The Chargers and Titans have had eerily similar starts to their 2013 seasons. Both teams are 1-1. Both teams lost the Houston Texans in games they led in the 4th quarter. And, both teams won in the state of Pennsylvania (San Diego in Philadelphia and Tennessee in Pittsburgh).
But the similarities stop there. These teams, especially on offense, could not be more different.
The Chargers run a pass-heavy scheme because they have the rejuvenated Philip Rivers at quarterback. Rivers has thrown seven touchdown passes, second in the NFL behind Peyton Manning’s nine, with just one interception.
The Titans run a run-heavy scheme because they have Jake Locker at quarterback. Locker has thrown for 278 yards (just a bit more than Rivers had in the first half against the Eagles) and two touchdowns (exactly what Rivers had in the second half against the Eagles) for the entire season.
Of course, Tennessee also has former 2,000-yard rusher Chris Johnson in the backfield, and when you have a weapon like that, you use it as often as possible.
If Locker is going to have a big statistical game this season, his best chance will come in the Titans’ two meetings with Jacksonville. But his next-best chance might be on Sunday against the Bolts. San Diego is giving up a league-worst 370 yards per game through the air. It’s a battle of the NFL’s worst-rated passing offense and worst-rated passing defense.
If you’re looking for a hint as to which one will get the better of which one on Sunday at LS Field, the signs would point towards Tennessee improving first.
Locker, while not prolific, has been effective. He has not turned the ball over yet and has wide receivers that are talented, but inexperienced. The Chargers secondary has been torched by superior talent (Houston’s Andre Johnson and Owen Daniels) and superior speed (Philadelphia’s DeSean Jackson). With cornerback Shareece Wright questionable because of a balky hamstring, an already suspect position group could be exploited.
However, with the way the Chargers offense is going, it might not matter how prolific Locker is. The Bolts are averaging 30.5 points per game, and Rivers looks like his old, 2010 self. Possibly the biggest factor in his resurgence is the play of the re-vamped offensive line.
Rivers has only been sacked three times in two games. In 2012, he went down 49 times, and average of three times PER GAME. The Titans pass rush is, as it usually is, formidable. Tennessee has three different players with multiple sacks already, all of them on the defensive line. San Diego’s starting right tackle, rookie D.J. Fluker, is questionable with a concussion. If he can’t go, Mike Harris will likely step in. While Harris struggled at left tackle last year, he’s a better fit on the right side, having played there his entire collegiate career at UCLA.
There is a history factor at work here, as well. The Titans have never beaten the Chargers. Tennessee has gone 0-8 against San Diego since moving to Nashville. In fact, the last time the franchise beat the Bolts, they were the Houston Oilers, and the year was 1992 (when Rivers was 10 years old). If there is some kind of cumulative effect, or historical road block, the QB doesn’t see it.
“This team’s never beaten the Titans, and that Titans team certainly has not lost eight in a row to us,” said Rivers, meaning both teams have a multitude of new players who haven’t been involved in the streak. “I don’t necessarily see it as a plus or a minus but it does seem as though we’ve played them every year.”
For teams who aren’t in the same division, they have seen an awful lot of each other. Since 2004, they’ve met in 2004, 2006, twice in 2007 (once in the playoffs), 2009, 2010, and 2012. The Chargers have won them all, twice in Nashville. I don’t see that changing this time around.
The Chargers offensive line will have its struggles against Tennessee’s pass rush, but with the way Rivers audibled and got his unit in to the proper play against Philadelphia’s defense, the Bolts will move the ball well enough to put points on the board.
On defense, the health issues of Wright, as well as middle linebacker Donald Butler, who’s also questionable to play, will be felt more in trying to track down Chris Johnson than worrying about Locker hurting them over the top.
It won’t be as dramatic as last week, but it will be a win. The Chargers come away 2-1 after a 26-19 win.