Tennessee Titans: Zach Brown

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- This week we are looking at five key moments that told the story of the Tennessee Titans' 2013 season.

Monday was Darius Reynaud’s safety on the opening kickoff return of the season.

Tuesday was Jake Locker’s touchdown pass to Justin Hunter to beat San Diego.

Wednesday was Chris Johnson’s fumble to start off the loss to Jacksonville.

Not in any order, here is the fourth installment:

Cutting back Zach Brown's playing time against Denver and Arizona.

Weakside linebacker Zach Brown hardly had a stellar season. He started strong, but like a lot of the defense, and particularly the linebackers, dropped off as the season went on.

But the way Mike Munchak and the defensive staff handled Brown in the team’s 13th and 14th games of the season made little sense.

In Denver, the Titans started rookie Zaviar Gooden in Brown's spot, and played Brown 38 snaps to Gooden’s 31. The rationale Munchak explained was that the Titans expected to be tired and needed to use more guys against Peyton Manning.

That left me wondering if Brown was already tired after warm-ups and needed to be replaced for the opening defensive snap of the game. It would seem the best way to keep defenders fresh against Manning and the Broncos would be to play your best defenders and have them make third-down stops. But the Titans went with the idea that a lesser player like Gooden, who had never played on defense or faced Manning before, would enhance their chances at stopping the high-powered Broncos.

A week later against Arizona, Brown started but was benched after six snaps.

Brown was confused about what unfolded, and said no coach had spoken to him about it, even though I was told by someone who would know that Brown had been talked to.

Then, on Dec. 22 in Jacksonville, Gooden was a healthy inactive. And in the season finale he played only on special teams, not at all on defense.

It was confusing all around and sent a message to the locker room, media and fans that the coaching staff didn’t really have a handle on what it was doing.

RTC: Five moments Titans would change

December, 19, 2013
Reading the coverage of the Tennessee Titans …

Six one-possession losses provided a lot of big moments this season. John Glennon of The Tennessean look at five moments that could have changed everything for the Titans.

To which I say: Some additional context -- four of the team’s five victories have been one possession wins.

Zach Brown is still puzzled by his benching, Tyler Wilson practiced with the Titans for the first time and Coty Sensabaugh went to IR writes Glennon.

The Titans have paid Kenny Britt more than $71,000 per catch this season, writes The Tennessean.

If the Titans lose their final two games, they’ll be the first team since the AFC South was created to go winless in its division games, writes David Boclair of the Nashville Post.

Looking ahead to the game in Jacksonville with Amie Well of the team’s web site. (Video.)
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Tennessee Titans starting weakside linebacker Zach Brown was pulled after six snaps last week, relegated to the bench.

On Monday, coach Mike Munchak said Brown has not been playing as well as the team needs him to.

“We had high expectations for Zach,” Munchak said. “I think we all do. Last year he came on strong the last part of the year with some big plays, some sacks, some interceptions, and things kind of fell his way there at the end of the season. We expected a lot from him, and we felt the last few weeks isn’t quite what we want to see.”

Brown said Wednesday that he’s received no explanation from coaches and has not sought one.

But I’m told by someone who would know that Brown was spoken to by a coach about his status.

It's odd he would say otherwise. Maybe Brown didn't understand or like what he was told.

“I don’t know what’s enough, I mean, the production speaks for itself," Brown said. "I’m in my right fits, I be in my right gaps … I just do what they ask me. I mean sometime you have to be a football player and go get the ball, you can’t always be a robot.”

Brown disagrees with the assessment he isn’t playing very well.

If he wasn’t, he said, he wouldn’t be second on the team with 104 tackles.

The 26-yard catch by Arizona’s Andre Ellington on the Cardinals' second series appeared to be the play that got Brown pulled. He said it was against a zone and in a zone that was not his responsibility. According to Brown, Ellington found a honey hole between a safety and a corner and Brown was smart enough to turn his hips and race to help. He made the tackle.

Brown said he was not with the first-team defense in practice Wednesday and presumes he’s not starting in the final two games. He spoke of “still auditioning for 31 teams.”

A second-round pick in his second year isn’t going anywhere soon.

He’ll have to patch things up with this staff or the next.

