Game Scout, Week 16: Chargers vs. Titans

RB LaDainian Tomlinson (Stephen Dunn/Getty)

The Chargers know what they want for Christmas: a No. 2 seed and the chance to rest banged-up players in the season's final week. To do that, they'll have to snap the Titans' five-game home winning streak. Get set for this contest with injury updates, keys to the game, predictions and more.

KICKOFF: Friday, 7:30 ET
GAMEDATE: 12/25/09
SURFACE: Grass
TV: NFL Network (Bob Papa, Matt Millen)

PREDICTION: Chargers 23-20

KEYS TO THE GAME: The Titans' lack of a pass rush from their front four is a serious concern against the Chargers' vertical passing game. But San Diego knows Tennessee can control the clock with its ground game, and with the Titans minus injured LB Keith Bulluck the Chargers could look to get RB LaDainian Tomlinson more involved early. San Diego's defense is most vulnerable to runs between the tackles, while Titans RB Chris Johnson's strength is his home-run ability when able to bounce to the edges. The key for Tennessee is not stalling in the red zone and settling for field goals.

FAST FACTS: The Chargers have won an NFL-record 17 consecutive games in December. ... The Titans have a five-game home winning streak.

PERSONNEL NEWS

Chargers:

--C Nick Hardwick (ankle) worked Tuesday, and the Chargers are hopeful regarding his availability on Friday; he could even start. The Chargers are thin at center.


LB Shawne Merriman
Harry How/Getty
--OLB Shawne Merriman (foot) didn't practice for the second straight day. He will play Friday, but for how long is a serious question.

--DE Jacques Cesaire (elbow) was limited and that is encouraging. He'll go Friday but he could he in and out of the rotation more than usual because of the injury.

--ILB Kevin Burnett (neck) practiced again and is set for Friday.

--DL Travis Johnson (groin) was a full participant; he will play.

--WR Legedu Naanee (foot) took all his snaps.

--P Mike Scifres (groin) took all his kicks and is fine.

Titans:

--QB Vince Young, coming off his first three-touchdown passing game ever, needs just three more touchdown passes to set a new career high. Young has 10 TD tosses in eight starts. His best was 12 as a rookie in 2006.

--RB Chris Johnson still has his sights on 2,000 yards, but he also hopes to have a big enough game to be within range of Eric Dickerson's single-season record of 2,105. Johnson said he has been a bit disappointed the past few weeks, and has a goal of at least 150 yards rushing every week.

--C Kevin Mawae isn't wanting to revisit any past issues with Chargers LB Shawne Merriman, who suffered a knee injury against the Titans in 2007 and accused Mawae, tackle David Stewart and then Titan TE Ben Hartsock of dirty hits on him.

--LB Colin Allred will make the first start of his professional career Friday night, filling in for Keith Bulluck, who tore the ACL in his left knee and is out for the year.

--DT Tony Brown did not practice Wednesday because of knee and quadriceps issues, but says he will play on Friday.

--TE Craig Stevens practiced fully on Wednesday as he makes his way back from a concussion.

--LB Jamie Winborn, who played his college football in Nashville at Vanderbilt, was signed by the Titans to help on special teams and linebacker depth.

--DE Kyle Vanden Bosch sat out Wednesday's practice because of a neck stinger suffered against Miami.

--CB Rod Hood took the first-team reps Wednesday in place of Nick Harper.

--CB Nick Harper sat out of Wednesday's practice because of a shoulder problem.

INSIDE THE CAMPS

Chargers:

The revolving door at center quit spinning for a day with Nick Hardwick able to get through another practice.

Hardwick, a Pro Bowler, is hoping to return to game action Friday in Tennessee for the first time since hurting his ankle in the season opener, which required surgery.


C Nick Hardwick
Donald Miralle/Getty
Hardwick's availability against the Titans became all that more critical when Scott Mruczkowski injured his ankle in Sunday's win over the Bengals.

"Mooch" was put on IR this week, and now all eyes turn to Hardwick. Although he said the schedule for his return wasn't altered because Mooch went down.

"The plan all along was for me to return to practice again this week," Hardwick said.

But Hardwick has been down this road before. On two other occasions it appeared Hardwick was set to return, only to suffer setbacks late in this week.

But so far it's been clear sailing for Hardwick as he took all the snaps again Wednesday. There's a chance Hardwick will not only play, but start on Friday when the Chargers try for their 10th straight win and to secure the AFC's No. 2 seed.

If Hardwick can't go, the Chargers would be forced to turn to veteran Dennis Norman. It was Norman who stepped in for Mooch on the final drive.

But even quarterback Philip Rivers admits he has done very little work with Norman. It's clear everyone in bolts is hoping the cerebral Hardwick can get back to snapping the ball between his legs after barking out the blocking assignments.

His mending ankle willing, Hardwick is ready.

"From the sideline I've read every defense and made every call there is to make," Hardwick said. "I've been doing the same in the film room, watching opponents I knew I wasn't going to play. I've been just staying into it because I was hoping at some point to get back in. Now we'll see about that."

The Chargers rolled the dice in not putting Hardwick on IR back in September. Because they didn't, they and Hardwick hope to complete a December to remember.

Titans:

Depleted. That's the best way to describe the Tennessee linebacker corps with two games remaining.

The Titans lost one of their emotional leaders on defense last Sunday when Keith Bulluck tore the ACL in his left knee, potentially ending his 10-year run with the team as he is a free agent at season's end.

Tennessee also lost LB David Thornton to injury as well, as he will have shoulder surgery to repair a pectoral muscle. Thornton has been in and out of the lineup with shoulder and hip issues this season.

That leaves Stephen Tulloch, who early in the year had come out in nickel situations, not only in the nickel package, but in the dime as well. Tulloch also will now call the defensive signals and will have the radio transmitter in his helmet, something Bulluck had previously.

The Titans appear confident in rookie Gerald McRath, who has started three games in Thornton's spot and was likely to be elevated to the starting lineup next year anyway. McRath had 10 tackles against the Dolphins.

Colin Allred inherits the other spot for now. The Titans also have Stanford Keglar and just signed veteran Jamie Winborn to help on special teams and be a backup. There is the possibility the Titans will add another linebacker to the roster for depth, perhaps practice squad rookie Mike Rivera.

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