Titans Look To Outsmart Chargers: Can Coaching Advantage Be The Difference?

By BLAKE BEDDINGFIELD, special correspondent

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – The Chargers look great on paper. They have talented players at almost every position on their depth chart. But they also woefully underperform on the field each year.

They have a franchise-caliber quarterback, a productive running back and receivers and an offensive line that has been carefully constructed to be both pass protectors and run blockers.

Ryan Tannehill
  Ryan Tannehill/ Angie Flatt

On defense, the Chargers have premier pass rushers, athletic three-down inside linebackers and cover cornerbacks with ball skills and a safety who is a do-it-all all-star caliber player.  

The mix of youth and veterans is also impressive. The roster is constructed very well.  

The Titans have been a team that has taken advantage of talented but poor performers in the past. The question is if they can resist the temptation to alter their successful formula of the past.

I expect the Titans to go back to what they had success with before and got away from in New Orleans, and that is a run-first approach with Derrick Henry, a heavy mix of play action with short to intermediate crossing routes with DeAndre Hopkins (if his ankle allows him to play) and Treylon Burks. This was a staple of the old Titans’ offense that had success keeping talented defenses off balance and forcing them to adjust their strengths to take away the Titans' strength -- running the ball.

A number of things can happen on offense if you can run the ball successfully. It opens up play action and a softer middle of the field, it dictates coverage, it forces extra defenders in the box to stop the run and helps allow backside passes to supplemental offensive players like a tight end or third wide receiver. It also forces premier pass rushers to waste their energy playing the run instead of getting after the quarterback.   

Physical offenses frustrate teams that build their defense with speed, athleticism and playmakers.   

This is a game the Titans need, but after the Chargers lost last week, they will also need this win to not start their season 0-2.  

Matchups that favor the Titans:

Trey Pipkins vs. Arden Key

Key spent his time in Week One rushing over the left tackle but needs to move over to the opposite side and use his speed, length and ability to get the edge on his rush versus the Chargers right tackle Pipkins. Pipkins has good size and solid athletic ability, but the way Key played against the Saints, he will be a tough matchup for the Chargers right tackle in on one-on-one blocks. Chargers left tackle Rashawn Slater is a top-level pass protector.  

Corey Linsley vs. Titans’ interior defensive lineman

Callahan & BinkleyThe Chargers offensive line is built to handle size on the interior and athleticism on the edges, but the veteran center Linsley is the guy where a combination of Jeffrey Simmons, Teair Tart and Denico Autry can win on their pass rush. Linsley is short in size with poor length.

He is very good with his feet, hands and technique, but consistently holding up versus bigger players like Tart and Simmons who can power rush, pull and bull will be tough. Autry brings the length and quickness and is very good at rushing in the interior of the line, especially over a lineman who lacks length.

Derrick Henry vs. the middle of the Chargers’ defense

The one area of weakness for the Chargers' defense is its interior defensive line of Nick Williams and former Titans Austin Johnson. Both are solid veterans and good players but will not hold up physically with the constant pounding of a Henry-led run game. Inside linebackers Eric Kendricks and Kenneth Murray are both talented three-down players, but they are undersized and much more effective playing angles and not taking on or facing up runs in between the tackles.

This will force the Chargers to move safety Derwin James in the box to control the run and the corresponding move for the Titans will allow the Titans receivers with more one-on-one coverage or zone looks to offset the extra defender in the box.   

Matchups that favor the Chargers:

Joey Bosa vs. Chris Hubbard

Hubbard needed help last week versus the Saints’ Cameron Jordan and this week will be the same except the matchup is different.  Jordan is a consistent performer who posts each and every week and produces in both phases of the game, run and pass. Bosa is an ultra-talented rusher with size, body lean, burst and acceleration and the unique ability to play with outstanding speed and power, but he is very inconsistent and rarely healthy. He didn’t practice Wednesday or Thursday with a hamstring issue. If Bosa plays, the Titans will need to chip, double and help Hubbard because of the tough one one-on-one matchup.

Khalil Mack vs. Andre Dillard

The best-case scenario for the Titans would be if Bosa is out with an injury so the team can help Dillard against Mack. At one point in his career, Mack was a top pass rusher. But his production has slipped over the past four years. He can still get to the quarterback and be disruptive but he is not the same player he once was at the age of 32. Mack is a power rusher who can win on both sides of the block. Dillard struggles with power rushes and it showed up last Sunday versus the Saints. Mack can get the inside edge of the left tackle and press the pocket and is hard to stop once he gets that crease. If Bosa is healthy the Titans will need to be choosy who they double.

Mike Williams vs. Titans’ corners

Mike Williams
  Mike Williams/ NFL

Williams has height, length and very good receiving instincts. He also has excellent hands and the ability to high point and win 50/50 balls. The Chargers will work Williams to match against the smaller Roger McCreary.

