The Tennessee Titans return to action Sunday afternoon after a mini bye last weekend, and will be looking to build on their surprising 4-4 start.
But if the Titans want to keep pace in the cluttered AFC South this week, then they will have to find a way to exorcise yet another demon…San Diego’s Qualcomm Stadium.
The Titans are 0-5 in that venue since relocating to Nashville, and the games have not been competitive. San Diego has outscored Tennessee 166-65 during that home stand.
So what must the Titans do to end their quandaries at Qualcomm?
Stay balanced on offense
It’s no secret that the Titans want to run the ball down San Diego’s throat Sunday, as they’ve done to just about every opponent they’ve faced this year. But that may be easier said than done this week because the strength of the Chargers’ defense is stopping the run. San Diego’s defense is currently sixth in the league against the run (one slot behind Tennessee), allowing just 86 yards per game on the ground. DeMarco Murray, who is currently second in the league in rushing yards, may be limited with a toe injury that he suffered last Thursday night against the Jaguars.
Tennessee’s success (or lack thereof) on offense could weigh heavily on the arm of Marcus Mariota, who has been on a tear lately. He should find some success against a Chargers defense that’s 24th against the pass…giving up 275 yards per game.
Contain Melvin Gordon
Yes, Tennessee’s defense has made it a point this season to neutralize the opposing team’s top offensive weapon, and yes, quarterback Philip Rivers is the primary offensive weapon for the Chargers. But the Titans’ best chance for success Sunday afternoon is containing their second year running back, Melvin Gordon.
After a dismal rookie campaign, Gordon has been clicking on all cylinders this season. He put on a clinic against Tennessee’s first team defense in the preseason opener at Nissan Stadium, and will be heavily featured once again this week.
The Titans can ill-afford a balanced attack from the Chargers’ offense this week. That’s where Rivers is most dangerous.
The Titans have started fast out of the gate the last three weeks, scoring opening drive touchdowns two of the last three games (two wins). And while no one expects the Chargers to lay down and play dead if things don’t click early in the game (like Jacksonville did last week), a fast start is still paramount from a psychological perspective.
San Diego typically starts fast themselves, but has surrendered huge leads late in games this season…a huge reason for their 3-5 record. Conversely, the Titans have been strong closers this season, erasing double-digit second half deficits against Detroit, Oakland, Houston, and Indianapolis.
If Tennessee can start fast, keep the game close, and remain within striking distance in the fourth quarter, then the proverbial “here we go again” could creep into the psyche of the Chargers’ players and fans.
No doubt about it, the Titans have their work cut out for them this week as Qualcomm Stadium has been a house of horrors for them in recent years. But if they can finally conquer the psychological hurdle of this venue, and come away with a win, then they could very well find themselves tied atop the AFC South by game’s end.
At the very least, they would pick up another all-important conference win to help with any potential playoff tie-breaking scenarios that may arise six weeks from now.
Possible playoff scenarios and the Tennessee Titans in the same sentence should have their fan base pumped for Sunday’s matchup.