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Chargers vs. Titans Game Preview: Bolts need to rely on strengths against porous TEN pass defense

Fans should probably hope for another 50 pass attempts from Justin Herbert if it means an easier victory at home.

Syndication: The Tennessean George Walker IV / / USA TODAY NETWORK

For this week’s crossover game preview, we were joined by none other than Jimmy Morris of Music City Miracles, SB Nation’s Tennessee Titans community.

In this preview we discuss how the Tennessee Titans have managed to win games despite their inept passing attack, the best way to go about stopping Derrick Henry, and much more.

Let’s dive right in.

1.) The Titans were one of the handful of teams to go out and draft one of the top quarterbacks from the 2022 draft class. While Malik Willis hasn’t played all that much this season, what are the early returns on the young passer? How does the fan base feel about the pick now as opposed to immediately after the selection? How has Ryan Tannehill performed this season in what may be his last with the Titans?

The early returns on him as a passer have been very inconsistent. The fact that he lasted until the 3rd round in the draft told us that he was going to be a project. We saw him make big strides from preseason game one to preseason game three. That was encouraging. He got two starts when Ryan Tannehill was injured earlier this season. They asked him to do basically nothing in the first start because Derrick Henry ran wild against the Houston Texans. In his second start against the Kansas City Chiefs, they asked him to do a little more and the results were mixed. He missed some stuff and made some good plays. The receivers let him down a bit in that one as well.

I’d say there was more excitement about him right after the pick than there is now. Part of that is because most people were projecting him to be a first round pick, so when they got him in the third it felt like a steal. Fans are a little down on him because of the inconsistent play. He still has quite a bit he needs to improve on before he is ready to take over.

Tannehill has been solid overall this season. His numbers aren’t great because the offense overall sucks, but the turnovers that haunted him last season have pretty much gone away. He remains just a solid guy who can work well enough in the context of this offense to win a lot of games.

2.) The Titans have one of the best run defenses in the NFL while simultaneously having one of the worst units at stopping the pass. What’s the story behind this defense? What is making them have such a disparity between the run and the pass defense?

A couple of things:

1. The front seven has been really good for most of the year. Lately, that group has been hit hard with injuries. Denico Autry has missed the last three games with a knee injury. He was back on the practice field in a limited capacity for the first time since the injury on Wednesday. Hopefully, he is able to go. David Long was placed on IR last week. Those two guys were a big part of the good work the front seven was doing. The Titans have also been without Zach Cunninghame for the last 5 games. His return to practice window was opened this week. That group, when fully healthy, is pretty stout.

2. The secondary has been banged up for a lot of the year. They have only played part of one game with the 5 defensive backs they would like to run out there in the nickel package this season. The corners have been particularly banged up and some of the guys they have brought in as replacements have really struggled. Combine that with missing a guy like Autry who is a really good pass rusher, and teams have just figured out that passing against them is the easier thing to do. Why even try to run it when you have all day to throw and guys running wide open down the field?

3.) If you were Chargers offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi, how would you go about trying to exploit this defense? Which player mismatches would you lean into the most? What defenders should Chargers fans be aware of, outside of the the elite Jeffrey Simmons?

I’d throw it 50 times. The Titans’ best corner, Kristian Fulton, missed last week with a groin injury he suffered in Philadelphia when A.J.Brown stole his soul. He was still out of practice on Wednesday. We will have to keep an eye on his progression throughout the week. If he’s out, the Titans will have rookie corner Roger McCreary on one side and either Tre Avery or Terrance Marshall on the other side. None of those three has been great this year. They will all certainly struggle with receivers the caliber of Keenan Allen and Mike Williams. The Titans will also be missing Long, and in their first game without him last week Jaguars TE Evan Engram looked like prime Antonio Gates going 11/162/2 on the day.

The Titans’ pass rush has pretty much disappeared since Autry went down. He’s a guy to watch if he is able to get back on the field. They also still have Kevin Byard at safety. He is quietly one of the best safeties in the league every year.

4.) Same question as above but flipping sides of the ball. If you were Brandon Staley calling the defense, how would you go about trying to stop Derrick Henry and the Titans offense? Is that even possible? What’s been the best way to keep Tannehill and the passing attack down this season?

I’d load up the box and sell out to stop Henry. This offense has two really big problems:

1. The offensive line is horrific. Dennis Daley, who is playing left tackle still for some reason that is beyond comprehension, is the worst left tackle in the history of football. Don’t believe me? Check out this graphic. HE’S ON THERE TWICE. The left guard, Aaron Brewer, is too small to play guard in the NFL. The center and right guard are pretty solid. The right tackle is a rookie who has been up and down this season but more down than up of late. They run block OK. They can’t pass block at all.

2. The weapons Tannehill has in the passing game are rough. Treylon Burks has been good when on the field but is in concussion protocol. He suffered that concussion in week 13 against the Eagles so there is some hope that he can clear the protocol before the game. If he’s not out there, they just don’t have any receivers that can separate and make big plays. Their tight ends have been better of late with rookie Chig Okonkwo being a big play guy and Austin Hooper being a reliable option, but they don’t have anyone that forces you to protect over the top, and even if they did, the line can’t block long enough for anyone to get down the field.

5.) The Chargers are currently a three-point favorite over the Titans at home with the over/under set at 47.5. Go ahead and give us a few thoughts on how you see this game playing out, a final score prediction, and whether or not you’re taking the over or under in this matchup?

I couldn’t believe the Chargers were only a 3-point favorite when I saw the line. There are still some moving parts with injuries that could change my thoughts on what the Titans’ defense is capable of, but as I sit here on Thursday morning under the assumption that both Autry and Fulton don’t play, I’ll take the Chargers to win 34-17.

If they do play, I still think the Chargers win, but it is more in the 24-17 territory.