Nashville, TN (CBSLA)- Through six weeks of the NFL season, things haven’t gone as planned for the Los Angeles Chargers or their Week 7 opponents, the Tennessee Titans.
Since winning their opener against the Indianapolis Colts, the Chargers have dropped four out of five games, with the lone win coming against the lowly Miami Dolphins. That stretch comes despite the return of Melvin Gordon prior to Week 5’s matchup with the Broncos. And, last week the team dropped a game to the Pittsburgh Steelers, who were starting third-string quarterback Devlin Hodges.
For the Titans, it’s been a similarly roller coaster affair to reach the 2-4 mark after six weeks. Tennessee won its opener in convincing fashion over the Browns, 43-13, and have since lost four of five games, with their lone win coming against the struggling Atlanta Falcons.
While the two teams have had a similar ride to this point, the reasons behind the early-season struggles are vastly different. The Chargers, as has been the case for years, have suffered injuries to key players at an alarming rate.
“When you lose Derwin James before the season starts, that’s a massive hit to a defense. His mark was felt in a lot of different areas, not just the secondary,” said NFL on CBS sideline reporter Evan Washburn. “And then on the offensive front, beyond Melvin Gordon deciding to hold out, you have an offensive line that’s been down a left tackle, and has been over the course of the off-season. Your center, who’s so critical in so many components in the run game, in the pass protection, in the relationship he has with Philip Rivers. In Pouncey, with the neck surgery. These things just start to add up.”
Injuries have been the main issue for the Chargers, but quarterback Philip Rivers, outside of a couple of mistakes here and there, has been solid. The same cannot be said for Titans starter Marcus Mariota, who has continued to experience some of the same issues that have plagued him through the first four years of his career. Following a shutout at the hands of the Broncos last week, the Titans have scored just seven points in their last two games, leading coach Mike Vrabel to make a switch this week. Ryan Tannehill will be the starter.
Tannehill had plenty of struggles of his own in Miami, but when healthy, he proved to be a solid option. The reason for the switch, Washburn believes, is a simple one.
“I think they hope it gives it a spark and they find some production,” said Washburn. “And it’s not been all on the quarterback position and Marcus Mariota. But the accuracy has been a real concern. Some passes that players at the level need to make Mariota has not made.”
So, with Tannehill stepping in and the Chargers bringing a banged-up unit to Nissan Stadium on Sunday, what will be they key for each team to break from their losing ways? For Washburn, it comes down to the offensive lines.
“Whatever line decides to play well in this game, that team’s probably going to be most successful. Because Tennessee’s line has not done any favors for whoever’s under center, whether it was Mariota or now Ryan Tannehill. And that’s basically just flat-out protection, the number of hits those guys are taking through first six weeks of the season is concerning.”
To Washburn’s point, the Titans rank last in the league in both sacks given up (29) and second to last in quarterback hits (47). That doesn’t bode well for the success of any quarterback. For the Chargers, the issues are the same, though largely due to the injuries suffered up front.
“Even though they’re kind of a MASH unit upfront in LA, they have to find a way to be able to have some success running the ball to allow them to do things in the passing game,” said Washburn.
With each team at 2-4 this game has an almost “must-win” feel to it in order to stay in the playoff hunt. The Titans enter as two point favorites, with kick off set for Sunday at 1:05 p.m. Pacific Time on CBS.