Head-to-head: Titans vs. Chargers

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Tennessee Titans San Diego Chargers
In his second season Vince Young significantly improved his completion percentage (up to 62.3 percent from 51.5 a year ago), yet his touchdown to interception ratio of 9/17 has fallen from 12/13 last year. Integral to Young's game is his ability to take off and run with the ball, yet Young's rushing total -- 395 yards and three touchdowns on 93 carries -- is down considerably from the 552 yards and seven touchdowns he posted last season. Backup Kerry Collins has proved to be a reliable game manager on the few occasions that Young has been injured, including a valuable 10-of-13, 106-yard playoff-clinching performance against the Colts in Week 17.
Philip Rivers has really hit his stride during the Chargers' six-game winning streak, not throwing an interception in his last 95 pass attempts and posting a passer rating of 93.0. The Chargers have averaged more than 30 points over that stretch. Rivers, in his second full season as a starter, passed for 3,152 yards and 21 touchdowns. Billy Volek and Charlie Whitehurst back up Rivers. Volek has only attempted 10 passes this season.

With three capable runners in addition to the mobile Young, the strength of Tennessee's offense comes in their fifth-ranked rushing attack. In his second season LenDale White has made a huge leap, stepping into the starting role. His 303 attempts, 1,110 yards and seven touchdowns all lead the team. Chris Brown opened the season with 175 yards vs. Jacksonville, but has since settled in as a capable compliment to White. Rookie Chris Henry has played sparingly in his first season, but has shown flashes with 119 yards and two touchdowns.
Reigning MVP LaDainian Tomlinson won his second consecutive rushing title, becoming the first running back since Edgerrin James (1999-2000) to lead the league in rushing in back-to-back seasons. Tomlinson started the season slowly, but gained 602 yards in the month of December, despite playing only six quarters in the final three games. Michael Turner backs up Tomlinson and will be an attractive free agent in the off-season. Darren Sproles rushed for 122 yards and two touchdowns in his only extended work against the Lions in Week 15. Fullback Andrew Pinnock has replaced injured starter Lorenzo Neal, who hopes to return for the playoffs.

Justin Gage is tied for the team high in receptions (55) with Roydell Williams. With Williams out after having broken his ankle Thursday in practice, it is up to Gage to step up. He emerged later in the season as Young's go-to wideout and had two TD receptions. Eric Moulds, a crafty 12-year veteran, provides leadership and has caught 32 passes this season.
The Chargers finally got the big play receiver they have sought for years when they acquired Chris Chambers from the Dolphins. Chambers has started to hit his stride with Rivers, and finished the season with 66 receptions for 970 yards and four touchdowns. The Chargers also have first-round pick Craig Davis and the talented Vincent Jackson.

With Bo Scaife -- Young's college teammate from his days at Texas -- out for the year after suffering a lacerated liver in the final game, former starter Ben Troupe goes back atop the depth chart. For a young QB such as Young, TE is a crucial position in the passing game, because it allows him to attempt safer throws to a big middle-of-the-field target. Whether Troupe can be the security blanket Scaife (46 receptions, 421 yards) was remains to be seen. Four-year veteran Ben Hartsock is the team's third tight end.
Chargers tight end Antonio Gates has emerged as one of the top tight ends in the NFL, but his status for Sunday's game is uncertain after he suffered a toe injury in the Chargers' Wild Card defeat of the Titans. Gates led the team with 75 receptions for 984 yards and nine touchdowns to earn his fourth consecutive trip to the Pro Bowl. Brandon Manumaleuna would have to play a larger role if Gates can't go and Rookie Legedu Naanee would come in when San Diego employs two tight-end sets.

Though nursing a calf injury for the final two weeks of the regular season, center Kevin Mawae leads a group that has helped Young and his cast of running backs to average 131.8 yards per game. Left guard Benji Olson -- back at left guard after missing three weeks in the middle of the season with a back injury -- is flanked by tackle David Stewart. On the right side, Jacob Bell and Michael Roos have started every game at guard and tackle, respectively.
Tomlinson gives credit for his consecutive rushing titles to his offensive line. The anchor of the offensive line is center Nick Hardwick who missed four games with an ankle injury. The Chargers went 2-2 during that stretch, but have not lost since his return. Guard Kris Dielman will start in his first Pro Bowl. Rounding out the offensive line are tackles Marcus McNeill, Jeromey Clary and guard Mike Goff.

