Titans vs. Chargers: Four Keys to a Tennessee Upset

Nate Dunlevy@NateDunlevyGuest ColumnistSeptember 14, 2012

The passing game is a great way to get Johnson loose in space.
The passing game is a great way to get Johnson loose in space.Don McPeak-US PRESSWIRE

It never gets any easier for the Titans, does it?

A week after dealing with the defending AFC champion Patriots, the Titans have to get on a plane and fly cross country to take on Phil Rivers and the San Diego Chargers.

The Titans only need to snake a win or two out of the early slate of games in 2012 in order to prime themselves for a playoff run.

If they follow this game plan, they may well pick up that win this week.



Work in Kenny Britt

The Titans offense moved the ball effectively at times in Week 1, but too frequently stalled out on third down. The Titans hit on just 35 percent of third downs against the Patriots.

If they are going to sustain drives against San Diego, it will likely come from the three-wide set of Britt, Nate Washington and Kendall Wright. Throw in Jared Cook, and that's just too many good targets for most defenses to handle.

Britt's knee isn't 100 percent, so the Titans must be judicious in when and how to use him. He doesn't have to get the ball to be effective. With that many good passing weapons, Jake Locker should be able to find an open man.

It would be great if Britt got 10 targets, but just as important will be the routes he runs. If he can draw double-coverage, it should open up space for Wright and Washington.


Don't be Afraid to Abandon The Run

This is going to be controversial, but there's no reason to waste plays on things that don't work. San Diego's front completely shut down the Raiders' run game last week, and everyone knows what happened in Nashville.

Contrary to popular believe, the ideal run-pass ration isn't 50-50. It's probably closer to 85-15. Whether or not you believe that to be true in general, it certainly makes sense for a team that's having as many problems running the ball as the Titans have.

There are many ways to generate a "run effect" without handing the ball off. Abandoning the run doesn't mean giving up on Chris Johnson.

Johnson was productive for Tennessee out of the backfield against the Patriots. By throwing him the ball, the Titans can keep the Chargers honest while also getting Johnson more touches in space.

When Johnson was at his best, big plays in the passing game were a major part of his repertoire. They need to be again.

The Chargers forced a lot of dump-offs to Darren McFadden in Week 1, so Johnson should be prepared to see the ball come his way.

Likewise, San Diego's secondary is still suspect. They fielded one of the worst pass defenses in football in 2011, and unless you think Atari Bigby is a defense-changing player, they'll likely be in the bottom third again this year.



Let San Diego Run

Philip Rivers is one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL, even if people don't realize it. Every play the Chargers choose to run the ball is a good play for Tennessee.

With Ryan Mathews ailing, San Diego is going with a committee of Curtis Brinkley and Ronnie Brown. They averaged 1.6 yards a carry against San Diego.

That's Chris Johnson bad.

The Titans need to keep both safeties back and take away the deep ball. They should beg Norv Turner to call handoffs.

The Chargers' offense wants to go long. They want to hit big plays. The offense is designed to take advantage of Rivers' fantastic accuracy down field. The more they run, the more it keeps them grinding instead of striking.

Rivers has been known to get frustrated and force what isn't there. The Titans must lay back force long drives from the Chargers.

That's the key to producing a turnovers from San Diego.


Give Will Witherspoon Help

Losing Colin McCarthy is devastating to the Titans' defense, but especially for a week where they are playing Antonio Gates.

Gates has missed practices all week, but he's still expected to play according to Michael Gehlkin of The San Diego Union-Tribune.

With four catches last week and a highly-decorated career on top of that, Gates is a known quantity for the Chargers. He has the ability to plague a defense, especially one its their signature middle linebacker.

Witherspoon is very average in coverage and will be playing out of position. The Titans have be sure he gets the help he needs in coverage.

The Chargers don't have the weapons they once did in the passing game, so taking away the biggest name they have left is a must.



If this game were in Nashville, I'd probably pick the Titans. San Diego is overrated and not nearly the team they were a few years ago.

Still, it's difficult for teams to travel two time zones and score wins.

Tennessee has more than a puncher's chance in this game, but I expect the Chargers to pull out a close victory.

San Diego is a classic underachiever, and it always feels like Norv Turner finds a way to give games away. If the Titans can stay close, an upset is more than possible.

The challenge will be reining in the San Diego passing attack. If they can turn Rivers into a dump-off passer, they'll be in the game all afternoon.


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