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Game Preview: Titans at Chargers, Chargers on Offense

Chargers Running the Ball

  • 17th in Yards/Game (105.3), down from 13th last week.
  • 14th in Yards/Carry (4.1), down from 12th last week.
  • 5th in Rush TDs (7), same as last week.
  • 14th in Runs for 1st downs (22.2%), same as last week.
  • 10th in Runs for 20+ Yards (5), down from 8th last week.
  • 30th in Fumbles (7), down from 29th last week.

I've had one thought running through my mind for two days straight now: "What if the fumbles have nothing to do with luck? What if they have nothing to do with coaching? What if this is something we could've seen coming?" The Chargers have 15 fumbles for the season, with the biggest offenders being Philip Rivers (6), Mike Tolbert (2) and Ryan Mathews (2). If there are three guys on the team that I would've named as the guys I'm most worried about fumbling the ball before the season, those would be the guys.

Tolbert fumbled the ball away last season on one of his 25 carries, and he is on pace to have somewhere around 150 carries this season. Tolbert played college at a small school (Coastal Carolina) and wasn't a big part of their offense (his 68 carries already this season are more than any year he had in college outside of his senior season), if he has an issue with holding onto the ball against NFL defenders it should come as no surprise.

One of the things I kept saying before the season even began, at least in conversation, was that I wouldn't be surprised to see Mathews have a bout of "fumblitis" at some part during his rookie year. Many rookie RBs have it, especially guys that are immediately written into the starter's role. They usually get over it and realize that the way they carried the ball in college is not going to fly in the pros. Mathews has gotten an assist from his gigantic elbow brace, but overall has done a better job of defending the ball since his two early fumbles.

El Capitan has always had an issue with holding on to the ball when he gets hit. Because of his side-arm throwing motion, and his quick release, he holds the ball down around his waist while winding up to throw. When pass rushers get to him, their arms wrap around his waist and usually grab onto the wrist that's holding the ball as well. His 6 fumbles, while that seems like a high number, are not as much as the 8 he's had (twice) or the 11 fumbles he had in 2007. This is going to be a constant issue that can really only be remedied by the offensive line doing a better job of protecting him. Luckily for the Chargers, Rivers seems to land on and recover most of the balls that drop of out his hand (24/42 career fumbles recovered by SD).

Titans Stopping the Run

  • 10th in Yards/Game allowed (97.7)
  • 14th in Yards/Carry allowed (4.0)
  • 1st in Rush TDs allowed (1)
  • 25th in Runs for 1st downs against (24.0%)
  • 21st in Runs for 20+ Yards allowed (6)
  • 2nd in Fumbles recovered (6)

This rushing defense is not as good as I suspected after looking at how fantasy RBs were doing against them yesterday. They make RBs look bad by making them fumble and not giving up big points (i.e. touchdowns), but they do seem like they can be run on. The key will obviously be for Ryan Mathews and Mike Tolbert to hold onto the ball when they get their chances.

Advantage: Tie.


Chargers Throwing the Ball

  • 1st in Yards/Game (317.4), same as last week.
  • 1st in Yards/Attempt (8.7), same as last week.
  • 3rd in TDs (13), down from 2nd last week.
  • 1st in Passes for 1st down (43.2%), same as last week.
  • 1st in Passes for 20+ yards (39), same as last week. 
  • 28th in Sacks taken (20), same as last week.
  • 12th in Interceptions thrown (6), down from 11th last week.

How's that for keeping pace with yourself? The league's best passing offense is still the league's best passing offense, even with a gimpy Antonio Gates and with missing the teams top 2 WRs.

Defending the two bad lines up there, interceptions and sacks, is not difficult. Take away one bad game from Brandyn Dombrowski (Seattle) and one knock-off-the-rust game from Marcus McNeill and the Chargers pass protection has been above average this season. The interceptions can be blamed on late-game desperation throws from Philip Rivers along with a few passes that bounced off of the hands of his receivers and into the hands of the defense.


Titans Defending the Pass

  • 23rd in Yards/Game allowed (230.4)
  • 5th in Yards/Attempt (6.3)
  • 6th in TDs allowed (7)
  • 5th in Passes for 1st downs allowed (29.8%)
  • 15th in Passes for 20+ yards allowed (19)
  • 1st in Sacks (25)
  • 1st in Interceptions (12)

The bad news is that this is an incredibly good pass-rushing defense that forces bad passes and has the hands to create turnovers through interceptions. The good news is that if you can keep your QB upright against them, there will be chances for big plays through the air.

I was wondering last night and today, while I fielded questions on Music City Miracles' site and podcast, why the Titans' fans were focusing so heavily on the Chargers offensive line and their abilities to protect the QB. I think the reason is obvious now, getting heavy pressure on opposing QBs in the key to their entire defense. The Chargers offensive line can be very good at pass protection when they are healthy and play together, so the potential is there for another big game through the air for the Bolts. However, if guys start going down or missing assignment it could be tough to score any points against Tennessee.

Advantage: Chargers.