Titans vs Chargers preview

The Tennessee Titans will begin their fourth quarter push for the playoffs as they host the San Diego Chargers Sunday. Both teams have 7-5 records, though the Titans are in the hunt for a wildcard berth and the Chargers have a two-game lead in the AFC West.
Tennessee is coming off a 28-20 win over Houston last week while San Diego beat Kansas City 24-10.
Field: grass. Forecast: A 50% chance of rain. Mostly cloudy, with a high near 67°. South wind 5-10 mph.

San Diego scouting report:

Overview – Despite a 14-2 record last year, the Chargers lost their head coach and both coordinators in the offseason, which contributed to a slow start this year. After losing three of their first four games, San Diego has won six of the last eight. Only one of the Chargers’ wins is against a team with a winning record. The Chargers’ record is somewhat surprising, considering the amount of talent they have. Coaching retread Norv Turner is the new head man in San Diego.
Offense – The Chargers are fortunate to have two studs on offense in future Hall of Fame RB LaDainian Tomlinson and TE Antonio Gates. Defenses can’t focus on stopping just one man. Tomlinson has run all over the Titans two years in a row and his backup, Michael Turner, took up where he left off last year. Besides his rushing (1,049 yards and 11 TDs), Tomlinson is also a dangerous weapon as a receiver with 50 catches for 427 yards and one touchdown. Credit many of those yards to former Titan Lorenzo Neal, who’s in his 15th year and still a great lead blocker.
Philip Rivers hasn’t progressed as far as Chargers fans would like but he’s still a decent young quarterback who should improve. He’s certainly played well against the Titans. Rivers is ranked 18th in the league with a 80.4 quarterback rating.
Gates is the favorite target of Rivers, catching 61 balls for 833 yards and eight TDs to lead the Chargers in all three categories. The athletic ex-basketball player is especially dangerous in the red zone.
The receiving corps has improved since the Titans played them last year. Deep threat Vincent Jackson is starting to come into his own and has a nice 16.2 yards per reception average. San Diego also upgraded the position group with the addition of former Dolphin Chris Chambers.
As you would expect from Tomlinson’s and Turner’s rushing, the o-line is very good. Their strength is on the left side of the line with LT Marcus McNeill, LG Kris Dielman and C Nick Hardwick, who all went to the Pro Bowl last year.
San Diego ranks eighth in the league in scoring (23.8 ppg), 15th in rushing (113 ypg), 21st in total offense (303 ypg) and 22nd in passing (196 ypg).
Defense – The new coaching staff would have been crazy to change the Chargers’ 3-4 defense, which the brass built for. Jamal Williams is the best nose tackle in the league. He’ll be flanked by Igor Olshansky, an excellent young DE, and Jacques Cesaire, who will probably be subbing for Luis Castillo.
Outside linebackers Shawne Merriman and Shaun Phillips may be the best 3-4 OLB pair in the league. They’re tremendous pass rushers coming off the edge and have combined for 18 sacks this season. Inside linebackers Stephen Cooper and Matt Wilhelm are the team’s leading tacklers.
San Diego has a good pair of corners in first round picks Quentin Jammer and Antonio Cromartie, who leads the league with eight interceptions. If there’s a weakness on this defense, it’s probably the safeties, Clinton Hart and Marlon McCree.
The Chargers are ninth in scoring defense (19.4 ppg), 20th in rush defense, 20th in total defense (335 ypg) and 22nd in pass defense (223 ypg).
Special teams – The Chargers have better special teams than any team the Titans have played this year, according to Jeff Fisher. Darren Sproles is one of the best return men in the league and has scored touchdowns on both kick and punt returns this year. San Diego has good kick coverage and punt coverage units, a good punter in Mike Scifres and a reliable kicker in Nate Kaeding.
The Chargers are third in the league in net punting average (39.5 yards), a testimony both to Scifres and the punt coverage unit. Kaeding has converted on 82% of his field goal attempts this season.

Keys for the Titans:

Offense – Maintain ball control and time of possession advantage. Continue the red zone efficiency of last week by finishing off drives with touchdowns.
Defense – Contain Tomlinson and Turner. Tennessee must stay in their gaps or Tomlinson will take advantage of missed gap assignments and burn them. Keith Bulluck and David Thornton must excel in pass coverage against both Tomlinson and Gates. Pressuring Rivers will be a big help.
Special teams – The Titans haven’t returned a kick or a punt for a touchdown this year. This week would be a good time to get off the schneid and make a big play instead of giving one up.

Matchups to watch:

Offense – C Kevin Mawae et al. against the mammoth NT Williams. RT David Stewart will have a tough row to hoe all day, blocking Merriman, Philips and Olshansky. LenDale White and Chris Brown will have a hard time with the Chargers linebackers.
Defense – The right side of the Titans’ d-line versus the left side of the Chargers’ o-line. Featured matchups will be Kyle Vanden Bosch vs McNeill and Albert Haynesworth vs Dielman. Bulluck, Thornton and the Titans safeties vs Gates will also be a key.

Prediction:

This will be another hard call to make. San Diego has far too much talent on their roster to have won only one game against a team with a winning record. On paper, the Chargers have a better team than the Titans. It’s difficult to pick against them, especially when looking at some of the matchups, even though the bookies have the game at pick’em. With all that in mind, I feel like making my first homer pick of the year.
Tennessee 20
San Diego 17
For the Chargers’ viewpoint, check out Chargers Confidential here on MVN.

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