NASHVILLE – The Titans face the Los Angeles Chargers in the home opener on Sunday at Nissan Stadium.
Here’s a look at six things to watch in the contest:
One of the biggest talking points coming out of the opener centered on the workload, and snap count, for Titans running back Derrick Henry. The big back played just 30 snaps against the Saints, and he carried the ball just 15 times. Still, Henry managed to rack up 119 all-purpose yards (63 rush, 56 receiving). So, what will Henry’s workload look like on Sunday against the Chargers? Titans Coach Mike Vrabel said the plan is to keep utilizing Henry, who ranks No.1 in the NFL in both scrimmage yards and touches over the past five seasons (including 2023). But the Titans are also going to continue to use one of their newest weapons, running back Tyjae Spears.
Tannehill Bounce Back?
Titans quarterback Ryan Tannehill had one of his roughest days as a pro in the opener, when he threw three interceptions while posting a passer rating of just 28.8. The Titans need Tannehill to bounce back against the Chargers, who gave up 466 passing yards to the Dolphins and quarterback Tua Tagovailoa in Week One. Tannehill passed for 312 yards in his last home meeting against the Chargers, and he has two touchdown passes with a 120-plus rating in two of his last three meetings with the Chargers. Tannehill had eight touchdowns (7 pass, 1 rush) vs just two INTs with a 94.8 rating in six home starts last season. The Titans need to protect Tannehill against a formidable Los Angeles pass rush, and give him time to find his pass catchers.
Some question marks remain here for the Titans, so this category will have to be updated leading up to Sunday. That’s because veteran receiver DeAndre Hopkins hasn’t practiced all week because of the ankle injury he suffered in the opener. The Titans are scheduled to practice again Friday, and afterward injury designations will be made. Check back for an update here later. In Week One, Hopkins led the Titans with seven catches for 65 yards, on 13 targets. Tannehill was twice intercepted, however, when targeting Hopkins in Week 1. So these two need to keep building chemistry. Whether Hopkins plays or not, the Titans need to find a way to get Treylon Burks more involved after he caught just two passes for 18 yards while being targeted just three times in the opener. And, let’s not forget about tight end Chig Okonkwo.
Pass Rush vs Justin Herbert
Titans edge rusher Arden Key was credited with 11 quarterback pressures (NFL-high for Week 1) against the Saints while tallying 1.5 of the team’s four sacks. Meanwhile, defensive linemen Denico Autry (1.5 sacks) and Jeffery Simmons (1 sack) were disruptive as well. The Titans need to find a way to keep the pressure on Herbert, a big quarterback with weapons like receivers Keenan Allen and Mike Williams surrounding him. Herbert was sacked three times last week by the Dolphins. The Titans need to make him uncomfortable on Sunday, because Herbert has shown he’s capable of picking defenses apart if given time.
Slow Down Ekeler? Or Kelley?
This is another category that’s going to be worth watching leading up to Sunday, because Chargers running back Austin Ekeler is also on the Injury Report this week. Ekeler didn’t practice on Wednesday and Thursday because of the ankle injury he suffered against the Dolphins, which puts his status for Sunday in doubt. Ekeler, of course, is a huge part of what the Chargers do. In Week One, Ekeler ran for 117 yards and a touchdown while also catching four passes for 47 yards. Ekeler (53) is the only player aside from Henry (58) with 50-plus scrimmage TDs since 2019. He’s had a lot of success forcing missed tackles (132 since 2019, which is 12th among runners). If Ekeler doesn’t go, running back Joshua Kelley will step in after rushing for a career-high 91 yards and a touchdown last week.
End the Losing Streak?
The Titans are 0-1 this season, but Tennessee’s losing streak dates back to November 17 of last year, when the Titans beat the Packers on Thursday Night Football. The Titans have lost eight consecutive games dating back to last season, which ended with a seven-game losing streak. Sure, a lot of the players on this year’s team weren’t around for last year’s losses, but those who were remember. So do the fans. Simmons said this week it’s time to win a game, and it’s about that time for sure. The last thing the Titans want to do is dig a hole to start the season. Because historically, teams that start 0-2 have made the playoffs just 11.5% (31 of 270) of the time since 1990, and those teams have won their division just 5.9% (16 of 270) of the time. The Titans are three-point underdogs against the Chargers.