The Tennessee Titans faced a familiar opponent when they travelled to Qualcomm Stadium this Sunday: Ken Whisenhunt, former Titans’ head coach (2014-2015) and current offensive coordinator for the San Diego Chargers.
Unfortunately, familiarity did not give the Titans success.
The Chargers totaled 476 yards and 43 points on the Titans. Both those metrics are the most Tennessee has given up all season.
San Diego’s offense in large part stemmed from Melvin Gordon. The second-year running back gave a performance that was not only a career-best but also worthy of the 2016 highlight reel: 32 carries for 196 yards, four receptions for 64 yards, and a touchdown.
After the game Titans’ cornerback Jason McCourty acknowledged that missed tackles and poor gaps facilitated some of Gordon’s longer runs: “There was a time or two, maybe, that the [Chagers] got us or schemed us … But when a running back runs for as many yards as [Gordon] did, it’s definitely on the defense, whether it’s tackling, whether it’s gaps, whatever it may be.”
A particularly impactful missed-tackle came at 2:37 in the fourth quarter, when the Chargers led by only eight points and faced a third-and-seven.
Gordon was bottled up at the line of scrimmage but managed to break through Daimion Stafford, Kevin Byard, and Da’Norris Searcy for a 47-yard gain. The play turned a would-be punt into a game-ending drive, resulting in the final score, 43-35.
Although the Titans struggled to contain the run, perhaps their largest downfall was two turnovers that were returned for a touchdown.
Near the end of the third quarter, Tennessee looked to surmount a 21-26 deficit. However, quarterback Marcus Mariota rushed along the right side of his offensive line, fumbled upon being tackled, and safety Dwight Lowery carried the football untouched into the end zone.
Fast forward to the fourth quarter. The Titans were down 28-36 with six minutes remaining. On a third-and-seven Mariota threw a timely pass to wideout Kendall Wright, but cornerback Brandon Flowers cut under the receiver and snagged a pick six.
Although the Titans immediately responded with a 10-play, 75-yard scoring drive to bring the score to 35-43, there was not enough time for last minute heroics. The Chargers ran out the clock thereafter.
“You can’t let [turnovers] happen,” said left tackle Taylor Lewan after the game. “Giving the ball away is a quick way to really lose a game. It’s not anybody’s fault, but it’s a team game, so when we give up a turnover it’s everybody’s fault.”
Quick way to lose a game indeed.
Takeaway the 14 points the Chargers scored from those two turnovers, and the storyline of this matchup might look dramatically different: The Titans could be celebrating a 5-4 record as well as a tied-lead of the AFC South.
They instead have a 4-5 record and are second in the Division, alongside the Indianapolis Colts. Next week the team has an opportunity to return to 0.500 as they host the Green Bay Packers (4-4) at Nissan Stadium.
Despite the aforementioned negatives, there were positive performances from Tennessee in Sunday’s loss.
For starters, the Titans adjusted their game plan very well after halftime.
Through the first two quarters the team struggled to establish a running attack as DeMarco Murray was limited to just 17 yards on seven carries. Therefore, at the start of the third quarter the Titans passed eight times in a row before Mariota rushed 14 yards for the scoring play.
Second, Mariota impressed during his “up’s.” Despite two interceptions and a lost fumble, the second-year quarterback completed 27-of-43 passes for 313 yards and three touchdowns. All three of those passing touchdowns came in the red zone, pushing Mariota’s career stats in that area to 28 touchdown versus 0 interceptions.
Lastly, rookie safety Kevin Byard and defensive tackle Jurrell Casey play well. Byard, filling in for Rashad Johnson, was all over the field and finished the game with 10 tackles, while Casey disrupted the Chargers’ offensive front tallying three run-stops and three quarterback-pressures per Pro Football Focus.
Next week Titans’ fans can once again cheer on their team at home. The team will need more positives than negatives if they hope to compete with the Packers. Kickoff is at 12:00 PM CST.