Behind Enemy Lines: Bolts-Chiefs I

The Kansas City Chiefs look to deliver the knockout punch to the reigning AFC West champions while the San Diego Chargers look to fight their way off the ropes. To break down this heavyweight fight, Nick Athan of Warpaint Illustrated and Michael Lombardo of SD Bolt Report go toe to toe.

Nick Athan: With San Diego's devastating home loss to the Raiders last Sunday, how are the Chargers going to regroup to get up for what amounts to a must-win game?

Michael Lombardo: The fact this is literally a must-win will make it easy for the Chargers to get up for this game. San Diego entered the season with Super Bowl aspirations and Norv Turner fanned those flames by saying this would be the best team he ever coached. While those aspirations now seem unlikely to be fulfilled, the Chargers will not let them go without a fight.

San Diego has a history of rallying against all odds. Remember, it was just two years ago the Chargers won the division despite trailing the Denver Broncos by three games with three to play. That's not to imply the Chiefs are in for a similar meltdown, but the Chargers know all too well that it's never over till it's over.

"We've needed more help in previous years and it's worked out," Philip Rivers said.

NA: From a distance, it appears Rivers is having a great season. But in the games in which his team has lost, he's had a propensity to turn the ball over. Is he trying to do too much or are the injuries to his receivers something he's just unable to overcome?

RB Darren Sproles
Tim Umphrey/Getty
ML: The injuries to the receivers are the biggest issue. Rivers has actually done a very good job of protecting the football. He averages slightly less than one interception per 27 pass attempts and several of those turnovers came on deep throws on third-and-long (a calculated risk with those passes essentially serving as punts).

Vincent Jackson (calf), Patrick Crayton (wrist) and Legedu Naanee (hamstring) are all likely to sit out. Antonio Gates (foot), Malcom Floyd (hamstring) and Darren Sproles (concussion) figure to play but will be limited. No matter how much depth San Diego has at receiver (and at one point there was an abundance), this is a lot for any quarterback to overcome.

NA: With the type of injury that's kept the leagues best tight end, Antonio Gates, out or hobbled for weeks, what drives him to keep playing when it's clear he's in pain?

TE Antonio Gates
Tim Umphrey/Getty
ML: San Diego's middling record has been the primary culprit. If the Chargers had a two- or three-game lead in the division right now, Gates would likely be resting. As it stands, he understands there is no point in resting up for the playoffs if his absence means the Chargers won't qualify for the postseason in the first place.

Gates is one of the toughest players on San Diego's roster, which is a big reason the Chargers rewarded him with a five-year extension in the offseason, making him the highest paid tight end in the league. What he is doing now -- playing with a torn plantar fascia on one foot and turf toe on the other -- is remarkable.

NA: Should the Chargers lose on Sunday and be eliminated from playoff contention, what do you think the fate of Norv Turner will be at season's end?

ML: Turner will be back next season regardless of what happens over the next four weeks. He signed a contract extension immediately after last season tying him to the team through 2013. While the results have been mixed, the fact remains he led the team to a division title in each of his first three seasons and won three playoff games.

NA: Fill in the blank: If the Chargers __________, they will win the game.

ML: If the Chargers force two or more turnovers, they will win the game. This will not be easy against a Chiefs team that is tied for third in the AFC in turnover differential (plus seven, trailing only the New England Patriots and Pittsburgh Steelers). But if San Diego can get its offense a few extra possessions, especially on a short field, it will go a long way towards ensuring a victory.

"We need to take care of ourselves first," CB Antoine Cason said.

NA: How badly does this team miss former RB LaDainian Tomlinson? If he were still a part of this team, do you think they'd be 6-6 at this point in the season?

ML: I don't think Tomlinson's absence has had any impact on this team's record. The Chargers are running the ball more efficiently this season than last, averaging 4 ypc as opposed to 3.3. Also, there were some chemistry issues in the locker room with L.T., which were brought to light this offseason by team leaders Rivers and Gates.

That being said, it is safe to say all the offseason hype about Ryan Mathews being the next LaDainian Tomlinson was beyond premature. Tomlinson thrived because of his ability to stay healthy, protect the football, pass protect and finish games. Mathews has shown none of those traits and is still in search of his first 100-yard game; Sunday against Kansas City would be as good a time as any.

Michael Lombardo is a member of the Pro Football Writers of America and a long-time contributor to the network. His analysis has been published by the NFL Network, Fox Sports and MySpace Sports. He has followed the Chargers for more than 15 years and covered the team since 2003. You can see more of his updates by following him on twitter.

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