RTC: Zach Brown was benched

December, 16, 2013
Reading the coverage of the Tennessee Titans…

David Climer of The Tennessean pairs up what Tommy Smith said before the game and what the Titans did during the game.

Mike Munchak: “It just seems like we’ve been finding a different way to lose games that we’ve got a great chance of winning. The guys fought. They believed we would win this game. But we haven’t been able to come back and finish it. It’s unfortunate.” Jim Wyatt’s game story from The Tennessean.

The Titans needed one key stop, and has been the case recently, they simply couldn’t find it, says John Glennon of The Tennessean.

Linebacker Zach Brown got pulled out of the defense early, says Glennon.

To which I say: Munchak didn’t seem to have much of a handle on why his defensive coaches went with Zaviar Gooden over Brown.

The Titans were eliminated from playoff contention. Writes David Boclair of the Nashville Post: "Tennessee is one of eight of NFL teams that have failed to earn at least one postseason berth since 2008. That group includes such downtrodden organizations as the Cleveland Browns, Oakland Raiders, Jacksonville Jaguars and St. Louis Rams. Two of those eight, Carolina and Miami, currently are in position to make the playoff field this season."

The 37-34 OT loss to Arizona is fourth on the list of most points scored in a Titans' loss since the team changed its name, says Boclair.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- The Tennessee Titans linebackers haven't done much to distinguish themselves as Tennessee has lost seven of its last nine games.

Sunday in Denver, coaches deployed five different linebackers on defense, looking to rookie Zaviar Gooden and veteran Colin McCarthy in addition to starters Moise Fokou, Zach Brown and Akeem Ayers.

The snap totals:
Fokou, 65 of 95
Brown, 38
Ayers, 33
Gooden, 31
McCarthy, 30

Here's Munchak's explanation at his Monday news conference:

“It was more about the reps. We didn't expect (95) reps, but we thought there would be a lot… on the field you can't substitute. If they're not substituting their guys, you're not substituting yours. You're going to have guys stuck out there for long periods of time, so we wanted all four linebackers (beyond Fokou) being comfortable playing so we could rest guys so that they couldn't take advantage of us maybe being tired. We did the same thing with the D-line. It had nothing to do with how the guys were playing. It was more about the amount of reps we knew they were probably going to have to play.”

A defensive line rotation is common. Some linemen are more run stoppers and some are more pass-rushers.

It's far less common to shuffle linebackers to the degree the Titans did.

Munchak said the Titans played five different guys at least 32 percent of the time because they wanted a fresh group and anticipated defending a lot of snaps.

Isn't the best formula for minimizing the snaps for Peyton Manning and the Broncos' offense to field your best players and ask them to make third down stops or force turnovers?

I think so. Giving Gooden his first significant defensive snaps against Peyton Manning seems foolhardy. But Fokou, Brown and Ayers haven't done enough this season to make it ridiculous to rotate McCarthy and Gooden into the game.

Brown wondered about the rotation, too.

"I'm kind of wondering myself," Brown told John Glennon of The Tennessean. "You've got to keep your best players and playmakers on the field. That's what you do when you play defense. You look at all the good defenses right now. They keep their best players on the field."

The league's statisticians credited Fokou with eight tackles, Brown with five (one for a loss), McCarthy with four, Gooden with two and Ayers with none.

Based on that production, maybe minimizing Ayers' playing time actually does enhance the Titans' chances of minimizing an opponent's snaps.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- If defensive coordinator Jerry Gray wants to throw the St. Louis Rams off the Tennessee Titans' tracks, he can come up with something better than what he tried Thursday.

With free safety Michael Griffin missing a second day of practice with a right quad injury, the Titans might need to turn to an alterative at free safety.

The logical, obvious choice is George Wilson.

But Gray said in his weekly media session that the Titans could move Alterraun Verner from cornerback to safety or turn to Corey Lynch, who was just signed at the start of the week.

“If it’s going to help us win, we’ll move him,” Gray said of Verner.

Taking Verner, who’s having a stellar season as cornerback, and moving him to a spot he played some during the summer, then replacing him at cornerback, would amount to coaching malpractice.

Wilson said he’s taken a lot of the practice reps with Griffin out, and has studied the film from a free-safety angle.

"It’s my job to be ready regardless of what the situation is," said Wilson who has been spending a lot of time in sub-packages covering the tight end.

