chargers are gaining a mediocre 105 yards per game on the ground this year. LaDainian Tomlinson is gone and his replacement, first-round draft pick Ryan Matthews, has struggled. Mike Tolbert will get short-yardage and goal-line work and Sproles will continue to be a change of pace. For more on the running game problems from the Chargers' perspective, check out this question and answer exchange between Tom and Ross Warner of Justice is Coming, if you haven't done so already.
San Diego has three Pro Bowl linemen in C Nick Hardwick, LG Kris Dielman and LT Marcus McNeill but the total value of the line seems to be less than the sum of its parts. Football Outsiders ranks the Chargers line 16th in run blocking and 23rd in pass protection. McNeill was a holdout earlier and just returned for the last two games, so that has probably been part of the problem. One problem for the Titans that I see is Dielman -- it would be nice if Tony Brown was available to line up opposite him.
Defense: Shawne Merriman is the most familiar name that's gone but the Chargers still have a top defense despite the lack of big names. It's first overall, first against the pass and fourth against the run. The Chargers' 3-4 is one that has really given the Titans fits over the years, more than most 3-4s have. Strongside backer Shaun Phillips is probably their best player and he'll draw the attention of David Stewart and Craig Stevens.
This is one of those games where I feel the Titans would have benefited from keeping Sean Ryan this year as a fourth tight end. The tight ends blocking on Phillips and ROLB Antwan Applewhite will be key to the ground game and I'd sure rather have Ryan than Bo Scaife doing that. Stevens really needs to have a good day.
Matter of fact, the o-line also needs to have one of its better games of the year to attack this defense. If they can't block the Chargers, like they couldn't block the Steelers, it will be a long and probably similar day.
The Titans need quite a few things to win this game, in my opinion.
- Tennessee may not have a lot of drives so they need to sustain the ones they do have. Capitalizing on those drives is a priority.
- Since there probably won't be many drives, a few big plays will also be needed, such as a long run by CJ or a long VY to Britt pass.
- Try to contain Rivers and the passing game. I'm more concerned about Gates and Sproles than I am about Crayton. The Titans linebackers and safeties need to play a larger role than usual. A good pass rush will be very useful.
- Making the opponent settle for field goals instead of touchdowns worked well against the Iggles last week. It would help out a great deal against the Chargers too.
- A big play in the kicking game. San Diego is susceptible to this and Mark Mariani is capable of delivering.
- As always, the Titans need to win the battle of turnovers and penalties.
Prediction: San Diego has been shooting itself in the foot this season. It's been a continuing theme and one that's entirely possible to be continued. If the Titans can do most of the things I've listed above, I like their chances.