The Indianapolis crowd was disciplined last week. They roared when the Chargers had the rock and whispered when the hometown held the ball. This week, the lion will be angry from the first kickoff till the whistle blows at the end of the game. It will be a challenge for the offense as they head to arguably the loudest outdoor stadium in the league.
"Kansas City is a hostile environment," fullback Lorenzo Neal confirmed. "They have a great crowd. They know how to win in December so it is a great challenge."
"San Diego has played very well on the road," Chiefs head coach Dick Vermeil said. "They beat New England, Washington and then the Indianapolis Colts on the road, so they are an experienced, successful road team. They will come here with those same kinds of intentions."
The Chiefs are second in the league in total offense and it will mean another game of ball control for the Chargers who rank second in the league in time of possession.
The Bolts will look to LaDainian Tomlinson early and hope he holds up for sixty minutes. They will also work on the short passing game that has been effective over the last two games, making third down manageable.
The Chargers' offense has turned the ball over a number of times in the last four games and it has translated into some easy points for the opposition.
The main culprit has been quarterback Drew Brees.
"That is the one issue that continues to trouble me and our football team – in three of the last four games we have played – our opponent has started inside our 25 seven times," head coach Marty Schottenheimer said. "That is guaranteed to get you beat. We are kidding ourselves if we continue to give them a short field like that. We better fix it."
"Fear of failure drives everything you do," Brees admitted. "No one wants to fail or let down their teammates or coaches."
Against playoff caliber opponents, the turnovers become an even bigger detriment. They have gotten away with it in the past but at some point the luck will run out. This is not the week to test that theory.
Chargers run defense – meet Larry Johnson. The Bolts may rank number one against the run but they have not lined up against a back that has been this hot all year.
Johnson has racked up a franchise-record seven 100-yard rushing games in seven starts since taking over for Priest Holmes.
Over the last seven games, Johnson has produced 203 carries for 1,019 yards (145.6 ypg) and 12 TDs. His 1,019 rushing yards and 1,226 yards from scrimmage are both the highest totals in the NFL since November 1st. Meanwhile, only Seattle RB Shaun Alexander (24) and Tomlinson (17) own more rushing TDs than Johnson over the entire season.
"We will not find a more difficult challenge than we face this week," said Schottenheimer. "That guy is a load. Larry Johnson is a big, physical guy and when you watch him run – with all that size and strength he seldom has to rely on it. He is very patient and voom he goes. He will be a two Tylenol headache."
This week, Jamal Williams was recognized for his work in the middle of the 3-4 defense with a Pro Bowl nod. His work in the middle has freed up the linebackers to consistently make plays. But he is not alone. Igor Olshansky and Luis Castillo have been solid in gap control and have been forces in stalling any attempt at an established running game.
To date, the defense has not allowed a 100-yard rusher on the year and have held three teams to less than 40 yards rushing.
As a team, the Chiefs are averaging 145.4 yards per game on the ground, but in the first meeting of the season, San Diego held them to 95 yards on 21 carries.
"They are stopping the run better than anybody in football and consistently doing it," Vermeil said of the Chargers defense. "(Larry Johnson) and the offense will have their biggest challenge in that San Diego is the number one defense in football. They've played some good running backs. Boy, they dent you; they really do. That front seven is really outstanding. Those two outside linebackers coming like they do and Merriman the young rookie…. Man, I know that Derrick Johnson's a real fine rookie player but I can see that he has tremendous competition for the defensive rookie of the year with this guy. He's a man. Along with Castillo, the defensive lineman, they are two fine first round picks."
This game will likely come down to the defense continuing its dominance over the running game.
On Special Teams:
The Chargers are once again stressing the importance of field position and Darren Sproles has been less then effective over the last few weeks, dropping to 12th in the league with a 24.7 kickoff return average after netting nearly 30 yards per over the first half of the season.
His ability to create field position on the road – one of the few silencers – will be instrumental as the Chargers look for win number ten.
"He is overdue to take one to the house," special teams Pro Bowler Hanik Milligan said of Sproles. "Maybe this game. I am feeling good about him."