Tuesday, May 30 2023

This TitansChargers showdown is a matchup of lower-tier AFC contenders

Both teams are 7-6, with poor track records against the NFL’s best. Against teams that currently have winning records, Tennessee is 1-5 while Los Angeles is 1-4. The Titans sit atop the AFC South, but their unraveling in recent weeks has cracked the door open for the Jaguars in the division. The Chargers are coming off a big win over the Dolphins, but with the Patriots beating the Cardinals on Monday Night Football, L.A. is currently on the outside of the playoffs looking in at the No. 8 spot. 

We can’t overlook the Chargers’ victory over the Dolphins, though. With star safety Derwin James Jr., defensive lineman Sebastian Joseph-Day and cornerback Bryce Callahan out — not to mention several other defensive starters sidelined on IR — the Chargers shut down quarterback Tua Tagovailoa and Miami’s explosive offense. Tagovailoa was held to a career-low 46% completion rate for 145 yards and a touchdown, and the Dolphins had just 219 yards of offense overall. 

Offensively, Justin Herbert also shined as he had his top two receivers — Keenan Allen and Mike Williams — available from start to finish for the first time all year. The Chargers are in a good place entering Week 15, and with the possibility of getting some of their injured players back as soon as Sunday, their prospects look strong down the stretch. 

What did Justin Herbert, Chargers prove in win over Dolphins?

Emmanuel Acho says L.A. QB Justin Herbert took care of business when he needed to most.

One can’t say the same about the Titans. 

They’ve lost three games in a row for the first time since 2018 — Mike Vrabel’s first year as head coach. Their offense and second-half execution have been an issue all season, but the defensive struggles — particularly against the pass — have the team in a free fall as of late. With standout defensive lineman Denico Autry (knee) and star defensive tackle Jeffery Simmons (ankle) dealing with injuries, the pass rush has struggled, leaving an already vulnerable secondary to get exploited. Jalen Hurts and Trevor Lawrence have carved it up most recently. Both earned conference player of the week honors for their performances against the Titans. 

Autry, who has missed the past three games, returned to practice Wednesday, a good sign. But the Titans have so many other starters listed as DNP or limited on the first injury report of the week — Derrick Henry (non-injury related), Ryan Tannehill, Treylon Burks, Kristian Fulton, Robert Woods, Nate Davis, Amani Hooker, Ben Jones, and Simmons — that it’s difficult to feel optimistic about their Week 15 outlook. 

Matchup to watch: Titans DL vs. Chargers OL

The Titans pass rush getting going feels like Tennessee’s only chance of winning this game. 

With Herbert, Allen and Williams, the Chargers have the quarterback and pass-catchers to make this another nightmare for the Titans, sending the AFC South leaders to a four-game losing streak. So the Titans pass rush must get back to what it was from Weeks 1-10, when it was tied for first in the NFL with a 34.3% pressure rate on dropbacks, according to Next Gen Stats. 

And the Chargers’ offensive line has been vulnerable, too, so it’s not like there won’t be opportunity. Since Week 11, Herbert has been sacked 18 times, a league high in that span. He has played with backup offensive tackles the past two weeks (left tackle Rashawn Slater has been on IR since early in the season, right tackle Trey Pipkins is sidelined with a knee injury), and starting center Corey Linsley just returned last week after missing the previous game and a half. Herbert has been playing behind a cobbled-together offensive line all season. 

If the Titans can’t get home on Herbert, it could prevent the damage done by Allen and Williams, who combined for 18 catches on 20 targets for 208 yards and a touchdown in Sunday’s win over Miami. 

X Factor: Titans running back Derrick Henry

Tennessee getting Henry going could spell big trouble for Los Angles, which ranks 28th in run defense and league-worst in rushing yards allowed per play. 

Henry had 11 carries for 96 yards in the first quarter of Sunday’s game against the Jaguars, but the Titans’ turnovers and getting so far behind took him out of the game. That first quarter was the best he’d looked in weeks playing behind a bad offensive line. Maybe Tennessee can replicate that effectiveness for a full game against Los Angeles, as long as it doesn’t allow giveaways to derail its game plan.


Even if Autry returns for the Titans, there’s a question as to how effective he’ll be and how much rust he has to knock off after missing the past three games. And Simmons is still hampered with his weeks-long ankle issue (he was limited on Wednesday’s injury report). So it’s hard to see Tennessee’s pass rush getting drastically better against the Chargers. That’s good news for Herbert, his pass protection and all his weapons. 

The Titans offense inspires little faith, and when you couple that with the way the Chargers defense played against the Dolphins and the fact that it could get reinforcements, there appears to be no chance for Tennessee to keep up in this game points-wise. 

Chargers 28, Titans 16

Tennessee Titans


Los Angeles Chargers


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Ben Arthur is the AFC South reporter for FOX Sports. He previously worked for The Tennessean/USA TODAY Network, where he was the Titans beat writer for a year and a half. He covered the Seattle Seahawks for SeattlePI.com for three seasons (2018-20) prior to moving to Tennessee. You can follow Ben on Twitter at @benyarthur

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