By Curtis Egan
<em>BoltTalk Staff Writer</em>
<img src="http://i1.chargers.com/assets/212/37803_600w600h.jpg" alt="Running back LaDainian Tomlinson #21 carries the ball against the Tennessee Titans December 9, 2007 at LP Field in Nashville, Tennessee.(Matthew Stockman/Getty Images North America)" align="right" height="250" width="168" />This game is a rematch of week 14 when the Chargers and Titans faced off in what has to be considered the most physical game played this season. Both teams left the game bruised and battered, with the Chargers winning in overtime. The Titans now storm into San Diego's Qualcomm stadium with a huge chip on their shoulders after narrowly earning their playoff birth. But earn it they did, they won the games they needed to win, and now have earned a chance to continue their season. But to do that they have to get past a Chargers team that is entering the playoffs on a hot streak.
The question is in this heavy weight rematch, will the winner be in any condition to continue striving for the SuperBowl?
The San Diego Chargers are the only team other than the Patriots to enter the playoffs on a 5-0 winning streak. They bring with them arguably the best line backing corps in the NFL, and face one of the best defensive lines in the NFL in the Titans, which includes Defensive Tackle #92 Albert Haynesworth and the outstanding defensive end #93 Kyle Vanden Bosch. Both these men gave Chargers young Quarter Back Philip Rivers fits in the December 9th meeting.
Lets make no mistake though, there is no love lost between these two teams, and they don't like one another, especially after the last game. Both teams know without a doubt neither is soft. You can't expect to intimidate the other; this will be a smash mouthed football game for sure. Both teams are still a bit banged up. Rivers is still hurting from the week 14 game, in which his right knee was rolled into by a Titans lineman; he now wears a large knee brace which slows him down even more. That is saying something because Rivers was never accused of being a fleet footed before. Titans QB Vince Young was forced out of last weekend's game against the Colts, when his leg was re-injured. Young is very mobile, if his legs are not 100%, that is a big bonus for the Chargers. Also forced out of the Colts game was DE Haynesworth, who re-aggravated his hamstring injury that cost him 3 games this season. He is probable, are DE Antwan Odom with an ankle injury, LB David Thornton , and RB LenDale White both with knee injuries. Questionable on the Titans roster are C Kevin Mawae, and LB Gilbert Gardner with a calf injuries, G Benji Olson with a back injury, and CB Nicholas Harper with a groin injury. Notably; not listed in the Titans injury report (at nfl.com) is QB Vince Young.
The Chargers have their own list of walking wounded which starts off with LB Marques Harris who is doubtful due to a hand injury. They list five players as probable; DE Luis Castillo with an ankle injury , LB Shawne Merriman with a knee injury, LB Brandon Siler with a shoulder injury, DT Jamal Williams with an ankle injury and K Nate Kaeding with a leg injury.
Neither of these teams will be looking past the other, they know and grudgingly respect one another; they realize they will have to fight to get to the next level of play for in the playoffs, if you lose your season ends.
The Chargers may have additional pressure on them as much has been made of their inability to win playoff game since 1994. However, that is the past, not the now. The Chargers have undergone some large changes in the off season, so the team we will see play the Titans are not the same team we saw face the Patriots a year ago. Further the Chargers are entering the playoffs on a high note.
The Chargers wore down the Titans defense in the last game, and established dominance along the line of scrimmage late in the game. This left the big Defensive linemen of the Titans panting for breath, on their knees after each play. In this game look for the Chargers to run the ball and wear down the bid Titan defensive line early. They will do this to set up the second half running game and play action.
The Titans defensive linemen have some very good stats:
#93 Defensive End Kyle Vanden Bosch has 60 tackles, 12 sacks, and has played all 16 games this season. He has a motor that will not stop and is capable of speed rushing the outside to disrupt the pocket.
#97 Defensive Tackle Tony Brown has 24 tackles, 4 sacks and has played all 16 games.
#92 Defensive Tackle Albert Haynesworth has 25 tackles, 6 sacks, and has started 13 games.
#98 Defensive End Antwan Odom has 21 tackles, 8 sacks and has started all 16 games.
They are by far the strength of the Titans defense, and a formidable group to have to block against. The Chargers however bring some very good defensive stats of their own:
#90 Defensive End Igor Olshansky has 49 tackles, 3.5 sacks, 1 interception and has started all 16 games.
#56 Outside Line Backer Shawne Merriman has 68 tackles, 12.5 sacks, 2 recovered fumbles and has started 15 games.
#57 Inside Line Backer Matt Wilhelm has 97 tackles, 1 sack, 3 interceptions, 1 recovered fumble and started 14 games.
#95 Inside Line Backer Stephen Cooper is perhaps the unheralded star of the 2007 Chargers defense, he has 103 tackles, 2 sacks, 2 interceptions, 3 recovered fumbles and has started all 16 games.
#95, Shun Phillips has 68 tackles, 8.5 sacks, 2 interceptions, 1 touch down, and 15 games under his belt.
<strong><em>Chargers on Offense, Titans on Defense:</em></strong>
Quarterback Philip Rivers is playing better, but can still be rattled by pressure though of later he is working better in the pocket. His mobility is affected by the brace on his knee and that could work in the favor of the Titans hard rushing defensive front.
The Chargers offense has been producing well, and over the fast five weeks has been producing well above their what their 2007 statistical average indicates. They currently rank 20th in total offense, 26th in passing offense, 7th in rushing offense, 5th in scoring averaging 25.8 points per game. All of these numbers has improved from the last meeting when the Chargers overall ranked 22nd on offence, 15th in running offense, and 22nd in passing offense respectively.
