Chargers-Titans Primer

The Chargers roll into December with a two-game lead in the AFC West and only one winning team left on their schedule: the Tennessee Titans. See how these 7-5 squads match up in this week's game-day primer.


Another game, another run at history for LaDainian Tomlinson. This week, LT attempts to become the second runner in NFL history to begin his career with seven consecutive 1,200-yard seasons. Only Eric Dickerson has ever accomplished that feat. Tomlinson is 151 yards shy of 1,200.

Tomlinson will have to earn every yard if big Albert Haynesworth is in the lineup. Haynesworth returned from a hamstring injury last week and promptly ended a three-game losing streak that coincided with his absence. However, he suffered a setback after the game and missed all three practices this week. Coach Jeff Fisher said Haynesworth will be a game-time decision.

The Titans rank No. 7 in run defense (93.9 yards per game). In the three games Haynesworth was out, they gave up an average of 160 yards. When Haynesworth is healthy, that number dips to 71.9 yards.

The Chargers enjoyed ample success running against the Titans in last year's meeting, piling up 241 yards on the ground en route to a 40-7 victory. Michael Turner led the way 138 yards on 13 carries. The Chargers tallied three rushing touchdowns in that game: two from LT and one from Charlie Whitehurst.

QB Philip Rivers
Sam Greenwood/Getty


Philip Rivers must play better to defeat the Titans. Last week, Rivers threw his thirteenth interception of the season on an poor pass intended for Chris Chambers. Rivers has thrown at least one interception in nine of the team's 12 games this season.

It didn't help that the Kansas City Chiefs were pressuring Rivers, taking him down three times. That was an unusual defeat for the Chargers' offensive line, which had allowed only five sacks in the previous eight games. The offensive line is allowing one sack per 23 attempts on the season.

The primary sack threat for Tennessee is Kyle Vanden Bosch, who leads the team with six. Hot on his heals for the sack lead are Haynesworth (five) and two members of the 2004 draft class discussed in this week's Behind Enemy Lines: defensive ends Antwan Odom and Travis LaBoy.

The Chargers will look to get Antonio Gates back involved with the offense after the caught one pass for minus-1 yard last week. Despite the off week, Gates still ranks third among tight ends in yards (833) and second in touchdowns (eight).

Gates should find space between the hashes, as the Titans announced that safety Chris Hope will miss the rest of the season with a spinal cord injury. Hope will be replaced by Calvin Lowry, who struggled when pressed into action earlier in the season.

Vincent Jackson will be the primary target outside he hashes. He has a great matchup with the undersized Cortland Finnegan. Jackson has fond memories of the Titans, as he caught his first career touchdown against them during last year's meeting.

RB LenDale White
Rick Stewart/Getty


The Titans love to play smash-mouth football. They have the right running back for the job in LenDale White. The powerful second-year back is listed at 235 lbs. but is actually closer to 255. He can wear down a defense if he gets 20-plus carries, but his rushing average (3.6 yards) is nothing to write home about.

The San Diego defense will load up to stop the run. It all starts on the inside, where Jamal Williams and Kevin Mawae will collide in a battle of All Pro players.

The Chargers have a better chance of getting a win on Williams' right, where Igor Olshansky will square off with Michael Roos. Olshansky has played back-to-back standout games, totaling 11 tackles and 1.5 sacks in those contests. He has an excellent matchup against Roos, who is a better pass protector than run blocker.

Jacques Cesaire returned to practice on Friday after undergoing surgery for a thumb injury. Cesaire batted down two passes at the line scrimmage last week against the Chiefs, and it will be interesting to see if he is so eager to get his hands up with a gimp thumb.

Stephen Cooper and Matt Wilhelm have been rock solid as first-year starters. Cooper is on pace to finish with 110 tackles. Wilhelm chips in nearly seven tackles per game.

QB Vince Young
Mark Humphrey/AP


When Vince Young drops back to pass, fans from both teams cringe. Many Titans fans have grown impatient with Young, who has twice as many interceptions (14) as he does touchdowns. Of course, Chargers fans are none too eager to face a quarterback with Young's tremendous arm strength and escapability.

Although known more for his legs than his arm, Young has racked up at least 246 passing yards in four straight games.

The Chargers' pass rush is hitting its stride, netting a season-high eight sacks last week. However, Ted Cottrell must tweak his scheme to corral VY. If the Chargers send Shawne Merriman and Shaun Phillips off the edges, Young will take off running up the middle.

It will help that VY has a tendency to hold the ball for too long. He has been sacked 19 times this season, or once every 15.5 pass attempts. If the Chargers catch him scrambling, they will go for the sack and the strip. The Chargers are tied with the New York Giants and Washington Redskins for the most combined sacks and forced fumbles.

The Titans do not have a pure No. 1 receiver that will scare the Chargers. The player to watch is fifth-year pro Justin Gage, who has already set career highs in receptions (41) and yards (541). Gage will attempt to record his fifth consecutive game with at least four catches and 64 yards receiving. WR Brandon Jones will miss the game with a knee injury, meaning 34-year-old Eric Moulds takes over as the No. 3 receiver.

The Chargers' secondary will attack the Titans' receivers, sitting on routes and aggressively breaking on balls. The Chargers lead the NFL with 20 picks and 33 total takeaways. Their plus-14 turnover differential is the second-best in the league. The Titans' turnover differential (minus 3) ranks No. 18.

CB Antonio Cromartie
Lisa Blumenfeld/Getty


All of those who are dying to see Antonio Cromartie return kicks just might get their wish. Darren Sproles missed all of this week's practices with a knee injury and appears unlikely to go on Sunday. Cromartie would likely replace him on kickoff returns, with Craig Davis going back to handle punts.

One special teams star who is abundantly healthy is Mike Scifres. Scifres has landed 23 of his last 37 punts inside the 20-yard line. He is the NFL's fourth-leading punter in net average (39.5). Scifres will punt to Cortland Finnegan, who averages 5.5 yards per return and has never returned a punt longer than 9 yards.

The Titans have a big leg of their own in place kicker Rob Bironas. Bironas rose to fame by beating the Indianapolis Colts with a 60-yard field goal at the gun in week 13 last season. He has added accuracy to his kicking repertoire this year, hitting on a career-high 89.7 percent of his attempts.

Of course, no kicker has it better than Nate Kaeding. Like Bironas, Kaeding has missed just three field goals this season. However, in every game that Kaeding missed a kicked, the Chargers won. Maybe he should send his first attempt wide right just to be safe.

Michael Lombardo is a member of the Pro Football Writers of America and a long-time contributor to the network. He has followed the Chargers for more than 14 years and covered the team since 2003.

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