If one player could be considered the MVP of this defense, defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth would have to be it. Despite the face that the sixth-year tackled has missed considerable time with a nagging hamstring injury, Haynesworth's absence has only emphasized his value to this Titans defense. In the four games Haynesworth has missed, the Titans have allowed an average of 142.3 rushing yards per game, compared to an average of 75.5 yards in the games in which Haynesworth has started. Defensive ends Kyle Vanden Bosch (12.0 sacks) and Antwan Odom (8.0 sacks) present a dominant outside pass rush, and third-year tackle Tony Brown rounds out the defensive line.
The strength of the Chargers defensive line is defensive tackle Jamal Williams, who has been slowed by an ankle injury. Brandon McKinney is his backup. The Chargers do expect him to be healthy for the playoffs. Defensive end Luis Castillo returned in Week 16 after suffering an ankle injury and has provided a spark. Jacques Cesaire filled in adequately in Castillo's absence. Fourth-year defensive end Igor Olshansky also has become a force on the offensive line.

Eight-year veteran Keith Bulluck is the emotional leader of this group, and with a career-high five interceptions, he offers the ability to drop back into pass coverage effectively. OLB David Thornton leads the Titans with 122 tackles (93 solo). Stephen Tulloch and Ryan Fowler have split time at the inside linebacker position.
Pro Bowl-bound Shawne Merriman suffered a knee injury against the Titans in Week 14, but still recorded 12½ sacks on the season - the third year he has had double-digit sack totals. Shaun Phillips is more than just the "other guy starting in the opposite outside linebacker spot. Jyles Tucker is the backup behind Merriman, and finished his season with three sacks against the Raiders. Inside linebacker Stephen Cooper and Matt Whilhelm have been solid for the Chargers.

Cornerback Nick Harper is the newest addition to this group and has contributed three interceptions in 14 games. Opposite Harper, Cortland Finnegan is second on the team with 95 tackles. Strong safety Chris Hope and free safety Calvin Lowry round out the secondary.
The Chargers led the NFL with 30 interceptions. Cornerback Antonio Cromartie started the season as the No. 5 cornerback, but set a club record and led the league with 10 interceptions. Cromartie also earned his first trip to the Pro Bowl. Quentin Jammer, another former first-round pick, has been solid on the other corner. First-year starter at strong safety Clinton Hart set a goal of six interceptions this season. Hart intercepted five passes, but exceeded the team's expectations for him. Free safety Marlon McCree also has been an excellent defender for the team. The Chargers traded up in the second round to nab Eric Weddle, who has proven to be quite find in nickel situations and on special teams.

Kicker Rob Bironas leads the league, having successfully kicked 35 of 39 field goal attempts, including four of five from 50 yards or more (his season-long was 56 yards). Bironas' resume includes an NFL record 8-for-8 performance against Houston in Week 7. Craig Hentrich punted the ball 70 times for a 42.0 average. Michael Griffin and Henry have shared the kick return duties, averaging 22.2 yards per return between them, while rookie Chris Davis has done the majority of punt returning for an average of 9.5 yards per return.
Nate Kaeding has converted on 24-of-27 field goals and has given the team a lot of confidence in their kicker. Punter Mike Scifres was selected as a Pro Bowl alternate and his unique punting style allows him to pin teams deep and is the reason why he leads the AFC with 36 punts downed inside the 20. Special teams ace Kassim Osgood also was selected as to the Pro Bowl for his kick coverage. Sproles became the first player since Dante Hall in 2002 to return both a kickoff and punt for a touchdown in one game, which he did against the Colts in Week 10. Sproles took the opening kickoff 89-yards for a touchdown -- the Chargers first since 2001 -- and returned a punt 45-yards for a touchdown later in the first quarter.
Photos by Getty Images


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