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Scouting report: Titans at Chargers

When these two teams met on Dec. 9, the game went into overtime before the Chargers won it on a 16-yard run by LaDainian Tomlinson. There was no love lost between these two teams as Shawne Merriman popped Vince Young after a handoff and the Titans put a few extra hits on the Chargers linebacker just to make sure he understood.

For all the extra curricular activity there were only four penalties per team, but, as one Titan said to me this week, "Those guys talk too much."

Tennessee finished 5-3 on the road and struggled against the Colts backups to finish the season, but the Titans haven't lost a game since that Chargers loss. Vince Young couldn't finish the game last week but Kerry Collins actually looked better moving the team and managing the game. San Diego will have to prepare for both quarterbacks and it will require two different pass-pressure packages.

San Diego struggled earlier in the season but still finished 7-1 at home and, more importantly, finished the season with a 7-1 record in the second half. The Chargers are only 2-3 against playoff teams but they did beat the Colts at home.

The Titans are 2-4 against playoff teams and are determined to get after Philip Rivers like they did when they sacked him four times in Week 14. The winner of this game may not have much left in order to move on in the playoffs. It will be a very physical 60 minutes of football.

Kirwan breaks it down

</center>*The Chargers beat the Titans 23-17 in Tennessee in Week 14. The two teams meet again in San Diego on Sunday in an AFC Wild-Card game.*  

If you like the Chargers ...

  » San Diego beat the Titans in Tennessee a few weeks ago, 23-17.

  » During their six-game winning streak they are averaging 31 points a game.

  » In 2006, the Titans played in San Diego and lost, 40-7.

  » The Titans have never beaten the Chargers.

  » The last time these two met, Shawne Merriman had two sacks. San Diego is 11-1 when he has two sacks in a game.

  » The Chargers lead the NFL with 30 interceptions and Vince Young threw two in their last meeting.

If you like the Titans ...

  » Tennessee has the No. 5 defense in the NFL.

  » The Titans are No. 5 in time of possession and the Chargers are 21st; which could help them keep Tomlinson off the field.

  » Young's best games as a pro have been on "Monday Night Football." He loves the big stage.

Key matchups

1. Chargers OLB Shawne Merriman vs. Titans left tackle Michael Roos:Chargers defensive end Luis Castillo, fully healthy now after missing six games with an ankle injury, will line up over Roos, but when Merriman comes to the line ready to rush the passer Roos will slide to him. Merriman had two sacks the last time these teams met and he can't be blocked by a running back. The Titans could use a tight end to help Roos. Merriman, who only has 4½ of his 12½ sacks at home this year, needs to step up against the physical Roos, who will be at a disadvantage due to the crowd noise.

2. Chargers LT Marcus McNeil vs. Titans DE Kyle Vanden Bosch: Vanden Bosch whipped McNeil badly the last time they met, a game that got Vanden Bosch into the Pro Bowl. Vanden Bosch will use his bull rush early to see if McNeil is still playing too upright and later he will likely go to his twist stunt. Moves aside, this matchup boils down to a guy with a motor that never quits (Vanden Bosch) vs. a guy who has to play harder (McNeil).

3. Chargers LG Kris Dielman vs. Titans RDT Albert Haynesworth: No one person can take Big Albert if he's healthy. That's a big "if" given Haynesworth's ailing hamstring. Haynesworth brings power initially to set the tone for the game and then starts beating guards with quickness and a good stunt. San Diego wants to run the ball inside with power, but this is a tough place to make a living against Haynesworth. Dielman has a significant challenge ahead.

4. Chargers TE Antonio Gates vs. Titans safety Michael Griffin: Gates is the best tight end in the league and a number of teams treat him like a wide receiver. Griffin is really the free safety but no one else is polished enough in coverage to take Gates. With the good four-man pressure that Tennessee can bring, look for the Chargers to hit on short routes to Gates and hope he can pick up yards after the catch.

5. Chargers NT Jamal Williams vs. Titans OC Kevin Mawae: Williams has been rested in recent weeks and he will need to be fresh against a veteran like Mawae. The Titans want to pound LenDale White (if he's healthy) and Chris Brown inside. Williams should clog the middle and be in on 6-8 tackles.

When the Chargers have the ball

In the last three weeks, LaDainian Tomlinson has averaged just 17 rushes and two receptions as the Chargers pulled away from the rest of their division. In the three weeks prior to that, when the Chargers were in competitive situations, Tomlinson averaged 24 carries and five receptions. This week is a must-win situation, and that means 30-35 touches for Tomlinson. The Titans have the run defense to slow him down, but no player in the NFL wants to win a playoff game more than Tomlinson.

The addition of WR Chris Chambers in a trade has opened up the Chargers' passing game and their scoring. In his 10 games as a Charger he has 34 receptions and the team has averaged 27 points per game, while going 8-2. When Antonio Gates gets double-teamed or the opponent brackets him off, Chambers is the answer. QB Philip Rivers is not having the Pro Bowl season he had last year, but he is playing better since the Titans sacked him more than any other team this year in Week 14. After that four-sack day he has been sacked just twice in the last three games. His mobility is a question with a lingering knee injury.

Tennessee expects to get after Rivers with their front four, and it's doubtful we'll see much blitzing. As for stopping Tomlinson, much of that falls on the shoulders of linebacker Keith Bulluck. It looks like San Diego can generate 25 points in this game if it doesn't turn the ball over. Rivers hasn't thrown an interception in the last three weeks, and has fumbled once. The Chargers have the best turnover ratio in the NFL and that spells trouble for the Titans.

Keep in mind LT always has a halfback option pass in his bag of tricks and coach Norv Turner will use everything in his arsenal in order to win this game.

When the Titans have the ball

Defensive-minded coach Jeff Fisher wants to run the ball inside and keep Tomlinson on the bench. This conservative philosophy is alright until the Titans get down by 10 points. If and when Tennessee has to throw to win, they are in trouble with Vince Young under center. He is not 100 percent healthy and his running ability does not present the same problems it usually does.

Tennessee also has questions in the red zone if Young can't run. Right now the Titans are at the bottom of the league in red-zone production, and if Young can't run against the Chargers' tough 3-4 defense, the red zone will be a disappointment. No playoff team has scored fewer points than Tennessee.

San Diego will let Young try and beat them with his arm and not his legs. Last time they met, Young had only 2 yards rushing -- his second-worst output of the season. The pressure may come in the four-man package, but expect the Chargers to go to some two- and three-man packages. Keeping Young in the pocket is the key.


Last season all four road teams lost on Wild-Card Weekend. San Diego fired Marty Schottenheimer last year after a 14-2 season because the team didn't win a playoff game. There is a lot of pressure on the whole Chargers organization. With Castillo back on defense, raising the number of touches for Tomlinson and hitting Chambers when Gates is covered should bring a victory to the city of San Diego.

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