Jimmy Morris: Philip Rivers seems to have regressed in his second season as the Chargers' quarterback. Does he still have what it takes to lead this team deep in the playoffs?
Michael Lombardo: If the Chargers are bounced from the playoffs, I don't believe Rivers' play will be to blame. Rivers struggled earlier this season for a number of reasons -- expanded playbook, poor pass protection, inadequate receivers -- but he has played very well during the current six-game winning streak. During that time, he completed 100 of 165 passes (61 percent) for 1,100 yards, 10 touchdowns and only three interceptions.
If Rivers is given a clean pocket from which to throw, he can move the chains and keep the offense on the field -- a key to letting LaDainian Tomlinson get into a rhythm. If the Titans can get to Rivers like the did during the first three quarters of the Week 14 matchup, then San Diego's offense is in trouble.
JM: Rivers got hit a lot in the first matchup between these two teams. What will the Chargers do differently this time to keep him on his feet?
ML: Norv Turner said it best when asked about why he didn't give LT Marcus McNeill more help in the first meeting: "We can't help everybody." The right side of Tennessee's defensive line is as dominant as any in football. The Chargers would love to use a tight end to chip Kyle Vanden Bosch and a running back to help on Albert Haynesworth. However, keeping those extra players in to block means fewer weapons making plays downfield.
The natural counter would be to roll the pocket to the offensive right, where the Titans' defense isn't nearly so stout. The problem there is Rivers' limited mobility, an issue only magnified by the knee injury he suffered during the previous encounter. Instead, look for Norv Turner to get the ball out of Rivers' hands sooner with posts to Antonio Gates, slants to Craig Davis and swing passes to Tomlinson.
JM: What did the Chargers learn about the Titans in the first meeting that will change how they approach the rematch?
ML: The Chargers learned that they can match the Titans' physicality. The Titans attacked the Chargers from the opening whistle in Week 14 but the Chargers hung in there, stayed true to their game plan and had the Tennessee players sucking wind by game's end. LT ran for 66 yards in the fourth quarter and overtime, and the Chargers' defense held Vince Young without a single passing yard after the third quarter.
The Chargers learned they can tame Young by keeping him in the pocket. Young rushed for only 2 yards against the Chargers and finished with a passer rating of 38.1 because of it. The Chargers will do everything in their power to stop the Titans' running game and make Young beat them through the air -- a task made all the more daunting by injuries to WR Roydell Williams (ankle) and TE Bo Scaife (liver).
JM: How is the overall health of the Chargers heading into this game?
ML: The Chargers are as healthy as they could hope to be heading into a game of this magnitude. The only prominent player who will miss the game is FB Lorenzo Neal, who is out at least one more week after breaking his fibula during the first meeting between these teams. Andrew Pinnock has done a serviceable job as Neal's replacement, but there is clearly a drop-off there.
JM: Do you think Shawne Merriman will look for an opportunity to get even for what he thought was a cheap shot in the first game?
ML: Merriman will not look for retaliation. He will look to sack Young and to chase down LenDale White on the backside of runs. However, he will no doubt use the illegal hit placed on him by RT David Stewart and C Kevin Mawae as motivation. Merriman seems satisfied with the $17,500 in fines levied against those two.
JM: Give me your honest opinion…did Chris Chambers catch that fourth-and-5 pass in the first meeting?
ML: Chambers swears to this day that he caught the ball, but after reviewing that plays dozens of times I believe it is pretty clear the ball hit the ground. I feel the referees made the wrong call by ruling the play a catch but made the right call in not overturning it upon review -- no camera angle provided "indisputable evidence" that the ball hit the ground.
Michael Lombardo is a member of the Pro Football Writers of America and a long-time contributor to the Scout.com network. He has followed the Chargers for more than 14 years and covered the team since 2003.
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