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Titans vs. Chargers preview: 5 questions with Bolts from the Blue

Heading behind enemy lines to get intel on the Titans week 2 opponent.

NFL: Preseason-Los Angeles Chargers at San Francisco 49ers Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports

Kyle DeDiminicantanio of Bolts from the Blue was nice enough to answer five questions about his Los Angeles Chargers heading into Sunday’s game with the Tennessee Titans. It is always good to get info on the opposing team from someone who really knows about them. Kyle is that guy for the Chargers.

1. How do Chargers’ fans feel about Brandon Staley as a head coach?

I think the most optimistic fans are at least a little frustrated at the moment, and there are a decent amount of fans that are completely ready to move on. Since Staley arrived in 2021, the team has invested heavily in the defense, ranking 6th in defensive cap spending in 2021, 4th in 2022, and 1st in 2023 (source: Spotrac). We’ve ranked 29th, 21st, currently sit at 30th in defensive scoring. The Chargers were over the cap going into the new league year, and instead of trading or releasing some of their bigger contracts, they restructured Mike Williams, Keenan Allen, Joey Bosa, and Khalil Mack. They are heavily over the cap next year already, and will likely have to cut or trade two of these stars just to get to cap compliance before the new league year starts. They heavily leveraged our next season’s cap health, and potentially future seasons, to have one more go with this core. As such, this is as talented the Chargers will be before an inevitable soft rebuild or “reload” has to occur. If Staley can’t drive this team deep into the playoffs, and significantly turn this defense around, I’d be surprised if he retained his job. If the offense is top-10 in scoring and his defense remains below average for a third year in a row, the team has to consider handing the keys to Kellen Moore.

2. Derrick Henry went for 104 when these two teams met last season. How will they try to keep him from going over 100 yards this year?

We’ll see the Chargers in plenty of five-man fronts in this game. When Staley needs to prioritize stopping the run, he’ll often field three down lineman - one in “0” technique and two in “4i,” to form what’s been dubbed his “tite front.” Joey Bosa and Khalil Mack will line up wide on the edges, and will rarely drop into coverage. He typically fields an extra defensive back over conventional norms - such as playing in nickel when the offense is in a 21-personnel set - because he strongly believes in prioritizing his pass defense. These formations are where you typically see the Chargers get sliced and diced in the run game, as the box is very light and offensive lineman easily double-team our interior lineman before moving up to the second level. You’ll also see a lot of movement from the safeties. Staley will likely run a nickel with Derwin James playing in the box, or even on the edge, to create some mismatches and chaos. JT Woods is emerging as a fairly reliable free safety that when paired with Alohi Gilman can free up James to be a truly positionless player.

3. How concerned are you about the pass defense after giving up over 400 yards to Tua in week 1? How will they fix it this week?

Mike McDaniel is quite an offensive mastermind. I broke down some tape here covering how I believe McDaniel found a hole in our scheme and exploited it on the first play of the game, and then outwitted Staley in a game of corrections and adjustments. One interesting nugget is Eric Kendricks wears the green dot on defense and is currently doubtful for Sunday’s game. Staley often runs a complex scheme where the weak side of his defense is in man coverage with no deep support, and the strong side plays a match-quarters zone. Kendricks is responsible for calling out which side is strong and weak, and to alert everyone when a motion has switched the balance from one side to the other, thus flipping the responsibilities of the defensive backs. If Kendricks can’t go, rookie Daiyan Henley could be pushed into a starting role, and Kenneth Murray could have the green dot. Murray has struggled heavily in Staley’s scheme, and burdening him with extra responsibilities is a nightmare scenario for Chargers fans.

Given all of this, I expect Staley to simplify the defensive scheme this week, and challenge Tannehill to beat him through the air.

4. What rookies for the Chargers will make an impact on this game?

Tuli Tuipulotu has been impressive in the limited action we’ve seen from him so far, and I’d expect a healthy snap count out of him this week. He’s an EDGE out of USC that will likely be taking the place of Khalil Mack or Joey Bosa next year, as cap constraints are going to force the Chargers to move on from some of their expensive veteran contracts. He’s showing a knack for shedding blockers in the run game, although he had a problem with missing tackles in college. We’d love to see him involved on Sunday, especially if it involved NASCAR packages that pair Bosa and Mack on the same side of the ball.

Darius Davis is a return specialist the Chargers drafted in the fourth round, but the guy is fast, we’re hoping to see him get some additional opportunities so Herbert can really let a couple rip. He’s a sneaky guy that’s bound to break out once or twice this season, as he did in the College Football Playoff National Championship last year.

5. The Chargers are 3-point favorites at DraftKings. Are you putting your money on the Chargers here?

Last Sunday was an absolute kick in the shins. Our defense is supposed to be designed to prevent explosive plays, yet we gave up 20. The teams that gave up the next-highest amount of explosive plays were the Bengals and the Steelers, who gave up 12 each. I’m going to have a real hard time picking a winner for this game. My gut tells me the Chargers should win, as their roster is absolutely loaded. But the Chargers have a history of underperforming with stellar rosters in place, and after last week’s massacre, this is a game could go either way. I would actually avoid the game lines, and put action on Joshua Kelley’s rushing lines. He’s a very talented back that hasn’t broken out yet, so the books are a little behind on him, and Kellen Moore’s rushing scheme seems to be a huge improvement over Joe Lombardi’s. With news of Autsin Ekeler’s hamstring issues, I like Kelley rushing for over 75 yards, currently paying +210 at DraftKings.

Be sure and head over to BFTB to see Kyle’s questions with my answers.