This Sunday, the Tennessee Titans (4-4) travel to Qualcomm Stadium to face the San Diego Chargers (3-5) in a Week 9 NFL matchup. Kickoff is 3:25 PM CST.
Do not let the Chargers record deceive you. They are arguably the best three-win team in the NFL. Two of their victories were against the Atlanta Falcons, who have the top offense in the league, and the Denver Broncos, who have the third best defense in the league. Moreover, of their five losses, four were settled by less than a touchdown.
Meanwhile, the Titans have four wins though the first half of the season for the first time since 2011. They are coming off a dominating performance against the Jacksonville Jaguars, and are only one game behind the Houston Texans (5-3) in the AFC South.
Let’s consider four pivotal match-ups to watch during the game.
Chargers’ pass offense versus Titans pass defense
Against the fortunes of Titans’ fans, the Chargers best skill, pass offense, matches up against the Titans’ biggest weakness, pass defense.
Behind 34-year-old quarterback Philip Rivers the Chargers have the seventh overall pass attack in the league, averaging 278.1 yards per game. The Titans, on the other hand, have the 20th overall pass defense as their secondary allows 259.5 yards per game.
However, the Chargers’ pass attack may not be as potent as usual since the team is currently riddled with injuries at the wide receiver position.
They lost wideout Stevie Johnson (torn meniscus) on the second day of training camp and Keenan Allen (torn ACL) during the first half of the season opener. Now, backup receivers Travis Benjamin and Tyrell Williams are questionable to play against the Titans as they deal with continued knee issues.
Regarding the Titans secondary, they are returning to full health this week. Head coach Mike Mularkey announced that cornerback Perrish Cox (concussion) will play against the Chargers, and he expects safety Rashad Johnson (neck) to play as well.
Titans’ rush offense versus Chargers’ rush defense
For as strong as the Titans are at rushing the Chargers are nearly as strong at stopping the run.
Behind running backs DeMarco Murray and Derrick Henry, the Titans have the second best rush offense in the league, averaging just over 150 yard per game and 4.9 yards per carry. The Chargers, on the other hand, have the seventh overall rush defense as their front seven limit opponents to 86.0 yards per game and a measly 3.8 yards per carry.
This news does not bode well for quarterback Marcus Mariota since much of the Titans passing offense stems from the their running game: play action fakes, screen passes, and read options.
If the Chargers can contain Murray and Henry, the burden of Tennessee’s offense may fall heavily on Mariota.
Chargers’ offensive line versus Titans’ pass rush
In the words of defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau, consistent pressure on the quarterback wins football games. Under this philosophy the Titans’ front seven have garnered 22 sacks on the season for an average of 2.75 sacks per game.
The Titans’ successes at pass rush should continue versus the Chargers since their offensive line has allowed the fifth most sacks (21) in the league and the eight most quarterback hits (51).
These struggles for San Diego, in large part, stem from two of their offensive lineman: right tackle Joe Barksdale and left guard Orlando Franklin. Both players have an overall grade of approximately 50-out-of-100 per Pro Football Focus, meaning that their opposing matchups on the Titans’ defensive front — linebacker Derrick Morgan and lineman Jurrell Casey — may be in the backfield often.
Morgan currently is riding a four-week streak in which he has record one or more sacks each game, while Casey has had at least one quarterback hit in every game this season except for Week 3 against the Oakland Raiders.
Fight for the postseason
In the second half of seasons, every game affects which teams will and which teams won’t make the playoffs.
Regarding the AFC, the following teams lead their respective divisions: the New England Patriots (7-1), the Oakland Raiders (6-2), the Pittsburg Steelers (4-3), and the Houston Texans (5-3). While five teams contend for two available Wild Card positions: the Denver Broncos (6-2), the Kansas City Chiefs (5-2), the Titans (4-4), and the Buffalo Bills (4-4), and the Chargers (3-5).
This all goes to say that both the Titans and the Chargers are still in the thick of the hunt.