Griffin said he ran, backpedaled some, did some drills for defensive backs, and broke from different angles. He thinks it’ll come down to how he does in an early sessions with coaches and trainers on Sunday in St. Louis.

If Griffin is out and Wilson is in the base defense, the Titans will change things up as they try to cover Rams tight end Jared Cook.

Wilson could still get a share of time with Cook, and weakside linebacker Zach Brown could be on the former Titan, too.

Brown said if he’s covering Cook, he needs to get his hands on him -- at the line of scrimmage and when the ball arrives.

“He’s real fast,” Brown said. “He’s good in and out of his breaks. ... If you can touch him, you can get the ball out. For me, I’ve just got to get my hands on him, because he’s not that strong or that physical. He’s not as big as a lot of other tight ends.”

Cook might play small, but let the record show he’s 6-foot-5 and 254-pounds.

Bye-week report: The Titans' defense

October, 25, 2013
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- In the second of two bye week reports, we review the good and the bad of the defense through seven games:

MVP: Cornerback Alterraun Verner. Even as the interception rate has slowed, he’s continued to make plays. He’s got four picks and regularly breaks up plays and kills momentum for offenses and quarterbacks. This is a defense built around having a bunch of good guys and some guys who are good at a couple things and are put in good situations to succeed. It lacks a real star. But Verner has been really good.

[+] EnlargeAlterraun Verner
AP Photo/Don WrightCornerback Alterraun Verner has been a steady playmaker for the Titans this season.
Most disappointing: Sammie Hill’s ankle. The big defensive tackle hurt his right ankle early in the Titans’ second game, missed three after that and didn’t play a whole lot in Seattle or against San Francisco. The Titans have been a solid run-stopping team even without Hill involved. And maybe he’s someone who can make things even better as he feels better and increases the interior depth.

Biggest surprise: Defensive end Ropati Pitoitua. The giant defensive end was brought in as an edge-setting run stopper. He’s been good at that job, but he’s done a lot more. He’s a disruptive pass-rusher as well, and is tied for the team lead with four sacks. He symbolizes the success the Titans have had with some lesser profile veteran additions.

Style points: The Titans are varying their fronts and blitzing more and excelling at the man-to-man coverage they wanted to employ more of this season. Senior assistant/defense Gregg Williams has been a big influence in those areas, and the changes on defense have all helped produce better results.

Not seeing it: The Titans talked a lot about what a crucial piece Akeem Ayers would be as the strong-side linebacker and a nickel defensive end. He’s been fine, but he’s not been the breakout, standout player I was expecting. And for how much nickel and dime they are playing and for the quality play they are getting from other options at end, he’s not playing as much as I expected he would.

AWOL: Defensive end Kamerion Wimbley. The Titans keep saying Wimbley’s lack of playing time is about packages. But if they really liked his ability to rush the passer, he’d be getting more chances to rush the passer. He’s a good guy and a pro, but he doesn’t fit in what they want to do now. They grabbed him as a free agent when he was cut by Oakland in 2011 after the failed pursuit of Peyton Manning slowed them down and meant they missed out on other options, like Mario Williams. Wimbley’s too expensive to have around beyond this season.

I applaud: The packaging. The nickel and dime sets haven’t only featured quality work from Coty Sensabaugh and George Wilson in the defensive backfield. The pieces up front change as well. A guy like Karl Klug is getting maximum chances to work in advantageous roles. There are a lot of situations where guys are being used to their strengths and using them that way is keeping most people fresh in the process.

Biggest beef: Zach Brown’s playing time. When healthy, Moise Fokou is the every-down linebacker. The Titans like the way Fokou gets the defense lined up. But, for a time, at least, offenses were faring better in third-and-long than in third-and-short against Tennessee. Part of the reason for that could be that they are playing a run-stopping linebacker ahead of Brown, a more explosive player who’s better in pass coverage. I have a hard time watching him leave the field.

Looking forward to: Seeing how this defense deals with two games against Andrew Luck and the Colts and two games against a Jacksonville offense that has the league’s worst rushing offense.

Get well: The linebackers have been a mess health-wise, but only Fokou’s knee issue has cost them a game for a starter. They need healthy backups and special teamers and are optimistic that special teams captain Patrick Bailey and rookie Zaviar Gooden will be ready to return to action after the bye.

