The San Diego Chargers are in a great position to add a second win to their total tomorrow against the Tennessee Titans, and the Chargers look like a potential surprise team. They played the Houston Texans very close on Monday Night Football in Week 1, and Philip Rivers put together an incredibly clutch game in Week 2 to give the Chargers a 33-30 victory over the Philadelphia Eagles. The Titans should be cake for the Chargers, and here are five Chargers players to watch for in this one.
1. QB Philip Rivers
I’ve been in Philip Rivers’s corner as a staunch defender of his for quite some time now, and I’m glad to see that my confidence in Rivers is starting to pay off. While I still have some concerns on the offensive line (Jeromey Clary being the biggest), this unit isn’t nearly as bad as the disastrous group fielded last season, and a person actually has a chance of naming all five of this line’s starters (the Chargers no longer have to put in throw-away tackles to “protect” Rivers).
Rivers has been sensational this season, and he is well on his way to having a big bounce-back season and possibly re-establishing himself as a borderline top-5 quarterback. He has been incredibly accurate with a 65.8% completion percentage with seven touchdowns to just one interception, and he isn’t stacking up easy completions either. Rivers has an average of 12.3 yards per completion this year, and he thus averages an excellent 8.1 yards per attempt. His QB Rating is a sterling 115.8, and his ESPN QBR rating is also impeccable.
This guy is the definition of a franchise QB right now, because he is the one keeping the San Diego Chargers in games and carrying this club. There have been several injuries at receiver, Ryan Mathews is still not playing up to his potential (3.7 yards per carry), and he doesn’t actually have a No. 1 receiver. But he is spreading the ball around, and his offensive line is giving him better protection and allowing him to play at an elite level.
2. WR Vincent Brown
With veteran wide receiver Malcom Floyd out indefinitely, it’s time for the promising Vincent Brown to step up and stake his claim as the San Diego Chargers best wide receiver. He looks like the most talented wideout on the roster, but it’s time for him to play like it. This season, Brown has just six receptions for 39 yards, and he isn’t going to have an easy matchup against the Tennessee Titans. The Titans have two very good CBs in Alterraun Verner and Jason McCourty, and the Titans allow just five net yards per attempt. That’s one of the top ten totals in the league, so Philip Rivers and his wide receivers will have to work for every play.
3. LB Dwight Freeney
I just can’t say enough about how good Dwight Freeney has looked this season, and he has been on an absolute tear. I praised the Chargers for signing Freeney and making a massive upgrade in the wake of Melvin Ingram‘s injury, but I had absolutely no idea Freeney would be playing this good through two weeks. It’s going to be interesting to see if he can keep this up, but he looks terrific to start things off. Tom Telesco must have seen something he loved out of Freeney with the Indianapolis Colts last season, even as Freeney was criticized for declining and not being a fit in the 3-4 scheme. He looks like a fit now, and he actually had a pretty good 2012 season.
Freeney won’t have it easy rushing the passer against an solid bookend of tackles in Michael Roos and David Stewart (he’ll mostly face Roos, who is the better of the two), but he didn’t have it easy in the first two weeks either. In order to put the kind of pressure he has, Freeney had to beat two elite tackles in Duane Brown of the Houston Texans and Jason Peters of the Philadelphia Eagles, and both of those tackles are better than Roos and Stewart.
4. CB Shareece Wright
The biggest question mark for the San Diego Chargers is clearly in the secondary, specifically at cornerback. Eric Weddle is the best safety in the NFL and stabilizes the back end no matter who is playing next to him, but the Chargers can’t continue to have sloppy cornerback play. Derek Cox was a clear upgrade this offseason, but the Chargers need Shareece Wright to step up on the opposite side of the field. Wright has potential, but he was absolutely shredded by DeSean Jackson (and once by athletic tight end Zach Ertz) last week against the Eagles. The Titans have a lot of talent at receiver, so Wright needs to tighten up. Right now, he’s on burn watch, as Jake Locker certainly has the arm to help a Titans WR do what DeSean Jackson did to Shareece Wright last week.
5. TE Antonio Gates
Veteran tight end Antonio Gates has looked as solid as ever this season, and he’ll hold an important role against the Titans. Rivers will surely be looking in Gates‘s direction frequently tomorrow afternoon, and the Chargers should be able to do a great job of moving the chains with Gates in the fold. He’s been the best pass-catching threat on the Chargers this season with ten receptions for 173 yards, and the crazy part is that only deep threat Malcom Floyd has averaged more yards per catch than Gates…and Gates is a TE. I would definitely watch closely for Gates tomorrow, because he has more yards from scrimmage than any non-QB on the San Diego Chargers this season.