With other things going on, no Enemy Intelligence this week. I sat down to try to write it, but got stuck. To me, this game boils down to something very direct: Can Philip Rivers operate effectively against the Titans' pressure? The past two seasons, he's been unusually skittish in the pocket. The big open question coming into this season was how much of that was Norv Turner's predilection for deep drops behind an offensive line that can't pass protect well. Through two games, Rivers (who's still relatively young at 31) has looked like the composed and excellent quarterback he was before 2011.
Based on what they've done the first two games, the Titans will look to pressure Rivers. This is especially true with right tackle D.J. Fluker very likely out with a concussion and Mike Harris, who was godawful as a undrafted rookie last year, starting in his place. If pressuring Rivers works, the Titans could win like a 17-13 game. If it doesn't, there's a very strong chance this could be a Pittsburgh in 2011 game, where a defense that 's otherwise seemed competent or better gets annihilated and the Titans lose by three or four scores.
Offensively, I'm not sure what to say. If you look only at drives where the offense has a first down (i.e., those not exclusively the result of defense or special teams-provided points or field position), the Titans have scored 13 and 14 points the first two games. They've done just enough that combined with a strong defensive performance in both games they could be 2-0. I give the offense about 10% of the credit for that. Outside of Eric Weddle, the Chargers can be very had in the secondary. The Titans spent all offseason trying to build a team that could pass as a little as they had to and win games. They won't suddenly become a passing game unless they're down by four scores in the second quarter. They'll try to run the ball. They'll have some success with it and some failures, probably thanks to some problems blocking Corey Liuget (who's really good) and Kendall Reyes. It's good for them Donald Butler (questionable) won't play. Dwight Freeney is a familiar name who's had a good first couple games, but is someone Michael Roos has successfully blocked before. The bottom line, though, is if the defense gets ripped, they won't score enough to win.
What I just wrote is what I see as the likeliest way for the game to proceed. Weird, unusual, and amazing things happen in the NFL pretty regularly. I'll be rooting for my prediction to be wrong, but I think this is a bad matchup for the Titans if things go the way they have thus far in the season. That's not to say I think the Titans should be double-digit underdogs or anything close to that; I expected to see a line closer to a push than the Titans favored by the home team 3 as they were early in the week.
By now, the inactives are out for today's game, and here they are:
SAN DIEGO CHARGERS: ILB Donald Butler, WR Malcom Floyd, OT D.J. Fluker, QB Brad Sorensen, S Brandon Taylor, ILB Manti Te'o, CB Shareece Wright
TENNESSEE TITANS: DE Lavar Edwards, RB Shonn Greene, LB Zaviar Gooden, DT Sammie Lee Hill, C Brian Schwenke, OT Byron Stingily, CB Blidi Wreh-Wilson
With Hill out, Keyunta Dawson makes his regular season debut. I thought Edwards might get the chance to fill that spot, with his ability to play inside, but the Titans are happy with three pure defensive tackles and one tweener (Karl Klug). Damian Williams returns to the lineup, and the Titans keep all six receivers up, deactivating Wreh-Wilson to do it. He hasn't gotten into the game on defense yet, but I'll be curious if we see more 11 personnel from the Titans today. I don't think we should, especially given the weakness of the ILBs with Butler out, but we'll see.
For the Chargers, Wright is a starting corner and missing him doesn't help the Chargers, but I think I and the Titans have made what they likely think relatively clear. Malcom Floyd is a good receiver who does a good job on deep and contested balls, but he was Out after his scary neck injury in Philly last week.
You may notice I haven't said anything in this post about the fact that the Titans haven't beaten the Chargers since 1992. This is completely orthogonal to my view of what is likely to happen in today's game. The 2012 game is somewhat instructive, since it happened last year; that game, Rivers stood tall in the pocket notwithstanding that lousy offensive line and did a great job of converting third-and-longs to stake the Chargers to a 17-0 first half lead, after which they ground the Titans' defensive line into the ground.
Recap after the game, with more details on what happened and why during the week, precise timing and form of content to depend on how much time I have and make for it.