Zach Brown's big chance slipped away

October, 13, 2013
videoSEATTLE -- The ball was in Zach Brown's hands, with an open field ahead of him.

He looked at all the green, and the ball slid up and off of those hands and right back to Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson. Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch, who was stripped of the ball by Moise Fokou, was off the hook.

Instead of a 91-yard fumble recovery and a 17-10 Titans lead, Tennessee watched the Seahawks gather themselves and kick a field goal for a 13-10 advantage en route to a 20-13 decision.

“I looked up,” Brown said with a grimace. “I was thinking about scoring before I scooped the ball. It could have been a big difference in the game.

"Touchdown for sure. I mean, I’m not letting Russell Wilson tackle me, I wouldn’t hear the end of it from my teammates. I probably would have slowed down, because I had two guys right behind me. I would have just let them block. I think big [Antonio] Mook Johnson was going for the quarterback right then.”

It’s the sort of play the Titans can’t afford to let slip away and the sort of play that will leave them sleepless.

“We’re putting ourselves in situations where you have to be perfect,” coach Mike Munchak said, “and you can’t make one mistake.”

It’s hard to put much blame on the Titans defense, though that one mistake amounted to a 10-point swing.

They held Seattle to 20 points and key defenders on special teams produced Tennessee’s lone touchdown, a 77-yard fumble return by Jason McCourty after he and Michael Griffin forced a fumble by substitute holder Chris Maragos.

“The defense was phenomenal, they did a great job.” offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains said. “They played well enough to win.”

Rapid Reaction: Tennessee Titans

October, 13, 2013

SEATTLE -- A few thoughts on the Tennessee Titans20-13 loss to the Seattle Seahawks at CenturyLink Field.

What it means: The Titans can go on the road to a tough environment and hang with a good team. But they couldn’t pull out a win despite plenty of opportunity. Their best opportunity might have been on a Marshawn Lynch fourth-quarter fumble. Zach Brown was in position to scoop and score, and the ball slid off his hands back to quarterback Russell Wilson. The Titans have lost two in a row to fall to 3-3.

Stock watch: Quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick threw two interceptions and could have easily given away a third. He and the Titans never got into any sustained offensive rhythm. Fitzpatrick fumbled and recovered a snap and had a ball slip out of his hand later. The Titans were fortunate in that they recovered both.

Personnel question: On a crucial third-and-1 from near midfield with the score tied at 10, the Titans gave the ball to Darius Reynaud, who gained nothing. Chris Johnson had just been hurt, Jackie Battle was out of the game with a neck injury and Shonn Greene, still recovering from knee surgery, was inactive. Running Reynaud isn’t a viable option, no matter how much confidence the Titans have in their run game. On fourth down, they took a delay and then punted.

Invisible: Kenny Britt didn’t get on the field until late in the fourth quarter. He caught a 7-yard pass for a first down and returned to the bench. Applause to the Titans for doing what was needed. Still, without him, they dropped a couple passes that hurt.

What’s next: The Titans face another NFC West foe as the San Francisco 49ers visit LP Field.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Seven players have worked as the Titans' primary starting middle linebacker since the team moved to Tennessee in 1997.

Only Randall Godfrey rated as an every-down player by design.

[+] EnlargeDanny Woodhead, Moise Fokou
Jim Brown/USA TODAY SportsThe Titans are a top-10 defense with Moise Fokou (53) as an every-down linebacker.
Other middle linebackers got a chance to play as part of the nickel package, but Stephen Tulloch and Colin McCarthy were there mostly because the other two linebackers weren't good enough or experienced enough.

The 2013 Titans are not only using middle linebacker Moise Fokou as a back in nickel, he's the only linebacker on the field in dime -- a package they've played a great deal.

Fokou's been mostly solid for the Titans. But he's not the dynamic linebacker Zach Brown is, so I have been a bit surprised.

I'm a big proponent of the best players being on the field the most, but I'm also a big proponent of being a top-10 defense, and the Titans are ninth through five games with Fokou as an every-down player.

