The Chargers (7-6) are back at home this week against the Titans (7-6) who, just like the Bolts, are trying to keep their playoff chances as strong as possible through the remaining four weeks of the season.
After missing several starters against the Dolphins this past Sunday, the Chargers are expected to get back most of them. However, it looks like Derwin James could be out another week after being a non-participant on Wednesday.
But after seeing what the defense could do against one of the best offenses in the NFL despite half their starters being out on that side of the ball, Brandon Staley will unfortunately have the expectations around him raised for another week.
With that said, below are the three biggest things I’ll be watching for when these teams take the field on Sunday.
1.) Will Donald Parham’s return make a difference for the run game?
After spending the last four weeks on injured reserve, Parham will make his return to the field against the Titans after hopefully moving on from a nagging hamstring injury and a concussion he sustained to landing on IR.
Parham has only played in a pair of games this season (Browns, Broncos) while hauling in three passes for 53 yards, all of which came against Denver. He has three touchdowns in each of the past two seasons and his absence this season was felt quite a bit through the weeks where both Keenan Allen and Mike Williams weren’t available. With six touchdowns on 33 career receptions, his ability to find the end zone in a limited role is a big reason why the team has stuck by him through all the rotten injury luck.
On top of being a true 6’8 threat in the passing attack, Parham has also grown into the team’s best run-blocker at the tight end position. Despite his height, the former UDFA has worked his tail off to drop his pad level and be a difference-maker in a phase of the game that just hasn’t managed to find any consistency this year. While the Titans have one of the best run defenses in the league, it’ll be intriguing to see if the offense can stress their opponent outside the tackles a bit more as opposed to running at Jeffery Simmons, Tennessee’s elite defensive tackle in the middle of their defense.
2.) Chargers defensive backs will have to mix it up in the run game
The Titans own the 29th-ranked passing offense in the NFL at 175.7 yards through the air per game. That means it’s probably safe to expect that the Chargers will receive more than a healthy dose of Derrick Henry from the first whistle until the last.
At Henry’s size, he’s much more capable of wearing down the front seven of a defense than other backs. With this being the case, the Chargers defense must understand that the secondary will be just as important to limiting Henry as the big uglies up front. This is especially the case if Derwin James is forced to miss another week with a quadricep injury.
In fact, this might be an easier task than most would expect this week. At least, according to his numbers over the past five game. In the tweet below from Steven Haglund of the Guilty As Charged podcast, you can see that Henry hasn’t been all that efficient as of late. In the four games prior to this past Sunday against the Jaguars, Henry had managed to top 3.0 yards per carry just once! That’s pretty dang bad by his lofty standards. If this means that Brandon Staley and company can possibly mimic the game plan utilized by those teams, the Chargers defense might have a bit of edge ahead of Sunday’s matchup.
Derrick Henry's last 5 games if you take out his 50-yard run last week:— Steven Haglund (@StevenIHaglund) December 15, 2022
JAX - 16 carries for 66 yards (4.1 YPC)
PHI - 11 carries for 30 yards (2.7 YPC)
CIN - 17 carries for 38 yards (2.2 YPC)
GB - 28 carries for 87 yards (3.1 YPC)
DEN - 19 carries for 53 yards (2.8 YPC)
3.) Khalil Mack should eat against one of the worst starting left tackles in the NFL
As of this week, the starting left tackle for the Titans is former 2019 sixth-round pick Dennis Daley who is suiting up in place of the injured Taylor Lewan.
Of all the offensive tackles this season who have played at least 600 offensive snaps in 2022, Daley currently leads the league with 11 sacks allowed (two more than next closest) and is tied for first with 40 pressures let up. He currently owns an overall grade of 49.2 which is second worst among qualifying tackles ahead of only the Bills’ Spencer Brown (47.7).
In what was quite a surprise to read, Mack hasn’t recorded a sack on the quarterback in over a month. His last came against San Francisco all the way back in week 10. I know he hasn’t had a lot of help with the plethora of injuries throttling the front seven, but a player of his caliber shouldn’t ever go this long with finding the quarterback. He’s been steady when it comes to registering pressures (14 in the last three games) but failing to even record at least a hit on the quarterback in the past three games is a rough look.
If there was ever a get-right game for the veteran, this will be it.