Behind Enemy Lines: Chargers vs. Chiefs p. I

The Chargers hold a one-game lead in the AFC West, but the Chiefs have momentum after an overtime win in New Orleans. Which team will come out on top on Sunday? team experts Nick Athan and Michael Lombardo hit all of the key topics, including Matt Cassel's struggles, Kansas City's defensive priorities and much more.

Michael Lombardo: The Chargers have shut down a couple elite runners so far this season (Darren McFadden and Chris Johnson). They face another this week in Jamaal Charles. How much work/production do you expect from Charles, who is coming off a 233-yard performance? 

Nick Athan: I really can't see the Chiefs putting the rock into the hands of Jamaal Charles 39 times like they did last week against the New Orleans Saints. However, had they not, the Chiefs would have likely lost to New Orleans last Sunday. The Chargers have their work cut out defensively because at some point QB Matt Cassel is going to step up his game. So the Chargers can't always stack the box.

ML: If the Chiefs do not make the playoffs in 2012, will it be Matt Cassel's final season as Kansas City's starting QB? Would you say it is safe to rank him as the worst starting QB in the AFC West? 

NA: I'd say, if your scenario plays out, he would not be with the Chiefs in 2013. He's struggling to throw the ball down the field and worse, he tends to look for his receiver after the snap. That's a bad sign for his growth. However, as I mentioned, should he start surveying the field with more patience, he has enough weapons to hit the 300-yard passing club every Sunday. As far as his rank, I'd say he's third best in the division right now.

Romeo Crennel
ML: You would think the Chiefs would be better on defense this season with Romeo Crennel in charge. But his team has been giving up points in bunches. What's the reason for this? Can it be fixed? 

NA: The problem with KC's defense in the first two games can be traced to Crennel tinkering with their defensive schemes prior to the Falcons game. That proved costly. But on Sunday versus the Saints, they went back to the basics and played their best game of the season. And considering the Chiefs aren't healthy on defense, they're only going to get better. And with the Chargers' inability to run the ball, Crennel might unleash them much like he did against New Orleans last weekend.

ML: What are the Chiefs more worried about: Philip Rivers' arm or Ryan Mathews' legs?

NA: It's stopping the quarterback. I think all the Chiefs' defense has to do to control this game is put constant pressure on Rivers. He's shown through the years that he's an elite quarterback. But when he gets pressure up the middle, combined with a lack of mobility, he will turn the ball over by forcing passes through the tiniest of spots. I expect the Chiefs will take the Falcons' blueprint and duplicate the steps in which they made Rivers look less than stellar.

ML: It was not long ago the Chargers lost a season-opener in Kansas City almost entirely because of special teams breakdowns. Who do you see winning the third phase this time around? Who are some of Kansas City's most dominant difference-makers on special teams? 

NA: With Ryan Succop nailing six kicks last weekend, including the game-winner in overtime, I'd say that if this game comes down to that, the Chiefs have the edge. The Chargers, in my view, always seem to lay an egg in that department in Kansas City. And at some point, Chiefs return man Javier Arenas will bring one back for a TD.

ML: Who wins this game and how? 

NA: I can't stress enough the enormous impact of the Chiefs win at New Orleans last Sunday. And after the performance of Charles and the emergence of second-year receiver Jon Baldwin into the mix, I don't think the Chargers will match up defensively very well against the Chiefs. And that will be the deciding factor.

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