Titans vs. Chargers: Sketching out a Game Plan for San Diego

Christopher Hansen@ChrisHansenNFLNFL AnalystSeptember 14, 2012

September 10, 2012; Oakland, CA, USA; San Diego Chargers tight end Antonio Gates (85) runs with the ball defended by Oakland Raiders defensive back Ron Bartell (21) during the first half at O.co Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Kelley L Cox-US PRESSWIRE

The San Diego Chargers got off to a good start on the road against the Oakland Raiders on Monday night. The defense came to play, and the offense did enough to put points on the board.

The Tennessee Titans come into San Diego looking for their first win after getting trampled by the New England Patriots in Week 1. The Titans made mistakes early, and the Patriots capitalized on them and turned it into a laugher.

The Titans had to abandon the running game early, and Chris Johnson had just four rushing yards on 11 carries, but he did add six receptions for 47 yards. Darren McFadden had 13 receptions on Monday night, and that’s certainly an area where the Chargers need to improve.

The Chargers need to limit Johnson and make big plays in the passing game to beat the Titans. The game plan might include mimicking some of the ways the Patriots attacked the Titans.


PA Tight End Cross vs. Cover 3

Rob Gronkowski is lined up to the right side of the formation and will run a shallow cross off play-action. The Chargers could easily mimic this play with Antonio Gates.

One of the safeties is going to rotate down, leaving the other safety responsible for the deep center and the cornerbacks responsible for the outside. The wide receiver on the right is going to stem his route to the inside in hopes of drawing the coverage of the deep safety away from the “dig” or square-in route of the wide receiver on the opposite side.

The dig route clears out space underneath for Gronkowski. The linebacker responsible for flat bites on the play-action and Gronkowski run behind two Tennessee linebackers and into open space.

Gronkowski may have been even more open if not for defensive end Kamerion Wimbley reading the run to the opposite side and stepping back only to see Gronkowski with a free-release running right at him. This was likely unintended coverage.

The safety also bought the fake. It’s impossible to know what his responsibility was, but someone other than Wimbley should have been accounting for the whereabouts of Gronkowski.

Gronkowski makes the easy catch with a lot of room to run up the left sideline. When the Titans give the Chargers a similar look, they could easily run this play with great results. Even if the play-action is not as effective, a linebacker still has to run with Gates across the field.

The deep receivers are also an option on this play. If the deep safety rolls his coverage to the dig, there is a one-on-one opportunity deep down the right sideline. If the deep safety rolls his coverage to the go route, the dig route could be open in the deep middle.


Deep Out vs. Cover 3

The red arrows are the movement of the defenders. Brandon Lloyd is going to run a deep post. The Chargers would probably run this route with Malcom Floyd.

Tom Brady is patient on this play, waiting for the deep routes to develop. His receiver to the right is well covered by two defenders, and although he has a running back open in the flat, the safety will be able to close on him quickly.

Brady can't see Lloyd wide open in this frame between the safety and the cornerback, or he might have pulled the trigger. Lloyd doesn’t appear open because the safety is still sinking deep into coverage.

Lloyd breaks his route toward the sideline. The cornerback had committed to the post, and Brady leads Lloyd into the open space.

Brady throws a little too far out in front of Lloyd, and he has to make a diving catch. If the throw is a little more accurate, Lloyd has a chance to slip on tackle and turn it into an even bigger gain. It’s a throw that Philip Rivers can also make.


PA Bootleg Pass vs. Stacked Box

Chris Johnson couldn’t get going on the ground, but he was catching passes against the Patriots. If the Chargers can similarly limit Johnson on the ground by getting penetration into the backfield, then the Titans might try other ways of getting Johnson the ball.

One example that was successful against the Patriots was play-action bootleg on 3rd-and-short. This is a play the Chargers need to study because it's a play that Johnson can turn into a big gain.

The entire offense moves to the left except Johnson, who runs to the flat, the quarterback (in this case Matt Hasselbeck) rolls to his right and the x-receiver on the opposite side runs a slant across the field.

The Patriots defensive line was not fooled, and the quarterback isn’t going to have enough time to find the x-receiver on the slant. It has to be a toss to Johnson or throwaway. The linebacker has two options: stay with Johnson or run at the quarterback, and typically, the linebacker is taught to run at the quarterback to force the issue.

The linebacker tries to pressure Hasselbeck, but because the Patriots stacked the box, the linebacker has no help. Hasselbeck dumps it over the linebacker, and Johnson has a lot of room to run.

The Titans are going to try to get the ball in Johnson’s hands in open space, and the Chargers need to make sure they account for him in the passing game. The Chargers did a good job stopping Darren McFadden for short gains last week, and Johnson is similarly explosive.

It just takes one mistake in space for Johnson to create a big play, and the more the Chargers are convinced Johnson can run the ball, the more dangerous Johnson can be in the passing game.


The Conclusion

The Chargers have more than enough weapons to beat the Titans defense, but they need to get good pass protection again on Sunday, and they need an effective Gates on the field.

Without Gates, the Titans might use a different coverage concept and change the way the Chargers have to attack the defense. As it was, the Titans used a lot of zone coverage against the prolific passing of the Patriots and should do the same against San Diego.

Last week, the Charger defense was content letting McFadden catch passes, and instead, took away the big passing play. The Titans will attempt to create more with short and intermediate passes and get Johnson the ball on designed play as opposed to just check downs.

Jake Locker can create time with his legs to push the ball deep, but the Chargers don’t need both safeties playing as deep as they were against the Raiders. The Chargers have to do a good job of getting pressure from the edge and getting the young quarterback to the ground when the pressure gets there.


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