The Titans however rank 5th overall on defense, 10th in passing defense, 5th in rushing defense, 7th in sacks, and 3rd in interceptions with 22 on the season. Their numbers remain largely the same since the December 9th meeting when they ranked 6th overall defensively, 8th against the pass and 7th against the run.
The Chargers are going to have to win the nasty battle in the trench; this will be no easy task either. As stated above, the Titans defensive line have accumulated 30 sacks as a unit.
The Chargers will have to open wholes in the running lanes in this game, the Titans play the pass very stoutly, and they will probably play 8 in the box to stop Tomlinson and the Chargers running game. If the Chargers find any success in the run, they will try and sneak a Safety up to put 9 in the box, which should open some passing games.
The Chargers though will have to go with a fast passing game, and the Titans will not give Rivers 5 to 7 seconds to let a play develop. They will come after Rivers with his braced knee with their linemen, who are excellent, pass rushers and at least one line backer or safety. The Chargers will have to get the ball out quickly and exploit the short passing lanes to beat the rush.
Phillip Rivers has 21 touchdowns, 15 interceptions and a passers rating of 82.4 on the season. He will have to control the ball and make good decisions against the opportunistic Titans defense to keep the Chargers in a position to control the game. That said, the Chargers have scored with regularity on the season, boasting the 5th scoring offense in the league as mentioned before. The Titans rely on their stout defense to keep control of the game, meaning their offense does not have to be as prolific in scoring.
The Chargers should also be able to get some mismatches with Gates and Chamber against the Titans Secondary. Considering the Chargers will probably keep a tight end or receiver in the backfield to block, the Chargers should be able to get Gates or Chambers manned up on a single defender on the sidelines. If they can do that, Rivers can deliver the ball high and rely on Chambers jumping ability, and Gates' height to go up for the reception.
Stopping the bull rush on the Quarterback will be the biggest task the Chargers face, if they can do that with any regularity they will be able to find offensive success against this stout defense. The Titans currently have a 0 giveaway/take away ratio, ranking 9th in the AFC, they also rank 7th in the league in sacks.
<strong><em>Chargers on Defense, Titans on Offense: </em></strong>
The Chargers defense has really stepped up their game, again finding a way to pressure the passer, and increasing the number of interceptions on the season over last year.
Currently the Titans are ranked 21st overall offensively, 27th in passing, and 16th rushing, and 22nd in scoring. This is down from when they met the Chargers in week 14 and ranked 20th overall offensively, 26th in passing, and 5th rushing. The Chargers defensively rank 14th overall, 14th against the pass, 16th against the run 5th in sacks and 1st in interceptions. This is an improvement from the last meeting when they ranked 20th overall, 22nd against the pass, and 20th against the run.
On paper again it looks like the Chargers outclass the Titans, but the last game has shown that stats will not play the game, instead the game will be played out on the field and neither team will give an inch. Each team will have to scratch, fight and claw for every yard, every down.
The Titans will look to over power the three defensive linemen of the Chargers and run the ball down their throat. This will force the Chargers to bring three linebackers up into run support if the Titans find success. This will cause the Chargers to play more single coverage's in the secondary. However, if Kerry Collins is the Titans Quarter Back, or Vince Young's leg still bothers him, the Chargers will play their standard defense and dare the Titans to beat them through the air, relying on their much improves secondary to give the Chargers front seven time to get the pressure and perhaps a coverage sack.
Though the Titans have a high ranking rushing game, the numbers their running backs have accumulated are not awe inspiring. LenDale White, has 1110 yards on the season with a 3.7 average per carry, he has 7 touchdown on the season, just one more than he had in week 14. Chris Brown, part of the Titans running back by committee has 462 yards on the season with a 4.5 average and 5 touchdowns.
The Chargers might be forced to commit a line backer or Safety to shadow young in case he begins to scramble out of the pocket. This could provide some coverage concerns and passing opportunities for the Titans, but it remains to be seen if Young can be a mobile threat or not.
This battle will come down to pressure. The Chargers will have to pressure Young and force him to throw the errant pass. If they can do that, the statistical numbers mean nothing.
The monkey and the wrench:</em></strong>
Bad Blood, the week 14 game left s sour taste in the mouth of the Titans, and aching bodies on both sides. The Titans felt that Merriman took a cheap hit on Vince Young, when the QB rolled out, straight into the line backer who was nearly standing still. This lead to a cheap shot on Merriman that kept him out of the week 15 match up. This will not be forgotten and I am sure that Shawne will be ready to do the lights out dance.
The Titans will be looking to remove the stain of their week 14 loss, when they had all the all but had the game in hand and ended up losing to the Chargers after a brilliant 4th quarter come back and over time win.
There is indeed bad blood between the two, and I anticipate yellow hankies hitting the turf and pushing after the whistle. The game could be impacted if the bad blood spills over and leads to ejections on either side.
<strong><em>Concudan's Prognostication: </em></strong>
The Chargers are entering the playoff hot, and want to erase any doubt that they belong and can win.. They will need to be hot to beat this Titan team. They are a good team, and one that cannot be looked past, especially in the playoffs. That said I see the Chargers getting turnovers and good returns to pull out a win at the Q!
Chargers 34, Titans 24.</u></strong>
<a href="http://www.bolttalk.net/forums/showthread.php?t=11210" target="_blank"><em>Discuss this article.</em></a>