"We have found no reason to take Moise off the field," linebackers coach Chet Parlavecchio said. "It's been always a traditional [football] thing, the 'Mike' linebacker runs the show. We have a situation here where our Mike is very comfortable. It's not just about him, it's about getting everybody else lined up. It's not just about his production, it's about allowing 10 other guys to produce. Because they are used to Moise -- the way he communicates defense adjustments, the way he recognizes formation -- there is no reason to take that off the field.

"Ten other guys are depending on him identifying the things necessary for us to get lined up. There is just no reason to do it. It's not just Moise versus Zach. Since Moise has run this thing since Day 1, he's the most comfortable. He understands what everybody needs to hear and I think the results speak for themselves."

It's understandable reasoning, for sure.

The Titans are playing excellent third-down defense, allowing conversions just 28.1 percent of the time.

But according to John Parolin of ESPN Stats & Info, Tennessee's opponents are converting 31.6 percent on third-and-6 or more and 23.1 percent on third-and-5 or less.

That's backwards. Third-and-long should be tougher to convert than third-and-short. Perhaps part of the reason for that is their dime linebacker isn't their best linebacker against the pass.

It's not the time for a change. But I do allow for the possibility that things could be even better with Brown, who is a better pass defender than Fokou and should also be adept at lining people up as well.

"It's frustrating, it's frustrating for anybody to go to the sideline," Brown said. "But you've just got to do what you've got to do and sacrifice for the team and the greater good to win the game. You might not like it, but you can't do nothing about it.

"I know what to do, if they asked me to do it, I could do it. But I haven't been called upon yet. So I'm just playing my role."

Fokou has played 97.6 percent of the Titans' defensive plays -- all but eight. Brown has played 75 percent. Strongside linebacker Akeem Ayers, who also plays as a rush end, has played just 58.7 percent.

Brown came on strong late in his rookie year and has made the second-year leap coaches always hope for from good players.

"It's a big leap, I know where to be, I know where to go," he said. "I'm not scared to take chances now. Sometimes you've got to gamble to win, if you don't take chances you're just playing the book and you can't be a robot out there.

Fokou said as he joined the Titans and won the middle linebacker in the preseason, when McCarthy was hurt most of the time, that he was anticipating this workload.

"I'm a football player, I want to be on the field every down, whenever," he said. "I worked hard for it and I saw a light at the end of the tunnel and, yeah, I expected it, you know?"
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- The Kansas City Chiefs are fueled by short passes.

Their average gain on a completion is 10.9 yards and quarterback Alex Smith's average yards per attempt is at 6.6. But a lot of those yards are after the catch, not before it.

[+] EnlargeJamaal Charles
AP Photo/Gerald HerbertJamaal Charles has 23 catches for the Chiefs, by far the team's highest total.
Their leading receiver is also their leading rusher, running back Jamaal Charles. His 23 catches are 10 more than any other member of the team.

Can the Chiefs short pass the Tennessee Titans to death?

“They’ve shown they’re very patient and they will do that with the running back,” Titans coach Mike Munchak said. “In the Eagles game, he must have caught a dozen passes, and I think all of them were 3-, 4-, 5-yard passes …

“Guys who are responsible for him have to keep their eyes on him, not get caught up in the run game, try to contain him that way, don’t let him get to the sideline where he can really hurt you with his speed. [There will] be quite a few guys in different coverages having responsibility for him.”

Weakside linebacker Zach Brown figures to be prominent in that, and doesn’t sound at all fearful of a short-passing offense.

“We’ve got to play good underneath zone and make them make mistakes,” he said. “You’re not going to beat somebody if you keep dinking the ball. We’ve just got to make sure we make plays on the ball when they catch it, get the ball out when they catch it, dislodge them from the ball.

“The West Coast Offense, getting them off rhythm it disrupts the whole thing.”

Safety George Wilson said anything the Titans can do to take Smith away from that first short read that will make him hold the ball and go to his second or third progression will be a key part of the defensive effort.

I asked Brown if training camp work against Chris Johnson helps the Titans as they prepare to try to stop Charles.

“Charles is a good back, he’s fast, but everybody is like, ‘He’s just like Chris,’” Brown said. “He’s similar to Chris in some ways, but he’s more agile that Chris. Chris is a good runner, Chris can hit it. Jamaal Charles can hit it. But each one of them has different things the other one don’t have.

Charles has some bad habits the Titans can take advantage of, according to Brown.

