Here are five keys to the game heading into the match between the Los Angeles Chargers and Tennessee Titans.
1. Box in Mariota – Marcus Mariota was sacked a whopping 11 times a week ago against the Baltimore Ravens, but it would be silly to expect anything similar this week. Last week’s outing was an anomaly as the Titans boast a top-notch offensive line led by impressive tackles in Taylor Lewan and Jack Conklin. Meanwhile, Mariota is one of the best in the game at buying time for himself, so even if they can’t take down the quarterback, it’s imperative they keep him boxed in and off his spot. Here’s what Defensive Coordinator Gus Bradley had to say about the quarterback:
"It's very important (to keep him in the pocket) because he'll extend plays, but he'll extend it and run. He gets first downs on third down because of it. Any time there's a threat of the option in the game, the quarterback can have big plays. If you go back and look at some of the plays last year, some of the explosive plays with him running the ball, he can turn a five-yard gain into a 50-yard gain in a hurry. We have to be really aware of him. It's not just the running backs as a threat in the run game, it's also him."
2. Get Gordon Going – The Chargers face a Titans defense that’s one of the best in the league, ranking in the top 10 in total defense, passing and points allowed. However, they’ve been susceptible of late against the run, ranking 26th in the NFL as they’ve allowed 123.2 yards per game on the ground. Thus, the Bolts will look to keep Melvin Gordon rolling as the running back has been on fire this season. He’s carried the rock 91 times for 466 yards, which is the third most in the NFL, while averaging 5.1 yards per carry. While Gordon gets most of the attention, the other 10 men on the field have been equally fantastic, which is why the running back has made sure to give them their proper due all year long:
“It’s a credit to everyone around me. Not just the offensive line, but the receivers and tight ends are blocking. Everyone contributed to everything. So, hats off to everyone…. (The offensive line) is playing well as a group. They understand the scheme and what’s going on. That makes it a lot better for me. The harder we run, the harder they block. We’re only getting better.”
3. The Magnificent Seven – Tennessee’s defense revolves around one of the toughest, hard-nosed front seven in the game. The man in the middle of that front seven is Jurrell Casey, who is the heartbeat of the Titans’ defense. A Pro Bowler three years running, he has the ability to singlehandedly wreck a game as he’s posted the most multi-sack games over the past six years. Equally impressive, Casey is a tackling machine in the middle of the defensive line. The 6-1, 305-pounder has been up to his usual tricks through six games, totaling 31 tackles and 3.0 sacks. He’s also set a career high already with two forced fumbles. However, it’s not just Casey, as Philip Rivers stressed how the Titans boast arguably the most physical front sevens in the NFL:
“It's a solid group. They've had a handful of (those) guys that they've had for some time now. It's a good front. Obviously, (Head Coach Mike) Vrabel's time in Houston (he had) a heck of a front. Obviously, (he had) his time as a player in New England. (Defensive Coordinator) Dean Pees comes from Baltimore, they've had (good) front sevens. The head coach and defensive coordinator, they've been around good fronts and they know how to play good defense. That's what you've seen.”
4. Points at a Premium – The Chargers are the only team to score at least three offensive touchdowns in every game this season. Overall, they’re averaging 29.2 points per game, which is the fifth highest mark in the league. This week figures to be their toughest test. Points will be at a premium as the Titans allow only 17.8 points per game, which is the third fewest in the NFL. Thus, Rivers noted how imperative it is that the Bolts cash in whenever they get an opportunity:
“Teams haven't scored a lot on them. I think Miami got 27 in that opener, but then it's been (basically nothing until) Baltimore scored 21 last week. But it wasn't an easy 21 (for them to get). There has been a lot of low scoring outings. It will definitely be a heck of a challenge.”
5. London Calling – The Bolts are across the pond for the first time in a decade, but are doing things differently this time around. The team did a lot of studies, and the proof is in the pudding that teams who arrive in London later in the week have been more successful. Thus, the Chargers arrived in London Friday morning after spending the entire week in Cleveland following their victory over the Browns. The international games carry their own unique set of challenges, and the Bolts must conquer them as they are nearly 5,000 miles from home. Thus, as Head Coach Anthony Lynn explained, the team has hammered home the importance of maintaining their same routine all week long:
“To me, I think that's the challenge. We kind of talked about it as a group. Whatever you normally do, make sure you do it. There's going to be plenty more time to do more, but make sure you do it whether it be a rehab routine you have, something you do recovery or studying. Make sure you (do it). Now, it's going to be a little different. It's a little thrown out of the time routine, but make sure you get all of the same work in. I think the guys have been great. We know we're kind of in a groove right now. We want to make sure we don't do anything to stop that…. (Gus) went to London every year when he was in Jacksonville. I've leaned on Gus a lot with his schedule and the hotel that we're staying in. Our sleep research, I used a lot of his information.”