Chargers-Titans Gameday Primer

The Chargers waited all year for a shot at playoff redemption. The wait is now over as the Tennessee Titans come to town for a wild-card slugfest. Norv Turner wants his offense to attack, his defense to force turnovers and his special teams to change field position.


LaDainian Tomlinson gets stronger as the season grows longer. In his seven-year career, he has 3,508 rushing yards in the month of December (106 per game), the most among active running backs.

Tomlinson knows how to pile up yards in January, too. In two playoff appearances, he has combined for 203 yards rushing, 118 yards receiving and two scores. His only blemish is a 0-2 postseason record. He and O.J. Simpson are the only players in league history with 10,000 yards rushing and no postseason wins on their résumés.

The Tennessee Titans rank No. 5 in the NFL against the run, allowing 92.4 yards per game. Anchoring against the run is Albert Haynesworth, who earned his first Pro Bowl invite this season. Haynesworth registered 69 tackles, six sacks, 23 quarterback pressures, six tackles for loss and three pass breakups, despite missing three games with a hamstring injury.

The Chargers figure to run right at the Titans early in the game, hoping to wear them down as the game progresses. That strategy worked in Week 14, when Tomlinson ran for 80 yards through the first three quarters before busting loose for 66 yards and two touchdowns in the fourth quarter and overtime.

WR Chris Chambers
Matthew Stockman/Getty


Philip Rivers' improved play is the biggest reason for the Chargers' six-game winning streak. During that span, Rivers has completed 100 of 165 passes for 1,100 yards with 10 touchdowns and only three interceptions for a rating of 93.0. Rivers' career passer rating (86.6) is the highest in team history (min. 500 pass attempts).

Rivers' first read will be Antonio Gates, who hauled in six catches for 67 yards and a game-tying touchdown the last time these teams met. Gates also posted six receptions in both of his career playoff games, so expect a similar number on Sunday.

Rookie first-round pick Michael Griffin will draw lots of one-on-one coverage against Gates. Griffin moved into the starting lineup in Week 7 and finished the season strong, intercepting three passes in December.

When Rivers turns to his wide receivers, Chris Chambers will get the bulk of the attention. Chambers makes his playoff debut Sunday and comes in streaking, having scored in each of the final two games of the season. Chambers caught at least two passes in every game since joining the Chargers in Week 7.

Rivers must make ball security his top priority against the Titans. Tennessee is second in the league with 22 interceptions and will look to pressure Rivers into some errant throws. The Titans rank third in the AFC with 40 sacks.

The Chargers rank eighth in sacks allowed (24). However, they allowed a season-high four sacks in their last meeting with the Titans.

NT Jamal Williams
Donald Miralle/Getty


Jeff Fisher will lean heavily on a three-pronged rushing attack that features running backs LenDale White and Chris Brown and quarterback Vince Young. White leads the pack, having piled up 1,110 yards and seven touchdowns in his first season as a starter.

Brown will be mixed in for about a half-dozen carries and could be a player to watch near the goal line. Brown seeks to score a touchdown in his third consecutive playoff game, which would tie Eddie George's franchise record.

Young leads all quarterbacks in rushing, picking up 395 yards on 93 carries (6.2 yards per carry) and tacking on three scores. However, he had his second-worst rushing performance against the Chargers, gaining 2 yards on two carries.

San Diego's run defense will get a boost from the return of Jamal Williams, who sat out the last two games with ankle and hip injuries. Williams will be flanked by Luis Castillo and Igor Olshansky, the first time since Week 9 the Chargers will have their entire starting defensive line healthy.

The Chargers ranked No. 16 against the run this season (107 yards per game), their lowest ranking since 2003. The Titans are fifth in rushing offense (131.8 yards per game), but rank only 20th in rushing average (3.9 yards).

LB Shawne Merriman
Stephen Dunn/Getty


The story of Tennessee's passing attack is all about health. Young is battling a quad injury. Starting receiver Roydell Williams, who led the team with 55 receptions, is out with an ankle injury. Starting tight end Bo Scaife will also sit with a lacerated liver.

Even when healthy, the Titans' passing attack was inconsistent. Tennessee's passing game ranked No. 27 in the NFL, putting up less than 180 yards per game. Young threw only nine touchdowns against 17 interceptions.

The Chargers seem well suited to exploit Young's inaccuracy. San Diego led the league with 30 interceptions, eight more than the next closest team.

Antonio Cromartie leads the charge, coming off a 10-interception season that netted his first Pro Bowl invite. Cromartie will lock horns with Justin Gage, a 6-foot-4 receiver who led his team with 750 receiving yards.

San Diego plans to pressure Young and force him into some bad decisions. Shawne Merriman leads the pass rush and is out for revenge against the team that took out his knee with an illegal hit last time around. Merriman recorded two sacks in the last meeting and will look to repeat that performance on Sunday; the Chargers are 10-1 when Merriman has two or more sacks.

The Titans will likely be without center Kevin Mawae (calf) and right guard Benji Olson (back). They would be replaced by Eugene Amano and rookie Leroy Harris, respectively. That makeshift line will struggle to fend off Merriman, Castillo and Shaun Phillips.

P Mike Scifres
Otto Greule Jr./Getty


Nate Kaeding's bruised left leg has not responded as he'd hoped. Kaeding will still kick field goals and extra points as he looks to buck a playoff trend of missing kicks with the game on the line.

Dave Rayner will handle kickoffs for the second consecutive week. The results have been horrible thus far, as opponents are starting on average at the 27.1-yard line following Rayner's kickoffs.

The Chargers continue to roll with Rayner rather than Mike Scifres in order to protect their dominating punter. Scifres' 46.1-yard average was the second-highest ever recorded in team history behind Darren Bennett. Additionally, Scifres landed 36 of his punts inside the 20, second-most in the NFL.

Darren Sproles, who missed the first meeting with the Titans, will handle kickoff and punt returns, although Craig Davis could steal a couple of punts. Sproles averages 27.2 yards per kickoff return and 9.5 yards per punt return.

The Titans have some talented specialists of their own. Kicker Rob Bironas led the league with 35 field goals made and will represent the AFC in the Pro Bowl. Punter Craig Hentrich is a 14-year veteran, although his net average (36.5) ranks in the bottom third of the league.

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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