Chargers Gameday Primer: Kansas City

The regular season ends with the San Diego Chargers hosting the Kansas City Chiefs at Qualcomm in what will be a tune-up for the playoffs. The Chiefs own a strong running game, providing a late season test for the Bolts as they gear up for playoff football.

"I talked to some our coaches who were here with him before and they've said when they had some things all locked in for the playoffs he reverted back to a pre-season game approach playing them through the first half or the first quarter and a half and then start to take people out," Chiefs' head coach Dick Vermeil said. "But I have no idea what he's going to do. We don't control that."

On Offense:

With each passing day it is becoming evident that the Chargers will approach this game cautiously, meaning a lot of the stars will either sit or play sparingly.

First on the sit list will likely be LaDainian Tomlinson and his scoring streak. He has crossed the goalline in 12 straight games but if he is on the inactive list it will not affect his streak.

Drew Brees may get a series but head coach Marty Schottenheimer indicated on Friday that Brees will likely sit. What that would do is allow for Doug Flutie as the number one quarterback and Philip Rivers at number two. Each could play whenever they wanted and get repetitions to cover for a "just in case" situation.

Keenan McCardell will sit, although he prefers to play. Schottenheimer does not want to risk further injury to his hamstring with the playoffs just six days away.

McCardell says his playoff experience will be maxed out next week when he gives pointers to the young team. For now, the veteran wide receiver is preaching a win this weekend.

"It is an important game for us as a team," McCardell said. "We want to get back on the winning side of things. Going into the playoffs with a good taste in your mouth is important. That is what we are trying to do.

"What I want to share with them this week is that going into the playoffs, you have to go in on an upbeat note. You don't want to limp into the playoffs. You want to be rolling, feeling good. You want to have that spirit."

That may be a tough task with the all-backup crew in the game. Jesse Chatman figures to get a lot of carries and Michael Turner has been chomping at the bit to get in. At wide receiver, Kassim Osgood will get the start but look for a lot of Bobby Shaw and Malcom Floyd. Ryan Krause may even get his first action of the year at tight end subbing for Antonio Gates.

Brees believes the paired down wide receiving corps will be fine without McCardell and possibly Eric Parker.

"I think Kassim has done a great job of stepping up," he said. "I think Bobby has. I think Malcom has. Anyone who has been asked to step in there and do the job has done a very good job."

"You want to get out there and help wherever you can," Shaw added.

Of course, most are eagerly anticipating the arrival of Rivers into the game. Although Flutie is anchored in as the number two quarterback when the playoffs arrive for his experience, Rivers is considered the future and fans and coaches alike are eager to see what kind of game he can bring against a starting unit.

"I love to win, I love being part of a team and more importantly I want to be successful," Rivers said of the possibility of playing and knowing a win would make it easier going into the playoffs. "I will do all I can to help San Diego win."

The Chiefs are ranked dead last in pass defense, giving both Flutie and Rivers a nice welcome into the 2004 season.

On Defense:

Establishing the run dominance of mid-season is the goal. Larry Johnson is running well in lieu of Priest Holmes and the Chiefs' offensive line has been termed the best in football by Schottenheimer.

"Larry Johnson has his wheels up underneath him and has been running well. We are not looking for a situation other than seeing their best. Coach Vermeil has said this is their Super Bowl."

The test will be interesting since the Chargers are likely to sit Jamal Williams, the driving force in the middle of the defense. But the Bolts want to make a statement. As playoff football rolls around, games are won by the teams that can run the ball with consistency. The motto for this team all year long has been eliminating their opponents' running game.

Reestablishing that dominance as they prepare for next Saturday's AFC showdown may determine how ready they are to take their game to the next level. Despite being ranked number two in stopping the run, the Bolts' defense is still in its learning stage. The 3-4 defense is predicated on trusting your teammates and playing within your position. The minute the Chargers sway from that, as they did last week, the defense crumbles.

"This is a league that everybody wants to make plays and everybody wants to be the guy, but the time you don't play the scheme it makes us all look bad," linebacker Steve Foley said.

The Chiefs possess plenty of talent and their offense is scoring 36 points per game over the last four contests. It is unclear how many of the Chargers' defenders will be out there for the full game but they will be in for a battle.

"They are awfully talented," Schottenheimer said.

Cornerback Sammy Davis will also make his return to the field on Sunday to shake the rust off in preparation for the playoffs. Davis has not played since these teams last met on November 28.

On Special Teams:

The one unit that does not figure to get any rest is special teams, a unit that was torched last week for two long kickoff returns. With Dante Hall coming in this week and the explosiveness he creates, the Chargers will be challenged to bring their best.

They could not ask for a better playoff primer than Hall and his return ability.

"I hope we have the chance to kick off to him a lot of times…and do a much better job in covering him," said Schottenheimer. "We all know what a challenge that will be."

To establish dominance in the playoffs, special teams play a big role. Pinning a team deep in their territory is a catalyst for the defense to step up just as a big return propels the offense into a state of euphoria. One-third of the game and the rule is if you can win two-thirds, you have a pretty good shot at winning.


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