NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- If Vince Young, Chris Johnson or Kenny Britt aren’t able to make the sort of big play the Titans need Sunday in San Diego to beat the Chargers, maybe they can get it from Marc Mariani or a member of the special teams.
The Chargers have given up six return touchdowns this season -- two on Leon Washington kickoff returns, one on a Dexter McCluster punt return and one on a blocked punt return. They also yielded a safety on a blocked punt.
“They had some issues with some injuries,” Jeff Fisher said. “They’ve had several punts blocked, kickoff returns for touchdowns, they’ve given up six returns for touchdowns this year. That is hard to overcome; I think that explains their record, that in addition to the fact that they’re minus-seven in the takeaway-giveaway. So you take the giveaways and the returns and it’s hard to overcome. They’re saying to themselves, ‘If we protect the ball and [don’t] give up big plays, we’ll win ballgames.’”
Mariani’s sixth in the NFL in kick return average (28.0 yards) and 10th in the league in punt returns.
“You’re always looking for the weakness, always looking for the opportunity you can exploit and so we’re looking and some stuff, said the rookie from Montana. “But they’re professional athletes and they’ve had some bad bounces and some things break down. It’s nothing significant. They had those two in one game. It’s not like they are giving up every play.
“Their numbers actually look pretty good to be honest with you. We’re just going to prepare like we normally do, looking for a chance to make a play. It’s not going to change our preparation too much. We’ve got some new plays in the game plan, we’re just going to try to execute and make a big play, get some field position for the team.”
The Chargers certainly have missed special teams ace Kassim Osgood, who bolted to Jacksonville as a free agent. Norv Turner didn't want to single out that loss and said the return game troubles have been largely solved.
“The biggest thing we had in the first three or four games in our kicking game were we had some late training camp injuries of guys that had worked to prepare for different spots, weren’t available early and we put some young guys in there that weren’t ready,” Turner said. “That has been a bigger issue than anything else. I think we have improved getting some guys back and then we added some new players.”
Additional context: Only one other team in the league has given up as many as five return touchdowns (New Orleans) and 27 teams have given up two or less.