“For some reason he’ll be juking somebody and he’ll switch the ball (from one hand to the other) at the same time,” Brown said. “That’s not something you see from a running back. A running back, once he has it in his hand, they’re going to go. He’s making a move and he’ll switch, we’ve just got to get the ball away from him.”

Titans snap report: Week 4

September, 30, 2013
A look at who played how much for the Titans in the big win over the Jets on Sunday:

Offense, 67 snaps

LT Michael Roos, 67
LG Andy Levitre, 67
C Rob Turner, 67
RG Chance Warmack, 67
RT David Stewart T, 67
WR Nate Washington, 56
WR Kendall Wright, 50
TE Delanie Walker, 46
RB Chris Johnson, 45
QB Jake Locker, 44
TE Craig Stevens, 40
WR Damian Williams, 31
QB Ryan Fitzpatrick, 23
RB Jackie Battle, 22
FB Collin Mooney, 21
WR Justin Hunter, 14
TE Taylor Thompson, 8
WR Michael Preston, 2

The absence of Kenny Britt (rib injury) led to more work for Wright and Williams. Battle got nearly a third of the running back snaps as Johnson simply wasn’t a good matchup against the Jets stout front.

Defense, 65 snaps

FS Michael Griffin, 65
SS Bernard Pollard, 65
CB Jason McCourty, 65
MLB Moise Fokou, 65
CB Alterraun Verner, 58
LB Zach Brown, 52
DE Derrick Morgan, 50
DT Jurrell Casey, 47
CB Coty Sensabaugh, 45
LB Akeem Ayers, 44
DT Mike Martin, 28
DE Kamerion Wimbley, 25
SS George Wilson, 22
DT Antonio Johnson, 22
DE Karl Klug, 22
DE Ropati Pitoitua, 22
DE Keyunta Dawson, 12
CB Tommie Campbell, 6

The Titans continue to do a nice job mixing up the defensive line and keeping people pretty fresh. I’m surprised Fokou is the linebacker who is playing the most when Brown is so effective.

Titans snap report: Week 3

September, 23, 2013
A look at the snap report from the NFL showing how much each member of the Tennessee Titans played in the win over the San Diego Chargers at LP Field.

Offense, 69 snaps

LT Michael Roos, 69
LG Andy Levitre, 69
C Rob Turner, 69
RG Chance Warmack, 69
RT David Stewart, 69
QB Jake Locker, 69
RB Chris Johnson, 62
WR Nate Washington, 59
TE Delanie Walker, 54
WR Kendall Wright, 45
WR Kenny Britt, 38
WR Damian Williams, 25
TE Craig Stevens, 23
WR Justin Hunter, 10
FB Collin Mooney, 9
TE Taylor Thompson, 8
RB Jackie Battle, 8
WR Michael Preston, 4

It’s good to see a higher number for Wright as the Titans went three-wide more often. We see that as well in lower numbers for second tight end Stevens and near invisibility for third tight end Thompson.

Defense, 59 snaps

CB Jason McCourty, 59
SS Bernard Pollard, 59
CB Alterraun Verner, 57
DT Jurrell Casey, 57
FS Michael Griffin, 56
LB Moise Fokou, 51
DE Derrick Morgan, 50
DE Ropati Pitoitua, 41
DT Antonio Johnson, 37
CB Coty Sensabaugh, 36
S George Wilson, 35
LB Akeem Ayers, 34
LB Zach Brown, 32
DT Mike Martin, 13
DE Keyunta Dawson, 9
DE Karl Klug, 9
LB Colin McCarthy, 7
DE Kamerion Wimbley, 6

McCarthy got his first defensive snaps of the season and was active while Fokou was hurt. Wimbley is making a base salary of $4 million this year and got $13.5 million guaranteed as part of his five year deal signed in 2012. He’s a nickel rush rotation guy and the Titans didn’t use their nickel rush package much in this game. Brown is too good to only play 54 percent of the snaps. They got trapped with him on the sideline during one series when the Chargers were working especially fast.
Rivers/LockerUSA TODAY SportsJake Locker, right, will try to keep up with Philip Rivers and the Chargers, who have scored 61 points through two games.
The San Diego Chargers are the Tennessee Titans' white whale.

