Last season, Ray Rice converted a 4th-and-29 against the San Diego Chargers. We all remember because, well, how can you forget? It was a horrific yet marvelous play that very well represented the entire year San Diego had in 2012.
Why is this being brought up, you ask? That wasn't the first big play by a running back against the Chargers in recent years. Remember in 2007 when Adrian Peterson ran for a record-setting 296 yards against the Chargers? OK, OK, that was six years ago. The reason for these bad memories is the running back the Bolts are facing this Sunday—Chris Johnson.
The funniest part is the fact that this run was a 29-yard touchdown. I guess the number 29 is just unlucky for the Chargers.
Now on to the task at hand.
Defensive Game Plan: Contain Chris Johnson
Chris Johnson has always been a feared running back in the NFL. In 2009, he ran for 2,006 yards on 358 carries, averaging 5.6 yards per carry. Since that year, Johnson has failed to reach 1,400 yards or five yards per carry. He hasn't been as explosive as he was that 2009 season in recent years, although he's always on the verge of having a huge day.
This season has not been the greatest for CJ2K.
While Johnson's 166 yards ranks sixth in the league, his 3.3 yards-per-carry average ranks 31st among backs with 10 or more carries. One player who has a better yard-per-carry average is San Diego's own Ryan Mathews, who rushes for 3.7 yards per carry.
Johnson is on the verge of having a huge day, and the Titans know it. Through two games, Tennessee has given him 50 carries. That's second most only to Tampa Bay's Doug Martin, who has 53. He's the guy in Tennessee. Its upgraded offensive line, including guards Andy Levitre and rookie Chance Warmack, is ideal for the elusive Chris Johnson.
According to the season stats, he is not the type of back the Chargers want to play against this week.
In Week 1, the Chargers held Arian Foster to 57 yards on 18 carries but let Ben Tate run for 55 yards on only nine carries. In Week 2, San Diego held LeSean McCoy to 53 yards on 11 carries but allowed Michael Vick to rush for 23 yards and a touchdown.
Overall, the run defense has been better than expected. It's the screens and short passes that have become a weakness for the Chargers defense. McCoy exposed that last week when he took a short pass 70 yards. He ended the day with five receptions for 114 yards.
Johnson has the ability to do just that against San Diego this Sunday. In order for the Chargers to improve to 2-1, they must contain him. If they hold him to under 100 yards, the Bolts will have a great shot at winning.
Offensive Game Plan: Get an Early Lead and Win the Time-of-Possession Battle
I know what you're thinking: The Chargers need to keep the lead once they have it. You are absolutely right. That comes down to time of possession.
In Week 1, the Houston Texans won the time-of-possession battle by 13 minutes. In Week 2, it was the Chargers who led the time-of-possession battle against the Eagles by an incredible 20 minutes. Offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt was exactly what Philip Rivers needed. Against Philadelphia, Rivers looked phenomenal. He was calm, controlling and, best of all, confident.
He's confident in his team for the first time in three years.
Whisenhunt and head coach Mike McCoy know how to win games. They've been doing it all their careers. Getting out to an early lead against the Titans is crucial. In doing so, they'll make Tennessee pass the ball more than it wants to. That's exactly what the Chargers need. Make Jake Locker beat you, not Chris Johnson.
San Diego should give Ryan Mathews the ball early and see what he can do against the Titans' 20th-ranked run defense. It's allowing about 110 yards per game, so Mathews has a chance to explode. Don't mistake the "chance" for a probability. Mathews hasn't had a 100-yard game since December 11, 2011.
On the other hand, Tennessee's pass defense ranks 11th in the league after facing Ben Roethlisberger and Matt Schaub. It's allowing around 222 yards per game. Good news is that Philip Rivers is averaging 307 yards per game. Ironically, that ranks 11th in the league. So the 11th-ranked quarterback will face the 11th-ranked pass defense this Sunday.
The Chargers are averaging 30.5 points per game. That currently ranks fifth in the NFL. They also rank seventh in yards per game with 401.
On the other side of the field, the Titans defense is holding opposing teams to 19.5 points per game, which is 13th in the league. It also ranks 12th in yards allowed with 323 yards per game.
Tennessee linebacker Zach Brown leads the NFL in solo tackles with 19. He has a combined 20 tackles, including two sacks.
San Diego's defense has only one takeaway (one interception), while Tennessee has four (three interceptions, one fumble).
Eddie Royal has five touchdowns in the first two weeks. That leads the NFL.
Key Injury Updates
Zach Brown (LB)—DNP Wednesday with illness—Probable
Shonn Greene (RB)—DNP Wednesday with knee injury—Doubtful
David Stewart (T)—DNP Wednesday with calf injury—Probable
Kendall Wright (WR)—DNP Wednesday with concussion—Questionable
Malcom Floyd (WR)—DNP Wednesday with neck injury—Doubtful
Donald Butler (LB)—DNP Wednesday with groin injury—Questionable
Manti Te'o (LB)—LP Wednesday with foot injury—Questionable
Eddie Royal (WR)—LP Wednesday with wrist injury—Probable
Dwight Freeney (LB)—LP Wednesday (rest)—Probable
Corey Liuget (DE)—LP Wednesday with hamstring injury—Probable
DNP: Did Not Practice
LP: Limited Practice
Who will win this matchup?
The Titans defense is performing very well to start the season, and the same can be said about the Chargers offense. It's going to be a tough game for the Chargers, but I see them coming out on top. As long as the offensive line can give Rivers time, San Diego will win the game.
Winner: San Diego Chargers
Final Score: 27-17
All stats are from NFL.com. Injury updates are from the teams' official websites.