The San Diego Chargers will have their 2012 home opener on Sunday when they host the Tennessee Titans in an early season AFC matchup. The Chargers will look to start the year 2-0 following their victory over the Oakland Raiders on Monday. The Titans will arrive in San Diego following a loss to the New England Patriots 34-13.
The Chargers are still hoping that they will be able to use their star running back Ryan Mathews, who is fighting to get back from a broken collarbone. The Titans will welcome back Kenny Britt, who will force the Chargers to pay attention to the big play.
If the Chargers want to win this game they will have to execute in the following areas:
Establish a Running Game
The Chargers rushing attack was nowhere to be found against the Raiders. There are many things that affected the running game: The offensive line is in flux, Ryan Mathews did not play and the Raiders front seven is their strong point in their defense. However, the Titans should be a better test than the Raiders, and the Chargers can’t fully rely on Philip Rivers and the passing game to lead them to victory in this game.
The Chargers only managed 32 yards rushing and were led by Curtis Brinkley, who carried the ball for just 12 yards on 10 carries. The Chargers coaching staff tried multiple ways to get the rushing game going, including Eddie Royal, Ronnie Brown and Le’Ron McClain.
The encouraging news for the Chargers is that Mathews was a full participant in yesterday’s practice and looks more than ready to return to action. The return of Mathews will help every area on the offense, it will force the Titans to move people into the box, which will open up passing lanes for Rivers, and it will allow players like Brinkley and Brown to be used in special parts of the game, something they are better suited for.
Eliminate the Big Play
The Chargers showed in Week 1 that they would be very tough to beat in a slugfest type game. It was surprising to see the Chargers out-physical the Raiders on Monday night. They dominated the line of scrimmage and slammed the door on Darren McFadden, who only averaged 32 yards on 15 carries.
New defensive coordinator John Pagano showed that this defense is much more sound then the defenses that the Chargers have had in year’s past. The one area where they are weak is in the secondary. With Quentin Jammer playing with a cast on his hand and the rest of the corner backs still coming along, one area where the Chargers good get beat is on big passing plays.
The Titans have a handful of big play receivers on their roster. Players like Kenny Britt (who will see limited time), Nate Washington and Kendall Wright—it will be a big test for the Chargers to slow down these receivers.
The good news? The Titans rushing game is absolutely horrible, which will allow the Chargers to drop more defenders into pass protection. The Chargers should not have a problem covering up Chris Johnson, who has been in a downfall since the 2009 season. If the Chargers can manage to take away the deep passing plays, they should have no problem beating the Titans on Sunday.
Give Philip Rivers Pass Protection
The Chargers offensive line played much better than expected during the Raiders game. For a group that many people believed would be dominated, they did an excellent job at giving enough protection for Rivers. Mike Harris, who is filling in for Jared Gaither, played extremely well for Norv Turner and should be expected to play just as well in Week 2.
It would have been nice to see the offensive line give Rivers a little more time to get the ball down field, and I suspect that the Chargers want to do this against the Titans. With big play threats such as Malcolm Floyd and Robert Meachem, Rivers needs to be able to drop back and give his receivers time to get down field before making the pass. Rivers only averaged seven yards per throw against the Raiders. While this worked for one game, that number needs to be improved if the Chargers want to win as the season goes forward.
If Rivers can connect on a few deep balls in the first half, not only will the Chargers likely be leading the Titans, it will also open up the rushing game as well as the screen game, which is something the Chargers need to utilize more. If the offensive line can provide Rivers with just a little more time in Week 2, the Chargers should be heading into Week 3, 2-0.
Chargers win 24-14