The teams don’t play that frequently -- just nine times since 1993, including a wild-card playoff matchup in January 2008. The franchises have undergone all sorts of changes during that span, but one thing has remained consistent when they meet: The Chargers always win.

Bill Williamson, why do you think that is, and what are the odds it continues?

Bill Williamson: I don’t see the Chargers' history with the Titans being a factor. I know in Nashville the word "Chargers" makes fans cringe because of the history. Both teams are rebuilding and trending upward. These are two similar teams, and they will both be in the AFC conversation in the coming years.

The Titans made a lot of changes. This isn’t the team the Chargers beat 38-10 last September. What’s the biggest difference?

Paul Kuharsky: The central part of the offseason revamp was the offensive line. The Titans have three new starters on the interior with left guard Andy Levitre, center Rob Turner and right guard Chance Warmack. Turner has been shaky, however, and Warmack is a rookie who is going to take some lumps when he’s across from someone like J.J. Watt. The group hasn’t jelled yet, but the run-blocking has been pretty good.

We've seen the good Philip Rivers and the bad Philip Rivers over the years. With the new regime in place, what is your feeling on who he will be now?

Williamson: I might be the wrong person to ask, Paul. I’ve always been high on Rivers. Yes, his play sank the past two seasons and he committed 47 turnovers during that span. But it wasn’t all on him. The previous regime in San Diego let go of a lot of skill-position talent, and the offensive line was decimated by injuries. Rivers didn’t have much help. He was pressing as a result. So far under head coach Mike McCoy, offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt and quarterback coach Frank Reich, Rivers has looked re-energized. He has looked relaxed and confident over the first two weeks. He has shown that he is still a high-level player. Stopping him is the main challenge for the Titans.

How’s Jake Locker coming along?

Kuharsky: He made a bad throw on a crucial third-and-1 late in regulation in the loss to the Texans. The Titans have hardly turned him loose so far. But since the start of camp, he’s shown steady progress. I’m not a complete believer by any means, but I think he has a chance and I didn’t always feel that way. We still haven’t seen some aspects of the offense that should be featured for him. Maybe this week he’ll run around more and we’ll see more boots and rollouts.

I’m curious about one of the guys who will be chasing Locker. The Titans have seen a great deal of Dwight Freeney over the years. How has he fit in the defensive scheme there?

Williamson: An old foe, indeed. Freeney is in a tough spot. He was signed (and paid well) to be the Chargers’ primary edge pass-rusher after 2012 first-round pick Melvin Ingram blew out his knee in May. But at 33, Freeney is best suited as a rotational player. He has half a sack this season. He has been active and will give his best effort, but he needs help. It would be a stretch to think he can still be a premier player. But he knows the Titans, and I’m sure he will be motivated to perform well Sunday.

What can Rivers and the Chargers' offensive line expect from the Titans’ pass rush?

Kuharsky: The best guys so far haven’t been the ends. Derrick Morgan, Akeem Ayers and Kamerion Wimbley should key the rush. Ayers moves from stongside linebacker to end on rush downs but has been limited by a bad ankle. Tackle Jurrell Casey and weakside linebacker Zach Brown have been the best rushers so far. The fronts are less predictable and the blitzes more frequent. That’s the influence of defensive assistant Gregg Williams. This defense is far better than I expected.

RTC: Run-heavy Titans are an exception

September, 15, 2013
HOUSTON -- Reading the coverage of the Tennessee Titans ...

Houston’s tight ends get lost in the Texans' run game, and have a tendency to slip free against the Titans and make plays, says John Glennon of The Tennessean. Zach Brown says Owen Daniels and Garrett Graham are not very fast and he should be able to steer them.

To which I say: Brown talked very confidently about covering the tight ends to me as well. He’s set an expectation that things will be better for a team that’s struggled against tight ends during Mike Munchak’s time as head coach.

While teams gear up to stop elaborate passing attacks, the Titans are trying to go against the grain as a run-heavy offense, says Glennon.

How well the Titans adjust to the inevitable -- a defense taking away the run and forcing the game onto Jake Locker -- will tell the story of their season, says David Climer of The Tennessean.

The Titans need to rely on technique and stay on their feet against the Texans' cut blocking, says Glennon.

Considering the problems the Texans pose, with Tom Gower of Total Titans.