3TFO: Chargers @ Titans, Week 3
Through happenstance the Titans and the Chargers already share a common opponent in just the third week of the season. Amazingly, the two teams shared almost the exact same fate at the hands of that common opponent, the Texans. In their game, the Chargers lost 31-28 on a field goal with no time remaining. The Titans survived a Texans game-winning field goal attempt as the clock ran out, but lost on the first possession of overtime when the Texans scored on the first overtime possession to win 30-24.
Against the Texans, both teams gave up over 400 yards while gaining less than 300. The passer ratings of Rivers (95.5) and Locker (92.1) were almost the same, but the grades were vastly different at +2.0 and -1.2 respectively. On the other hand, Matt Schaub had a grade of +4.1 against the Chargers compared to -1.1 against the Titans. Both teams struggled to stop the Texans run, but the Titans’ defense missed seven more tackles than the Chargers did. I could go on and on with comparisons with the Texans, but for these dueling 1-1 teams the player matchups are going to be vastly different. Here are the ones I’ll be focusing on:
Locker vs. the Corners
Two weeks into the season and the position that looked like the weak link for the Chargers on paper has become just that on the field. No other cornerbacking duo has given up more yards (344) than the Chargers’ Shareece Wright and Derek Cox. Unsurprisingly, San Diego has given up 740 yards through the air, the most in the NFL. Cox, Wright, and Johnny Patrick all have passer ratings when targeted well over 100 and only Cox has a pass defended. To be fair they have gone up against two very good receivers in Andre Johnson and DeSean Jackson, but the Texans and the Eagles are rarely considered elite passing attacks.
What does this mean for Jake Locker? Through two weeks, Locker has been favoring his wide receivers and in turn targeting cornerbacks at a high rate. Locker has targeted wide receivers on 80% of his passes compared to a league average of 62%. This has led to opposing cornerbacks being targeted on 29 of his 46 aimed attempts. The Steelers and Texans all have arguably superior corners compared to the Chargers so we could be in store for a breakout game from the third-year quarterback.
Can Freeney Keep it Going?
What Dwight Freeney has accomplished so far this season is nothing short of miraculous at age 33. In the first two games he has gone up against our second highest-graded tackle from 2012 in Duane Brown and our highest-graded tackle from 2011 in Jason Peters (who missed all of 2012). Against those two he registered over five pressures in each game and has a cumulative grade of +8.1, the highest of any 3-4 outside linebacker. Freeney has the third-highest Pass Rushing Productivity among edge rushers (18.0), trailing only Aldon Smith and Robert Quinn. Neither of those guys faced one All-Pro tackle, let alone two like Freeney has.
Sunday will make it three straight former All-Pros as he lines up across from Michael Roos, PFF’s third-highest-graded tackle last season. It should be a clash of the titans as Roos is known for his pass blocking proficiency. In 2011 he gave up just one sack all season and through two games the Titans’ left tackle sits at sixth in Pass Blocking Efficiency with a PBE of 97.4. The unfortunate thing for all of us watching this matchup is that it likely won’t last long. The Titans have dropped back to throw just 57 times this season, the fewest in the league.
How Good is the Titans’ Defensive Line?
So far the answer to that question appears to be about as good as the offensive line it faces. In Week 1, they beat up a Steelers’ offensive line that is in shambles and then in Week 2 they got manhandled by a Texans’ line that is consistently one of the best in the league. All but one of the Titans’ linemen graded positively against the run in Week 1 while all but one graded negatively in Week 2.
Jurrell Casey (+7.1) has been the lone standout for a unit that was thought to be the strength of the defense heading into the season. They’ve been able to generate pressure from the interior, but not the outside. Casey and Mike Martin are fifth and 11th in Pass Rushing Productivity among defensive tackles while Kamerion Wimbley, Derrick Morgan, and Ropati Pitoitua are 20th, 29th, and 47th (out of 50) respectively among defensive ends. The tackles those three ends will be going against have so far gotten the job done in pass protection. King Dunlap and D.J. Fluker are 14th and 26th (out of 67) in terms of Pass Blocking Efficiency.
This week should provide a good barometer for the Titans’ defensive line as the Chargers’ offensive line appears to fall somewhere in between the Texans and the Steelers in terms of talent. The Chargers’ overall offensive line grade of -3.1 is currently the 18th best in the NFL.
Follow Mike on Twitter: @PFF_MikeRenner