Coming off an injury and heading across the country, this was always likely to be a tough task for Jake Locker and the Tennessee Titans. The reality proved even tougher than any Titan fan could have imagined. Their team was soundly beaten by a San Diego outfit that didn’t need to get into high gear as they comfortably beat a Tennessee squad that appears to have lost momentum from a solid 2011 season.
The Titans, outside of some stellar individual performances on defense, were never really in this game. Once again the offensive line failed to give Chris Johnson any room to run. Switching to Locker at QB was always going to be a painful process, but with the drop off around him he is being left with little to no help, just when a young quarterback needs it the most.
The Chargers will be pleased with what became a comfortable 2-0 start as they benefited from another disjointed performance by their opponents. Unlike some recent Charger teams they’ve turned the first two expected wins into actual wins. They now enter a testing section of the schedule where we will start to get a clearer picture of what this team is about. Can they ride the momentum of two fairly comfortable wins into a tough game at home against Atlanta and make a statement to the entire league that they are a team to be reckoned with?
Tennessee – Three Performances of Note
Through two games there can be little doubt that Jake Locker has struggled as the Titans’ new starting quarterback. The offense has produced very little as a unit and, in spite of his physical abilities, Locker has been powerless to spark the offense either with his legs or with his arm. There is a lack of accuracy that is concerning, and a lack of composure against pressure and the blitz that is simply begging for teams to bring the heat at him. Locker’s QB rating plummets by nearly 60 points when he is pressured (from 96.7 to 40.3) and by nearly as much when he is blitzed. However, it would be unfair to pin all of the blame on him and start questioning whether he should be starting. This week alone Titans’ receivers dropped five passes, and after two weeks no quarterback has had their receivers drop more than the eight Locker has suffered. Combine this with a running game that is a complete non-factor, thanks to both the offensive line and the lead back’s frustration at the lack of room to run, and you have a scenario in which most young quarterbacks would find it very difficult to succeed.
Defensive Line Brings the Heat
If there’s one thing Tennessee knows how to do it is finding, and getting the most from, defensive line talent. Again this week they gave a demonstration in how to get after the quarterback, and generated multiple pressures from all four starting defensive linemen. Rookie Mike Martin (+1.1) only needed until Week 2 to supplant last year’s rookie revelation Karl Klug from the starting lineup and responded with three pressures (1 Sk, 1 Ht, 1 Hu) and contributed two stops on the ground as well. At left end Derrick Morgan is finally starting to show the talent that made him a first-round pick (1 Sk, 2 Ht), while Jurrell Casey was the antithesis of his usual self–he brought pressure (3 Hu) from inside, but struggled in run defense (-1.4 run defense). Combine this with Kamerion Wimbley’s (+6.2 pass rush) abuse of a backup San Diego left tackle (again) and you should have had the recipe for an excellent day for the Tennessee pass defense…
… however, 284 passing yards and three touchdown passes to Dante Rosario later, that excellent day for the Titans’ pass defense didn’t materialize. Simply put, the Titans couldn’t contain the Chargers’ deep and intermediate passing game. On passes aimed more than 10 yards downfield the Titans allowed Philip Rivers to complete 9 of 14 aimed passes, and that included his three touchdowns over the middle to Rosario. The only big play the Titans got in return was an interception for Alterraun Verner. Rivers and the Chargers racked up 140 yards on those completions with the Titans lacking a “true” middle linebacker in the absence of Colin McCarthy. And you can add to that the four missed tackles in coverage, including three by their safeties, which certainly didn’t improve matters for the Titans.
San Diego – Three Performances of Note
Stepping Up and Filling the Void
The Chargers got a first taste of life this week without both the departed Vincent Jackson and the injured Antonio Gates. They have played without both before, but this was the first time without the knowledge that Jackson was coming back. Even though the Chargers got very little from new signings Robert Meachem and Eddie Royal, old-hand Malcom Floyd stepped up this week. As ever, Floyd was a threat deep (he collected two completions more than 20 yards downfield), but he was a added threat over the middle this week. He caught three passes in between the numbers (on shorter targets) on four targets for 46 of his 109 receiving yards. Floyd’s increased presence in the offense, along with the red-zone contributions of Dante Rosario, made this game somewhat of a breeze for the Chargers’ passing game, and meant Philip Rivers was consistently able to find targets in the holes left in the Tennessee secondary.
Group Effort on Defense
There are two ways to go about building a successful defense in the NFL; you either build the unit around a few key players, or you have strength across the board. The Chargers appear to be going for the latter and certainly got the performances to match it this week. Unlike in Week 1 there was no star turn from a Kendall Reyes or an Eric Weddle. Instead, there was solid play across the board, and 12 of the Chargers’ 19 defenders graded above 0.0, and only one, Vaughn Martin (-2.5), graded below -1.0. The rotation at nose tackle appears to be bearing fruit immediately as Cam Thomas (+1.7 pass rush) recorded two pressures (1 Ht, 1 Hu) on only seven pass rushes, while Aubrayo Franklin did enough inside on only four running downs to ensure that Tennessee’s ground game didn’t get off to a fast start. We may still be waiting San Diego’s true defensive identity and on-field leaders to emerge, but the early signs are that they have a depth and breadth of talent that would make many teams around the league envious.
Spoke Too Soon?
Last week I lauded the performance of rookie left tackle Michael Harris against the Raiders, and suggested the Chargers had found an upgrade as their backup left tackle over Brandyn Dombrowski. Well the quality of that performance can’t be wiped away, but this week Harris fell victim to Dombrowski’s nemesis, Wimbley. The Titan comfortably got the better of Harris this week, and recorded nine hurries against the undrafted free agent. This was a chastening performance for the Chargers as Harris added two holding penalties to 10 total hurries allowed (one against Keyunta Dawson). There is little defense for this performance, but Harris was clearly outmatched and, considering how the matchup transpired, the lack of help either by way of extra blockers or sliding the left guard to help was baffling. That none of these 10 pressures turned into hits or sacks was fortunate for the Chargers and a testament to Rivers’ play under pressure, as he completed 64.7% of his passes.
– After platooning Curtis Brinkley and Ronnie Brown evenly last week, the Chargers gave Brinkley the lion’s share of the snaps this week. Brinkley recorded 42 snaps compared to 24 by Brown.
– Jake Locker continues to struggle in the face of blitzes. This week he completed only 5 of 11 passes for 31 yards when blitzed, including an interception. His QB rating when blitzed against the Chargers was 14.6.
– New Chargers’ defensive coordinator John Pagano doesn’t want opposing offensive linemen to get too familiar with his pass rushers. He sent 15 different defensive players after the quarterback at least once against the Titans, 12 of them on five or more occasions.
PFF Game Ball
As much as we’re all about the play-by-play consistency, can you ever ignore a three-touchdown performance? The Chargers needed to replace the red-zone threat of the injured Antonio Gates and Dante Rosario did just that, catching each pass thrown his way and finding the holes in the Titans’ defense for as many scores as he has managed since the start of the 2008 season.