The San Diego Chargers have beaten the Tennessee Titans in nine straight contests. If the Bolts expect to extend that winning streak to double digits, the team will need supreme effort and results from quarterback Philip Rivers.
Of players with more than 60 pass attempts, Rivers ranks eighth in completion percentage (65.8) and 10th in yards per game (307.0). He is tied with Rodgers for the second-most touchdown passes in the league with seven.
Getting Rivers on track early and keeping him on track throughout the game have to be the top factors in San Diego improving to 2-1 on the season.
The key to getting him rolling is involving tight end Antonio Gates. Even though Eddie Royal’s emergence (he leads the NFL with five TD catches) is great, the main target for Rivers is still Gates, especially with receiver Malcom Floyd sidelined for the week following the scary hit he took to open the second half against Philly.
Gates has 10 catches for 173 yards. Four of his catches have been for 20 yards or more, and nine of his 10 receptions have resulted in a first down. Only New Orleans’ Jimmy Graham has more first-down catches (11) among tight ends.
Tasked with containing the future Hall of Fame tight end is Titans safety Bernard Pollard, who was fined $42,000 for a hit on Houston receiver Andre Johnson last week. According to Paul Kuharsky of ESPN, Pollard and Tampa Bay’s Dashon Goldson have 14 unnecessary roughness penalties since 2010, the most in the NFL.
If Pollard is afraid to make a hit on a receiver because it could result in a hit on his pocketbook, Gates could make catches that move the chains and put Rivers and the Chargers offense in a positive rhythm.
Tennessee is also looking to improve to 2-1 on the season and is one of the surprising teams. The Titans beat the Pittsburgh Steelers in the season opener and lost in overtime to the Houston Texans on Sunday.
The Titans are being rebuilt in the mold of their new head coach. Mike Munchak had a Hall of Fame 12-year career with the Houston Oilers as a guard. He then spent 14 years as the Oilers’ and Titans’ offensive line coach before taking over the main reins following the 2010 season.
Munchak and Tennessee held the 10th pick in the 2013 NFL draft, one spot ahead of San Diego, and selected guard Chance Warmack. The rookie Warmack, center Robert Turner and left guard Andy Levitre make up an interior offensive line that is revamped from last year’s squad.
Turner spent four years with the New York Jets and last year with the St. Louis Rams before signing with the Titans in the offseason. Levitre played four years in Buffalo before signing a $46.8 million contract this offseason, which was the highest free-agent guard signing this year.
Those three will play against nose tackle Cam Thomas and the two inside linebackers. We don't know who those linebackers will be just yet because Donald Butler has been limited in practice with a groin injury and Manti Te’o was able to practice for the first time since the first preseason game because of a sprained foot. Bront Bird has played in place of Te’o, and Andrew Gachkar is listed as Butler’s backup.
If Butler is out (or even limited) against the Titans, it could be a long day for the defense. He has 15 total tackles through two games, which is tied for most on the team. Bird also has 15 total tackles.
There is no secret as to what Tennessee wants to do. The Titans are tops in the league in rushing attempts (75) and last in passing attempts (50).
San Diego defensive coordinator John Pagano told the Chargers’ official website that the offensive line is the key to the Titans’ early success. The interior trio of Warmack, Turner and Levitre allows running back Chris Johnson to have the most rushing attempts per game (25) in the AFC. He is also averaging 3.3 yards per carry.
“The offensive line’s a great offensive line,” he said. “It’s a physical offensive line. They go to work every day and they’re productive. That’s what they count on and that’s why you see the success that they’ve had early in the season.”
A battle in the trenches is what nose tackle Thomas expects. He told UT San Diego’s Tom Krasovic that he is ready for a power-running team.
“It’ll be 60 minutes of throwing punches to see who the first one is to get knocked out,” he said.
While Warmack, Turner and Levitre are new additions to the Tennessee offense, left tackle Michael Roos is a nine-year veteran.
Roos, a second-round pick out of Eastern Washington in 2005, has become one of the better left tackles in the NFL. Since 2005, the Titans have allowed the fourth-fewest sacks in the NFL (207) and have produced seven 1,000-yard rushers.
Which matchup will most determine Sunday's game?
According to Pro Football Focus, Freeney is the top-rated outside linebacker so far in 2013. According to PFF, he has more than five quarterback pressures in each game so far. If he can continue his dominant pass-rushing skills, it will force the Titans offense to be even more one-dimensional than it already is, helping the defensive backfield.