This was a game I had a hard time making my mind up about when it came to do the PFF Pick’em this week, and as the game progressed I at least felt somewhat vindicated in not seeing an obvious advantage either way. In a clash that was close from the outset, it took a game-winning drive from the Titans and Jake Locker in the final seconds to put them ahead for good. The Chargers did get the ball back with enough time for a few shots, but the best they could manage was a couple of chunk plays and then a circus of endless laterals until Philip Rivers simply kicked the ball as it came near him to end the game with a whimper.
Rivers up until this point had been 5-1 vs Tennessee in his career, and though he once again graded in the green, it wasn’t quite enough to steal the win away from home, while Locker looked to take a significant step forward in his performance.
But let’s take a closer look at who stood out.
San Diego – Three Performances of Note
Swathes of Red on D
You have to go back quite a long time now to find a point where the D-line of the Chargers was the team’s strength. Since those days they have seen a high turnover in personnel, but rarely has a player been able to distinguish himself positively for any extended period of time. In this game pretty much everybody up front was controlled by their blockers. The starting D-line of Kendall Reyes (-2.4), Cam Thomas (-0.1), and Corey Liuget (-1.5) all graded negatively, and the run defense in particular was made worse by the performance of the linebackers behind them. All four starting linebackers added to the negative grades, as the starting front seven was outclassed all game against the run and could combine for only eight hurries and a sack from seven players and 142 combined pass-rushing snaps. It’s tough to win a game if your front seven is man-handled all game long.
Young Struggles In the Secondary
The Chargers’ D is obviously undergoing something of a rebuild, and the secondary has been revamped with youth, but that youth is taking time to bed-in and perform. Eric Weddle, arguably the game’s best safety, looks like a player spread too thin trying to make up for everybody else around him in recent weeks, and he added to his iffy start to the season with a -2.4 grade, thanks largely to a pair of missed tackles in the run game. Outside of him, Derek Cox, the next-most reliable member of the unit, was perhaps the best performer of the group, but even he was beaten badly on a deep ball he was lucky to see sail over the head of the receiver when it could easily have gone for a touchdown. It’s worth mentioning though that Johnny Patrick did show well in the run game, timing one run blitz particularly well, beating the receiver and then LT Michael Roos to make a tackle for a 5-yard loss.
Danny Woodhead Produces
When the Chargers signed Danny Woodhead it obviously wasn’t to carry the load, but games like this highlight his versatility and ability in most areas on offense. While Ryan Mathews was limited to a 3.6 yard per carry average on his 16 attempts, Woodhead was able to knock off 31 yards from his five carries (6.2 average), forcing a pair of missed tackles in the process. Obviously Woodhead works best in the open field, but he is capable of hitting the ball up between the tackles and making people miss in confined spaces. He added to that production with seven receptions on the eight targets he saw, for 59 more yards. The Chargers are a better side when they get Woodhead functioning on offense.
Tennessee – Three Performances of Note
Jake Locker’s Coming Out Party?
About the only negative to Locker’s day was a bad fumble on a designed QB sweep to the left side of the field. He lost the ball when being tackled and was lucky that RG Chance Warmack was able to dive in and recover it. Aside from that, Locker ran the ball well when called upon, racking up 69 yards and a touchdown from five attempts, two of which were designed runs (including the touchdown). More importantly, though, was how he threw the ball. There were still some wayward passes, but he topped 300 passing yards and was able to avoid the costly turnovers. The closest he came was a pass that needed to be broken up by TE Delanie Walker as it landed in the hands of DB Marcus Gilchrist, but that ball hit Walker in the hands and it was the TE’s inability to handle it that almost led to the pick. Locker deserves particular credit for the final drive that stole the game back, leading the Titans to a go-ahead score having taken control of the ball with a little over two minutes remaining on the clock.
Yin and Yang of WRs
While Kenny Britt was working his way through every conceivable bad thing a WR can do in this game, Nate Washington was doing what Nate Washington does, quietly perform very well, delivering when called upon. Britt opened the game with a drop on the first pass play, then false started on the next one, before catching a pass and getting hit, the spin from which caused him to come crashing to ground on his face, popping the ball out. He ended the day catchless despite five targets, with a pair of drops. Washington, on the other hand, was thrown at 10 times, catching eight of those balls for 131 yards. He was unfortunate not to have another long gain on a deep pass down the sideline where he was adjudged to have caught the ball out of bounds. He had burned the corner on that play and a better pass from Locker could have led him to a long touchdown rather than out of bounds.
Making his Casey
Jurrell Casey has quietly developed into one of the league’s better interior players. His +4.4 grade represents three straight games in the green and above +2.0, and though he didn’t manage to record more than a single hurry, he beat linemen on a couple of occasions only to find the pass gone before he could get to the quarterback — and he did also bat down a pass at the line. He capped that off by making a nuisance of himself in the run game where his leverage and penetration made him a constant headache for the San Diego line to deal with.
– Philip Rivers completed 88.9% of his passes when there was no pressure.
– Antonio Gates made a couple of one-handed attempts in this game and remains the only player I can think of who regularly catches passes one handed just because he can.
– Chance Warmack graded negatively in the run game for the first time this year (-1.4)
PFF Game Ball
Jake Locker earns his Game Ball with a winning drive in the final few minutes of the game.
Follow Sam on Twitter: @PFF_Sam