Chargers (2-4) at Tennessee (2-4)
When the Chargers have the ball
Fans of this team have to believe — and certainly hope — that Philip Rivers can’t start any worse than he did last week against Pittsburgh.
The veteran quarterback was pressured into throwing a pass backward, a fumble that was returned for a touchdown, and then was intercepted on a deflected ball as the Chargers fell behind 14-0 barely 10 minutes into the game.
A patched-up offensive line continues to play inconsistently, causing a lot of the recent issues that have prevented the Chargers from finding any rhythm. Running the ball has become a growing concern, the situation made worse the last two weeks by early deficits that forced changes to the game plan. The Chargers’ per-game average is down to 80.2 yards rushing, which ranks 27th in the NFL. Tennessee is 15th in defense against the run. In his first two games back, Melvin Gordon has carried 20 times for 49 yards. He hasn’t had a run longer than seven yards.
“I know we want to run the ball,” Gordon said. “Coach [Anthony] Lynn makes a big emphasis on that. When you get behind, it’s not about me. It’s not about me getting the carries. It’s about us winning.”
The Chargers have won once in five weeks and probably won’t win this week unless they can run the ball at least somewhat effectively.
When the Titans have the ball
For the second consecutive week, the Chargers will face an opponent immediately after that opponent has changed quarterbacks. The development did not help them in a 24-17 loss to Devlin Hodges and Pittsburgh.
The Titans took Marcus Mariota with the No. 2 pick in the 2015 draft thinking he was the franchise’s future. On Sunday, the Chargers will instead see Ryan Tannehill. The former Miami Dolphin is 3-1 against the Chargers all-time.
Regardless of who’s playing quarterback, Tennessee figures to try to run with Derrick Henry, especially with the Chargers missing injured starters Brandon Mebane and Justin Jones in the middle of their defensive front. Gus Bradley lamented a series of breakdowns along the line that allowed the Steelers to rush 36 times for 124 yards a week ago. The Chargers’ defensive coordinator will be counting on improvement in that regard while relying on players who have been coming off the bench in the defensive-line rotation.
Henry had a 1,000-yard season in 2018, but he’s averaging only 3.7 yards per carry at the moment. The Titans rank 20th in the league in rushing, something hard-edged coach Mike Vrabel, a former NFL linebacker, would love to change in this game.
When they kick
Barring a late setback, it appears the Chargers will finally see the 2019 debut of Michael Badgley. The second-year kicker has been out because of a groin injury suffered just before the season opener. As proof that the Chargers aren’t the only NFL franchise to experience issues at this position, Tennessee’s kicker is Cody Parkey, author of the infamous “double doink” that cost Chicago a playoff victory last year. Parkey was signed to replace Cairo Santos, who missed four field goals two weeks ago in a 14-7 loss to Buffalo.
The Chargers have been favored every week this season but are only 2-4. They aren’t favored Sunday. They’ve also won 11 of the last 12 games in this series, including a stirring 20-19 victory last year in London. The Titans also have struggled to 2-4 and have scored seven points or fewer in three of their last four games. And now they’re changing quarterbacks, going to a guy who ran out of time with a now-miserable Miami franchise. Still …
TITANS 16, CHARGERS 10