LOS ANGELES (AP) — The Los Angeles Chargers’ defense had its best game of the season last week in shutting down one of the league’s top passing attacks.
Their challenge Sunday will be to contain Tennessee Titans running back Derrick Henry.
The two-time NFL rushing champ will play in his 100th regular-season game as the slumping Titans head west. Henry is second in the league with 1,199 yards rushing and needs only 4 yards to reach 8,000 for his career.
Henry’s focus is on snapping Tennessee’s first three-game losing streak since 2018 instead of personal milestones.
“It’s about going out there and doing what you need to do to get a win,” Henry said. “It’s about just getting back to how we want to play.”
Henry, who has six 100-yard rushing games this season, looks to bounce back after having two fumbles in last Sunday’s 36-22 loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars.
Titans coach Mike Vrabel isn’t concerned if Henry has ball security issues. He said one was due to a big hit, and the other was due to a busted play.
“We’re going to give it to him as many times as we possibly can. I mean, it’s no secret,” Vrabel said. “Derrick’s been great with ball security. Hopefully, we can get those things fixed and corrected.”
Both teams are 7-6 and in the thick of the AFC playoff race. The Titans have a two-game lead in the AFC South while the Chargers are battling for one of the final two spots.
Henry will be facing a Chargers defense allowing 5.40 yards per carry. That’s the highest average since the merger and the seventh-highest since the league started tracking rushing statistics in 1933, according to Sportradar.
The Chargers have given up 147 rushing yards per game, the fifth-highest total in the league. They have allowed four runs of at least 50 yards, tied with Seattle for the most. Henry’s one of eight players with at least two carries over 50 yards this season.
Los Angeles and Seattle have also seen a running back post a 100-yard game seven times this season, tied for most in the league.
The Chargers held Miami’s Tua Tagovailoa to 148 yards passing in a 23-17 win last week. Safety Derwin James (quadriceps) will miss a second straight game, but cornerback Bryce Callahan (core muscle) is questionable after being a full participant in Friday’s practice.
“You can’t let good running backs get started. It doesn’t matter what their style is. If they can get started within the play, then they’re going to have a chance to be successful,” coach Brandon Staley said. “You have to go attack, and you have to go play team defense and tackle the guy with more than one guy.
“That’s what we’re going to try and do on Sunday.”
THE OTHER BACK
Even though most of the attention is on Henry, Chargers running back Austin Ekeler is also expected to be a factor.
Ekeler is second in the league with 13 scrimmage touchdowns (eight rushing, five receiving). He has four games this season with a rushing and receiving score, one shy of tying the mark established by Minnesota’s Chuck Foreman in 1975.
Ekeler is fourth in the league with 93 receptions and needs seven catches to become the fifth player in league history and second on the Chargers to reach the century mark. LaDainian Tomlinson had 100 catches with the Bolts in 2003.
The Titans have struggled to give Ryan Tannehill time to work, with the quarterback sacked 10 times over the past two losses. Tannehill now has three receivers on the injury report, with veteran Robert Woods not practicing Wednesday because of illness.
“It is a balancing act there of trying to do as much as you can and work the things as much as you can, but when you are banged up, your body can only do so much. It is not just myself. That is everybody on this team,” said Tannehill, who has been limited due to an ankle injury. “You can’t worry too much about what is happening in front of you or around you. You have got to be able to try to move as best you can within the pocket and deliver the ball in an accurate and timely fashion.”
BACK ON TRACK?
Justin Herbert threw for a season-high 367 yards last week as he had Mike Williams and Keenan Allen both available for an entire game for the first time.
Williams, who missed four out of five games due to a high ankle sprain, had 116 yards on six receptions and a touchdown. Allen has at least five catches in each of the four games since he returned from a hamstring injury.
The only benefit to the Chargers’ injury woes at receiver is that they have a league-high six players with at least 400 yards receiving.
NOT HEALING UP
The Titans will be missing at least three starters in the secondary.
Cornerback Kristian Fulton (groin) is out for the second straight game and safety Amani Hooker has been sidelined due to a knee injury. Rookie cornerback Tre Avery remains in the concussion protocol.
Sacks leader Denico Autry will miss his fourth straight game with an injured left knee. There is a possibility inside linebacker Zach Cunningham and safety Lonnie Johnson could be activated off injured reserve.
The Titans have had 25 different starters on defense this season. Worse, a defense that went eight consecutive games holding opponents to 20 points or less has allowed 71 points over the past two games combined.
AP Pro Football Writer Teresa Walker in Nashville contributed to this story.
AP NFL: https://apnews.com/hub/nfl and https://twitter.com/AP_NFL
Copyright © 2023 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, written or redistributed.