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Notebook: Titans Defense Keeps Chargers in Check

Posted Sep 22, 2013

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Tennessee’s final possession proved to be a game-winning 94-yard drive, but that’s largely because the Titans’ defense kept the Chargers in check and the game within reach.  

San Diego got the ball with 6:07 left and opted to try to run out the clock with five straight run plays by Ryan Matthews. Officials, however, called a holding penalty on the fifth, creating second-and-16. Rather than risk stopping the clock by attempting passes, the Chargers handed off to Le’Ron McClain for a gain of 7 on his only carry of the game and Matthews for a gain of 4 before punting.

Tennessee used its final timeout before the punt and got the ball back with 2:05 remaining.

“If they would have gotten one more first down, you never know how this game would have turned out,” said Jurrell Casey. “Our defense had to get the ball back to the offense. We said this was a must-win play, just like in practice. We worked on about 20 plays that we said were must-win situations, and it came down to it and showed up in the game. We won them in practice and won it in the game.”

Safety Bernard Pollard said Tennessee’s defense did a good job of manning up to get the ball back to the offense down four points with a shot to win the game. The Titans’ offense consistently moved the ball throughout the game, netting 452 yards to 277, but points were scarce.

“We have to back the offense as much as possible. Our job is to get the ball back to them. If they’re not ‘on,’ we’re going to have to stand our ground,” Pollard said. “Jake, to step in, to have a comeback victory at home, that’s humongous, and the offensive guys just stepped up. They played their tails off. Our defense, we played our butts off, and that’s a credit to the coaching staff for the preparation throughout the week, we did a great job.”

Tennessee limited San Diego to 102 rushing yards on 27 attempts (3.8 per carry) with a longest rush of 11 yards, and the Titans held the Chargers to 175 net yards passing, despite QB Philip Rivers completing 20 of 24 passes (83 percent).

“The defense played good,” said Michael Griffin, who was credited with a team-high nine tackles. “The front four, they’re doing a great job, the linebackers are coming in. Our three-safety look, the DBs, everybody is doing a great job. I don’t think we gave up 200 yards passing today. That was a great thing against a great quarterback. He’s been throwing the ball all around, our first time holding a good tight end (in check), so we’re doing all the good things.”

Titans coach Mike Munchak was pleased with the way his team tackled San Diego's running backs, including Ryan Matthews on this play, and receivers. Click here for a slideshow from Tennessee's 20-17 win.

San Diego entered the game averaging 30.5 points per game, which was tied for fourth in the NFL, and 298 passing yards per game, which ranked 11th. The Chargers also entered with the second-best conversion rate on third downs (58.6 percent) but were limited to 3-for-9 (33 percent) by the Titans.

“We got them on the ground, we didn’t miss a lot of tackles. We knew they were going to make some plays,” Titans coach Mike Munchak said. “I thought, overall, we tackled pretty decent in most situations. We got off the field, a lot of times it was fourth-and-2, fourth-and-1, fourth-and-3. We made a lot of tackles at the sticks. That was probably the difference. Where they really make their living is making those guys miss and converting first downs. I thought we did a great job with that throughout the day.”

Pollard has frequently talked about protecting the “blades of grass” behind the defense, but on Sunday a patch of the LP Field playing surface that was about one square yard needed protection from him.

Pollard blocked a 38-yard field goal attempt by Nick Novak as the first half ended. He came around the right side of the line, smacked down the ball with his left hand and made a divot about one square yard near the 30-yard line as he tried to go after the ball that Alterraun Verner recovered. The grounds crew was able to repair the divot during halftime.

“It’s always good any time our defense can step up and get a block to keep them from scoring points,” Pollard said. “If they’d have gotten that, we probably would have been in another overtime situation. For us, that’s big. For our team, we have to continue to put this stuff on film.”

PLENTY OF PENALTIES: The Titans were assessed 10 penalties for 110 yards in the first half, but only one for six yards went against Tennessee in the second half.

The offense had three penalties for 25 yards, the defense had four for 62 yards and special teams had four for 29 yards, including a hold on the opening play and an illegal block on the game’s final punt.

Munchak said several of the times the Titans were flagged involved judgment calls that he’d contest if that was an option, specifically a pass interference call against Pollard and an illegal block that went against Kenny Britt, but there were others like a personal foul for retaliation by Moise Fokou of what happened at the end of a play that Tennessee must avoid in the future.