I actually like McCreary in this matchup despite the height difference because of his ability to play inside a receiver when the ball is in the air and be aggressive at the catch point. Not a sure win for the Chargers on this one and the Titans will welcome that matchup.

Austin Ekeler vs Jack Gibbens

Ekeler is a tough matchup for Gibbens because of his outstanding receiving skills, quickness, and speed. He injured an ankle in the opener and didn’t practice Wednesday or Thursday. Could the Titans miss a big-time back a second week in a row after missing Alvin Kamara who was suspended? If Ekeler plays, I anticipate the Chargers forcing the Titans into this matchup.

With three quality receivers and a receiving tight end when the Chargers are in 11 personnel, they can either force the Titans to zone or Gibbens into a match coverage. If Tennessee brings a safety in to cover Ekeler, this opens up more one one-on-one opportunities for the Chargers receivers. (And Amani Hooker is likely out with a concussion.) This is a game of chess the coordinators will play with each other as the game goes along.

Players I am curious about, Titans:

The Chargers have three solid cornerbacks, but only one (Michael Davis) with size. The Titans will have a clear advantage with DeAndre Hopkins and Treylon Burks in the strength and size department, but Ryan Tannehill will need to be precise this week because the undersized corners Asante Samuel and J.C. Jackson both have very good ball skills and are opportunistic with the ball in the air.   

If Amani Hooker is out with a concussion, this creates a big hole in the defense. Hooker is playing at a high level when healthy and was arguably their best player last week versus the Saints. And the Titans do not have a clear third safety, both backups Matthew Jackson and Mike Brown are very good special teams players but not as effective as coverage-type safeties. This will force the team to go to Elijah Molden in that spot.

If Kristian Fulton has a recurrence of his hamstring injury from a week ago, this will put added pressure on the defensive backfield because of Molden’s move to safety and Tre Avery’s injury in Week One that kept him out of the contest. Though he seems ready to return from his hamstring. It’s not ideal when your defense is playing against Herbert, Keenan Allen, Williams, Josh Palmer and Ekeler.  

Players I am curious about, Chargers:

With so much attention given to stopping outside pass rushers Bosa and Mack the Titans can’t forget about little-known defensive lineman Morgan Fox and Sebastian Joseph-Day. They both play in pass-rush packages and usually rush in the interior and have success winning on one-on-one blocks. They are good effort rushers who can take advantage of Daniel Brunskill and Aaron Brewer.  If the Chargers play them too often at defensive tackle, the move for the Titans would be to run against that undersized front of the Chargers.

Coaching impact:

If this game comes down to coaching, then the Titans have a clear advantage. Vrabel has historically gotten his team to regroup after a bad opening-day loss and gets his team to outplay the opponent in Week Two by going back to the basics and what works best.  This is a tough matchup for the Titans because the Chargers are clearly the more talented team, but the coaching factor plays into it.

Questions that will be answered on Sunday: Do the Titans have the talent to match up with each of the Chargers' talented offensive players? Does Chargers head coach Brandon Staley realize the talent advantage he has and can he devise a plan to spread the ball around and find the weak spots on the Titans’ defense?  

How to build a roster:

The Chargers offensive line has four draft choices (two first-rounders, a third and a sixth) starting and one free-agent center in Linsley. They also have two young draft picks as backups along the front. This is a perfect way to construct an offensive line while also filling the needs and weak positions on the roster.

This year’s draft is a great example of filling needs before they become bigger issues. The Chargers have been strong at receiver for years with 11-year veteran Keenan Allen, seven-year pro Mike Williams and third-year man Josh Palmer. But they went out and spent a first-rounder on receiver Quentin Johnson and a fourth on Derius Davis to make the transition smooth from an aging Allen and often-injured Williams when the time arises. Davis gives the team a speed threat and also a punt and kick returner.  

Kuharsky megaphoneRoster construction is important and needs to be a priority for Ran Carthon moving forward because currently, the Titans roster has a lot of holes and eventual important positions with expiring contracts that do not have quality backups ready to play and compete.  

Monday’s conversation topics:

If the Titans win Sunday, it will be because the Titans found their run game and controlled the clock while keeping the talented Chargers offense off the field. The Titans’ defensive line will have controlled the line of scrimmage, kept the Chargers run game at a minimum and put pressure on Hebert, forcing him into bad throws.

If the Titans are on the wrong side Sunday, it will be because the Chargers had another game with over 400 yards of total offense and 30+ points that the Titans' offense couldn’t manage to match.  


Blake Beddingfield was a Titans' scout for 19 years, through the 2017 draft. He was the team's director of college scouting for his final six years. Follow him on Twitter at @BlakeBedd. He’s brought to us by Callahan & Binkley, who can help you with personal injury and medical malpractice cases.

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