The Chargers (3-5) face another crucial test this week as they try and take down the Tennessee Titans (4-4) at Qualcomm on Sunday. The Bolts lost ground in their division after losing to the Denver Broncos 27-19, and now have two games before their bye week to get back to even as they try to climb out of their horrendous start.
The Chargers offense could look much different this week as, once again, they deal with major injury issues. Hunter Henry has already been ruled out of this game with a knee injury, and he has been one of Philip Rivers’ best weapons this year, and the Chargers best vertical threat at tight end. The Chargers receivers are banged up as well with Tyrell Williams and Travis Benjamin, the team’s two best receivers, being questionable this week and if they can’t play, that would leave a group of Dontrelle Inman, Griff Whalen and new addition Jeremy Butler as the only receivers currently on the roster. One way to exploit Titans defense is with deep passes, as they have given up 33 plays of more than twenty yards this season, so that will undoubtedly be an area that the Bolts will try and attack no matter who they trot out there. The offensive line has looked very questionable and will need to step up against a good pass rush this week, after giving up eight sacks over the last two weeks. The one bright spot for the line is that Melvin Gordon gained a career-high 111 yards on 23 carries against the Broncos for a 4.8 average probably their best run-blocking performance. Dexter McCluster will have to get revenge on his former team as it has just been announced he has suffered a fractured forearm and and has been placed on season-ending IR.
The Titans offense has been much different than the Chargers, as their offense is centralized around the running game. The Titans have averaged 152.2 rushing yards per game which ranks third in the league and has the most rushing attempts, averaging over thirty run plays a game. The backfield is led by the NFL’s second-leading rusher DeMarco Murray, and also has a very talented back-up in rookie Derrick Henry who the Titans took in the second-round of the 2016 draft out of Alabama. The passing game has been inconsistent so far this year as Marcus Mariota has two games with zero touchdowns, and two games of three touchdowns and has yet to eclipse 300 passing yards in a game this year. The offense could be missing a couple starters as starting left guard Quinton Spain has been ruled out, and standout tight end Delanie Walker, who leads the team in receptions, is a going to be a game-time decision. The Titans have a relatively weak receiver group, but the Titans make up for it with many short passes and throws to the running backs which has been a weakness of the Chargers.
The injuries on the Chargers defense continue as they will be missing one, and most likely both of their starting inside linebackers as playmaker Jatavis Brown is out this week, and Denzel Perryman listed as doubtful. These two young players with less than three years of experience between them have been huge for the defense this year with both having game-changing plays but it will now fall on rookie Joshua Perry and Korey Toomer to stop one of the best running teams in the league. This Chargers defense has ranked sixth in stopping the run this year, but this will be, by far, it’s greatest test and I expect the Chargers to sell out on the run and make the Titans passing game beat them. Casey Haywards has been the gift that keeps on giving this year, ranking second in the league with four picks this year and has held this secondary together by staying on the field, and with Brandon Flowers healthy again they match up well this week with Tennessee’s receivers. The defense has to keep creating pressure as they take on a team that has only allowed 12 sacks this year, but the Chargers have shown that it’s not all about sacks as they have been getting good pressure without huge sack totals.
The Tennessee defense has been solid this year and especially against the run as they allow an average of only 82.2 rushing yards per game led by disruptive defensive ends DaQuan Jones and Jurell Casey. They have also been exceptional at rushing the passer as the Titans have one of the best one-two punches in the league with Derrick Morgan (5.5 sacks) and Brian Orakpo (7.0 sacks) and are tied for third in the league in team sacks with 22. This will be a huge part of the game because the Chargers have given up 21 sacks this season and have allowed ten sacks in the last three games which has led to Philip Rivers to cool off considerably. The secondary has been questionable this season and has given up almost 260 passing yards per game and twelve passing touchdowns. This is still a defense allowing 22.9 points per game and have susceptible to big plays, and will have to slow the highest scoring offense that they have played this season. Another good sign for the Chargers is the fact that the Titans have somehow yet to force a fumble this season, which has been the Bolts Kryptonite.
The Chargers will have to be close to flawless the rest of the season if they want to stay in the playoff picture as the rest AFC West has six combined losses while they have five on their own. The schedule is absolutely in their favor with many winnable games left on the schedule, but the Bolts can realistically only afford to lose one, maybe two games the rest of the season to make the playoffs, so losing to a mediocre Tennessee team might be a dagger too tough to overcome.
The good news is the Tennessee Titans have not won a game in San Diego since they were the Houston Oilers before I was even born in 1992. The Bolts have won seven of the eight games since the Oilers became the Titans and I think they find a way to pull off another this week as the Chargers win 27-17.