"There's all kinds of things to play for now." Chiefs quarterback Trent Green said. "Number one's your job. I've been asked this several times now both by people around football and away from football, ‘What do you guys play for?' Hopefully guys are playing for their livelihood."
The Chargers at 7-3 must find a way to win four of their last six games. After KC this weekend they will face Denver at home, Tampa at home, Cleveland on the road, Indianapolis on the road, and finally KC again in the season ender at Qualcomm.
Ten wins may sound like the playoffs but it is not a guarantee. Now is the time for Marty Schottenheimer to reverse his trend against his old team. He is 1-3 against them since joining San Diego.
The Chargers are facing a defense that is without two linebackers who began the year as the starters.
The Chiefs are fourth worst in the league in total defense and points allowed per game. The Bolts, meanwhile, are second in the league in points per game and they have the luxury of inserting LaDainian Tomlinson into the lineup as a bonus superstar down the stretch.
The Chargers will attempt to work the ground game more this week than in the past to control the clock. The longer they keep their offense on the field, the more rest it gives the defense and the less damage a dangerous Chiefs offense can accomplish.
Last week was a glimpse into what the Chargers would like to do. Previously, the team had to run inside because of the limitations of Tomlinson but now they will look to exploit the edges of the Chiefs' defense. The linebacking crew is not athletic enough to make plays sideline-to-sideline and therefore the focus will be there.
The offense will also have to deal with the crowd noise – amped up when a division rival is in town. Some players have said it is the loudest place to play a game while others decree that it is slightly overrated.
"I think it's the same as any other stadium," Tomlinson said. "In my opinion, I think Denver is a little tougher. Just the simple fact that you have to deal with the altitude a little bit.
"Kansas City is really tough. They really play really well at home. Their crowd gets behind them. You got to be in the game from the jump. If you don't, it's going to be difficult playing from behind and trying to get things going with the crowd. We came really close the last couple of years of beating them there. A couple of calls didn't go our way."
With Tomlinson likely calling for more crowd noise, he will be used heavily as a decoy. The Chargers have the advantage of running play-action-fakes and the first option is always Antonio Gates. Drew Brees has been able to find his big target anywhere on the field and especially likes hitting him in the red zone.
Gates is being compared to Tony Gonzalez and would love to make his mark in a game that features Gonzo on the opposing sideline.
"They are both quite similar in their receiving and blocking skills," Schottenheimer said. "They have an ability to jump, create space. If you had both of them playing tight end for you it would be a formidable group."
Keenan McCardell will also figure into the gameplan. He has been steady on offense and his savvy will decimate the Chiefs suspect secondary.
The Chargers defense will look to be aggressive up front on the Chiefs stellar offensive line. They will blitz more than they have in the past but must be careful. The Chiefs will attempt to screen past the blitz and the result could be huge plays.
Wade Phillips must present multiple looks up front to keep Trent Green guessing. If there is an audible at the line, it will likely be to combat the coming blitz.
"Obviously I played with Donnie Edwards awhile back here," Gonzalez said. "He's one of my good friends, so I like watching the way the play on defense, especially the way he plays. The way he runs around and fills gaps, I think that's kind of infectious to the rest of his teammates. Up front the D-line is playing a lot better too."
The run defense will be up against one of the best in the business. While it may be Derrick Blaylock instead of Priest Holmes in the backfield, the Chiefs would love to establish a running game to control the clock. It is a similar strategy to what the Chargers want to employ.
"That offensive line and having Derrick back there is still something we have to tighten our helmets for," Edwards said. "You have to stop whoever is back there."
The focus will be stopping the run again. The Chargers want to cut teams off at the knees and give them only one option to get yardage – through the air.
"It's going to be the same Chiefs offense," said Schottenheimer. "It is quite a great challenge for us. They are the most explosive offense in football in my mind. They have been doing it together for a long, long time.
"They have skill people that can make plays. Blaylock is a very good runner. I think the guy who is being overlooked this year is Trent Green. He is having a great year."
Green is third in the league in passing yards and his success comes from their ability to pass off running formations. With the focus on the run because of their line and talent in the backfield, Green's production is overlooked.
Green will look to stretch the defense and attack the Chargers secondary. They will stay away from Quentin Jammer and work the field against Sammy Davis, Jamar Fletcher and Drayton Florence. The hope is to work the ball in the intermediate routes where the Bolts safeties are weak in reacting.
Gonzalez will be the primary target. The Chargers had been able to neutralize him in the past but this week offers a new challenge. Ben Leber will be forced into action in coverage. He has been solid to date in coverage but has not had to deal with anyone as athletic as Gonzalez.
"It seems like they don't do that much special," Gonzalez said. "They remind me of the Jacksonville defense, which is one of the best defenses in the league in my opinion. They try to wait for you to make mistakes. They're going to hustle; they're going to fly around and try to make plays."
On Special Teams:
Dante Hall remains a threat in the return game and it will be up to Mike Scifres to contain him by kicking it high and deep. Scifres has been up to the challenge each week and this is a game that they can't afford him to slip.
Nate Kaeding has been relatively consistent but has had his share of miscues. This is a game where a kick out of bounds could be the difference between a win and a loss. Ditto for a missed field goal. Kaeding has experience in big games with loud crowds and as long as he keeps his emotions in check should be fine.
"The thing that's really helped them is their kicking game," Chiefs coach Dick Vermeil said. "Their punter has done outstanding and their place kicker and kickoff guy, for the most part, have done very, very well. They are just two kids."
The Chargers spent significant time on special teams this week. Schottenheimer once called it a strength but admitted he became lax in preparing them week to week. That has changed and he expects them to have their best game to date. That includes the wedge up front on the return phase and the coverage units on kickoffs. He was unhappy with how sloppy they have become.
Odds and Ends:
Brees mentioned the inability of the Chargers to sweep the Raiders in 12 years when looking ahead at the seven game losing streak the team faces at Arrowhead.
"We are trying to make this the season where we defy all the odds," he said.
Denis Savage can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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