Why the heck would the San Diegans care about the Tennessee Titans, other than to enjoy seeing them lose?
Back in the day, Bolts fans loathed the Titans. Chargers stars Shawne Merriman and Rodney Harrison accused Titans players of dirty hits. Bolts fans raging, crying foul play.
In the Titans’ previous iteration, as the Houston Oilers, they intercepted five Dan Fouts passes to ground the Air Coryell Chargers.
How demoralizing was that afternoon in Mission Valley for tens of thousands San Diegans who wore gold T-shirts and waved “Charger Power” placards?
Four-plus decades later, it still stands as the worst playoff defeat not just for the Chargers franchise, but for any San Diego sports team.
Titans head coach Mike Vrabel?
With a Super Bowl berth on the line, I have kicked Chargers fans in the shins. Vrabel’s infamous leg whip of Philip Rivers in the 2007 AFC Championship Game led to Rivers throwing an interception, which contributed to San Diego falling.
Jeff Triplette, the nearby official, didn’t flag Vrabel.
So, again: Why watch the Titans?
It can’t hurt to know that their current starter at right tackle, David Quessenberry, grew up in Carlsbad and played for the La Costa Canyon High Mavericks. Or that folks at La Costa Canyon say the whole Q-family is popular in Carlsbad.
Vrabel’s quarterbacks coach, Pat O’Hara, was a backup for the first Boss Ross Chargers team and a few years later began his coaching career in San Diego, under the late Bennie Edens of Point Loma High.
Is this better: Big, fast, smooth Derrick Henry — the Titans’ All-Pro running back — does such a fine imitation of former Chargers great Chuck Muncie that Fouts and Hank Bauer, the former Air Coryell special teams star, say they watch Henry whenever they can.
I’m with Fouts and Bauer.
Henry is a marvel, making Titans telecasts worth the time. Heck, Henry makes the NFL more interesting.
In a league where passing the football is decidedly the best way to proceed, “King Henry” has managed to keep the sport grounded by running for 124 yards per game and 10 touchdowns for the relevant Titans.
Looking not unlike Jim Brown, he’ll send a defender flying with a stiff arm, or cause other grown men to take cover.
Muncie was plagued by drug addiction, leaving former teammates in awe of what he was able to accomplish on NFL fields. Henry is like a clean-living Muncie. He’s far more consistent, far more durable.
If he wasn’t so capable — a 6-foot-3, 247-pound sledgehammer who can run away from defenders who are 10, 20, 40 pounds lighter — the whole team would feel more strain. He’s not a “fungible” running back.
Vrabel chose to build all four of his Titans offenses around him, and has seen Henry lead him to a .618 win rate in 3 1/2 seasons. Co-president with Vrabel of the Henry fan club is quarterback Ryan Tannehill, who has become a top-15 QB since the Titans got him in a pennies-on-the-dollar trade with Miami.
Henry changes the texture of most games, opening up passing lanes for Tannehill and looming as both a potential home run hitter and closer.
With Tannehill providing Henry complementary play-action passing that Marcus Mariota, the previous starter, hadn’t been able to provide, Tennessee reached the 2019 AFC title game.
It was impressive stuff. Winning street fights at New England and Baltimore, Henry and Co. showed rare toughness. But it seemed that after the Chiefs pulled away in the Super Bowl qualifier, not only were the merits of passing the football re-affirmed, Henry seemed headed to increasingly severe tests.
Last year’s Tennessee defense slid into ineptitude, while a talent drain began to weaken the blocking unit. Though Henry led the team to the playoffs, the Ravens bottled him up and won easily.
Last offseason, the Falcons hired Titans play-caller Arthur Smith, who was credited with developing Henry and Tannehill. The past few months, injuries have hammered the Titans, who were 2-2 after a shocking overtime loss to the Jets.
But look at what Henry and Co. have pulled off lately.
They routed the favored Kansas City Chiefs on Sunday, 27-3, just six days after they edged the favored Buffalo Bills, 34-31.
How long can Henry keep this up?
The Titans (5-2) have fed him the most handoffs in the NFL in each of the past two seasons. This year, more of the same: Henry, 27, is first in rush attempts — some 70 carries more than runner-up Joe Mixon of the rising Bengals (5-2).
You’d think he’d get knocked onto the injured list, joining star running backs Nick Chubb (Browns), Saquon Barkley (Giants), Rams starter Cam Akers and the Ravens’ top-4 running backs.
Because he takes so many handoffs and isn’t particularly elusive before his long legs get up to speed, defenders get to tee off on Henry in every game.
Few running backs would’ve weathered the recent blow Bills linebacker Tremaine Edmonds dealt Henry, who was bent backward by the 253-pounder’s mauling shot as another defender immobilized his legs.
This week the speedy Colts (3-4) will take aim at Henry in an AFC South showdown that Colts All-Pro linebacker Darius Leonard no doubt views as a midseason Super Bowl. The Colts are healthier than when Henry visited last November and went for 178 rushing yards and three touchdowns.
Assisted by Quessenberry, a good run blocker who benefits from Tennessee avoiding third-and-long, Henry will try to bolster Tennessee’s bid for the top seed that carries the AFC’s only first-round bye.
- At 35, it’s amazing Sean McVay has planted an NFL coaching tree, much less one with three head coaches who are all succeeding. The Bengals (5-2) overwhelmed the Ravens in Baltimore and are averaging 27 points (7th) under Zac Taylor; the Packers (6-1) have an 82-percent win rate (32-7) in 2 1/2 years under Matt LaFleur, who with Taylor was an offensive aid under McVay. Team Spanos is off to a 4-2 start under McVay’s 2020 D-coordinator, Brandon Staley. Meanwhile, McVay boasts a .690 win rate in 71 games. His Rams are 6-1.
- While the Bucs (6-1) and Cardinals (7-0) are setting a high bar, there isn’t a more talented team than the Cowboys. Dallas (5-1) has shown playmaking depth and expectations to regain WR Michael Gallup for Sunday night’s game at Minnesota. Still without their best defender, DeMarcus Lawrence, who could return in late November, the Cowboys have seen fifth-year DE Randy Gregory become a menace to QBs. He beat a backup right tackle for fast sacks (2.3 and 2.1 seconds) in the Week 6 win at New England.