Game Preview
Game 2 Preview: Tennessee Titans @ San Diego Chargers
By Andrew Strickert
September 15th, 2006, 07:36

The Titans head west to face the San Diego Chargers this week in what looks to be a mismatch. Tennessee played poorly in a 23-16 loss to the lowly New York Jets last week, while San Diego played very conservatively in a 27-0 cakewalk over the Oakland Raiders.

The Titans have a history of leaving their A game behind when traveling two time zones to the west and are winless in their last five appearances there. The last Tennessee victory out west was a win over the Raiders in 2001.

Field: grass. Forecast: mostly sunny, high 77°. Kickoff: 3:15, CT.

San Diego Scouting Report

The Chargers slipped from a 12-4 2004 record to 9-7 last year and their first five losses were by only 14 combined points. They could have just as easily been 14-2, but finished out of the playoffs instead. San Diego is refocused and considered to be a strong playoff contender again this year. Coach Marty Schottenheimer has two superstars on an offense that can move the ball and a defense that can boast two superstars in its own right.

After sitting on the bench behind veteran Drew Brees, Phillip Rivers is now the #1 quarterback. The fourth overall draft selection in 2004, Rivers was traded by the Giants to the Chargers for the first pick, Eli Manning. After being in the league for two years, Rivers remains somewhat of an unknown commodity, having attempted only 30 passes. In his first NFL start last week, he threw only 11 passes in the Chargers’ run-oriented offense. Titans offensive coordinator Norm Chow, who coached Rivers for one year in college, said Rivers will be good enough to lead a team to the Super Bowl someday.

All-Pro LaDainian Tomlinson (1,462 yards in 2005) is the featured running back. A man who has twice rushed for over 1,600 yards, “Little LT” has averaged nearly 1,500 yards per season in his first five years. Titans fans remember how dangerous he can be after his 147-yard performance against Tennessee in 2004. LT benefits from the lead blocks of ex-Titan FB Lorenzo Neal, who is also an excellent pass blocker.

When the Chargers pass, the number one target is All-Pro TE Antonio Gates, who had 89 grabs for 1,101 yards and ten TDs last year. Veteran Keenan McCardell (70, 917, 9), a name familiar to Titans fans, and Eric Parker (57, 725, 3) are the primary WR targets. The Chargers are waiting to see if big (6′-5″ 240 pounds) and fast WR Vincent Jackson (3, 59, 0) can fulfill his potential.

The O-line is anchored by C Nick Hardwick, who signed an extension this offseason. RT Shane Olivea and RG Mike Goff are joined by first-year starters LG Kris Dielman and rookie LT Marcus McNeill. They got the job done last week as Charger backs rushed for 194 yards.

San Diego plays a 3-4 as their base defense, and do it well. Last week they shut out the Raiders, limiting them to only 129 total yards and collecting nine sacks in the process. The Chargers led the league in rushing defense last year, allowing only 84 yards per game.

348-pound Pro Bowl NT Jamal Williams is big, quick, and as good as there is at clogging the middle. RDE Igor Olshansky is also strong against the rush and LDE Luis Castillo is looking to make the expected improvement in his second year. Reserve Jacques Cesaire (18 starts in two years) can play all the D-line positions and will get plenty of playing time in the rotation.

Defensive rookie of the year Shawne Merriman (57 tackles, 10 sacks), who recorded three sacks last week, and Shaun Phillips (34, 7), a converted DE, are the outside LBs. Veterans Donnie Edwards (152, 3) and ex-Titan Randall Godfrey (76, 1) are the inside backers, and good ones.

The pass defense was a liability in 2005, yielding 225 yards per game, 28th in the league. Another name familiar to Titan fans, free agent FS Marlon McCree (3 Ints, 7 PD) has been brought in to help remedy that situation, joining SS Terrence Kiel (0, 5), who had problems last year. Quentin Jammer (1, 17) has never developed into the star corner the Chargers thought he could become when they selected him as the fifth overall draft pick in 2002. The athletic but inconsistent Drayton Florence (1, 10) mans the other corner. Rookie first-round draft pick Antonio Cromartie plays nickel.

Special Teams
K Nate Kaeding (21/24) is accurate and dependable inside the 50, but his kickoffs are short and returnable. P Mike Scifres (43.7 gross avg) is one of the best in the league. Parker (5.9 avg) will return punts and speedy rookie CB Cletis Gordon gets a shot at returning kicks after Darren Sproles was lost with a broken leg. WR Kassim Osgood stands out covering punts.

Key Matchups
Titan tackles Michael Roos and Jacob Bell vs Merriman and Phillips, the Titans’ passing game vs the Chargers’ secondary, and the Titans front seven vs the San Diego rushing attack. An interesting head-to-head matchup to watch will be Pro Bowlers Kevin Mawae vs Williams, although Mawae will often have to rely on help from Zach Piller and Benji Olson.

Expected Strategies
In keeping with the theory that you attack your opponent’s weakness and avoid his strength, the Titans will focus on a passing attack. They can’t run inside at Williams and shouldn’t have much success running left (Merriman’s side) either, so their best chance to run for a little balance will be at Phillips, who’s better at rushing the passer than defending the run.

Defensively, Tennessee will have to load up the box, trying to slow down Tomlinson. Easier said than done and it will leave a lot of opportunities for Rivers to connect with Gates, McCardell, and Parker.

The Chargers would of course like to run the ball, but have to feel good about their chances to throw it after watching Chad Pennington rack up big yardage against the Titan secondary. Defensively, they’re confident in their ability to stop the run and will rely on getting a strong rush on Kerry Collins in passing situations.

Godfrey and Neal are former Titans. Tennessee C/G Eugene Amano’s hometown is San Diego.

Last Meeting
2004 - Chargers 38, Titans 17

San Diego is too strong and has too much game on both sides of the ball. The Chargers should be able to win a lot of battles on the field. It doesn’t bode well that the Titans have a history of not playing well on the West Coast.

San Diego 27, Tennessee 13

Read Andrew Strickert's blog at Total Titans.

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