“We came in here and had things that didn’t go our way. We didn’t necessarily play smart at times, we had too many penalties,” Munchak said. “We had big plays we left on the field but our defense kept us in the game. The defense kept the score down within striking distance at the end.”

CHALLENGING REVIEWS: Munchak went 0-for-2 on challenging a pair of pass plays from Locker to Nate Washington, costing Tennessee a pair of timeouts in the second half. The first challenge occurred midway through the third quarter on a third-and-1 play from the San Diego 25-yard line. Munchak argued the call of an incomplete pass, saying that Washington had secured the ball before fumbling it.

“They really don’t give you (an explanation) other than in their opinion he didn’t possess the ball long enough from their view on that one,” Munchak said. “So, those calls are hard. We felt we had a shot at it from where we saw it. That was a big play at the time. Even the other one again, I thought about not doing it, but I thought again, a huge play, big gainer. Luckily, we didn’t need the timeouts at the end. We got the drive done. That’s the hard part of doing it, you don’t want to lose timeouts.”

After the first challenge was denied, Tennessee attempted a 43-yard field goal by Rob Bironas that missed wide right.

The second challenge occurred on a second-and-10 play from the Tennessee 38, with Munchak arguing that Washington had gotten both feet in bounds after grabbing a deep throw from Locker. The Titans kept that drive alive by converting third-and-10 with a pass from Locker to Delanie Walker and fourth-and-3 with a 17-yard pass to Washington.

Johnson rushed for 1 yard, and Locker rushed for 2 before fumbling while he was tackled. Rookie guard Chance Warmack, however, was quick to pounce on the football and keep Tennessee within range of a 37-yard field goal by Rob Bironas that made it 17-13 with just more than six minutes left in the game.

LOCKER SHOWS COMMAND, USES LEGS: Locker commanded the offense late in the second quarter with completions of 17 to Delanie Walker, 19 to Kendall Wright and 11 to Nate Washington before the two-minute warning. Locker came out of that break with a 16-yarder to Washington, then connected with Wright for 13 to move the ball to the San Diego 7-yard line.

The Titans showed what would likely be a pass formation on the next play, but Locker quickly pulled the ball down and scooted to his left. He received a helpful block from Chris Johnson and won the race to the end zone. He raised the ball before giving out high fives to fans in the first row.

Locker had five rushes for 68 yards, but the only play that was a designed run was his 7-yard touchdown.

“The other ones were just me seeing a lane and took it or not liking what I saw down field and had an opportunity to get out of the pocket and make some plays with my legs,” Locker said.

The Titans’ first scoring drive was an 11-play drive that covered 90 yards in 4:50 and ended with a 20-yard field goal by Rob Bironas.

After back-to-back gains of 6 and 5 by Chris Johnson, Locker scrambled for a career-long 39 yard rush to move the Titans across midfield for the first time. Johnson then delivered a 23-yard run—his longest of the early season—and Locker added a 10-yard scramble after eluding a blitzer as he rolled out. The drive, however, stalled at the San Diego 2.

MAX PROTECT: The Titans again avoided committing any turnovers for the third straight game and joined Kansas City as the fourth and fifth teams during the Super Bowl era to play their first three games without committing a turnover.

Verner recorded Tennessee’s fifth takeaway of the season when he recovered the ball to end San Diego’s attempt at a convoluted desperation play with seven laterals. The fumble recovery marked the third straight week in which Verner notched a takeaway after recording interceptions in each of the first two games.

CAREER DAY: Washington had a career-high 131 receiving yards on eight catches (16.4 yards per catch). He accounted for the longest play of the game, a 35-yarder, and caught a 17-yard pass on fourth-and-3 to set up the second field goal by Bironas and an 11-yarder on third-and-6 before Locker’s game-winning pass to Justin Hunter.

NOTES: Kenny Britt was shaken up on a play in the second quarter after landing awkwardly on his head. Britt said his head was fine, but his ribs were hurt on the hit. … Antonio Johnson and Akeem Ayers recorded sacks of Rivers. … The game marked the 15th home opener for the Titans at LP Field. The Titans are 9-6 in those games.

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