Behind Enemy Lines: Chargers vs. Chiefs II

Our Scout.com experts, Nick Athan of WarPaintIllustrated.com and Michael Lombardo of SDBoltReport.com, analyze Sunday's game between the Chiefs and Chargers at Arrowhead Stadium. Let's continue this three-part series with six questions from Michael to Nick.

Michael Lombardo: The Chiefs have always done a fantastic job frustrating Philip Rivers. In three career meetings, Rivers has completed 50 percent of his passes (54-of-108) for 574 yards with two touchdowns, five interceptions and a passer rating of 52.8. How have the Chiefs been able to fluster the young quarterback?

Nick Athan: I think the reason they did a good job with him in week four was due to the fact Chiefs linebacker Donnie Edwards knew him so well from playing with in San Diego. He anticipated his every move and, once the defense settled down toward the end of the second quarter, they had his number.

One of the other reasons I think is because they know, if they can shut down the Chargers' running game, Rivers has a tendency to lock onto certain receivers. I think that the Chiefs defensive players know that if they can get in his grill that he's prone to making mistakes and turning the ball over. Kansas City did an outstanding job of doing just that when they defeated the Chargers, 30-16.

ML: Kolby Smith made the most of his first NFL start, busting loose for 150 yards and two touchdowns. However, all of that productivity came against an Oakland Raiders defense that ranks dead-last against the run. Is Smith the real deal or did he merely exploit a bad team?

NA: It wasn't a surprise to me because I've been following him since rookie camp last May. Of all the Chiefs' draft picks, this fifth rounder was the most level-headed and mature player they took in the 2007 draft. Smith's performance last Sunday against a terrible Raiders run defense wasn't a fluke. He was very patient, waited on what blocking he had, hit the hole and ran for as many yards as possible.

What made his performance so special was the fact he did an outstanding job cutting back and moving away from the pursuit. It's something he did very well in training camp. The Chiefs brass think that Smith has some of the same running instincts as the recently retired Priest Holmes. For a young running back, he has great vision to find the hole and enough power to outrun the initial pursuit.

ML: Herman Edwards has taken some flak for turning the reins over to Brodie Croyle in the midst of a playoff run made all the more feasible by the watered down state of the AFC West. Do you believe this was the right decision? Did the switch to Croyle essentially wave the white flag in the pursuit for a playoff spot?

NA: Herm Edwards really wanted to start Brodie Croyle from the beginning. However, the Chiefs played it very vanilla in preseason and that hurt Croyle, who was only allowed to run a few plays. Add that to the fact running back Larry Johnson was in a contract dispute, they never had their starting offensive line play in front of them and first-round pick Dwayne Bowe was haggling over a $200,000 incentives that held him out most of their stay in River Falls this past summer. Even with that, Croyle took over 50 percent of the snaps in practice until Edwards named him the starter, replacing an ineffective Damon Huard a couple of weeks ago.

Edwards knows with all the youth being served at the position inside the division that he had to get Croyle into some live action. But he wasn't worried one bit about the AFC West. He knew short and long term the best chance the Chiefs had to win was with Croyle in the lineup. However, it's unlikely as of now that Croyle will be able to play Sunday. So that means Huard will get one last chance to beat the Chargers before he returns to the bench.

ML: Coach Edwards has talked about the importance of starting fast against the Chargers. Do you expect him to let Croyle open up the passing game early on and take some shots downfield? Or do you believe he will play it close to the vest with an inexperienced signal caller?

NA: I think because the Chiefs probably will start Huard that they'll have a difficult time starting fast. Even with Croyle at the helm this entire offensive unit just hasn't been able to get anything going in the first or second quarter. When they defeated the Chargers, it was a second-half run that sealed the deal. Of course, those points came of some key turnovers that helped seal victory for the Chiefs.

Regardless of who plays quarterback on Sunday for the Chiefs, the offensive game plan will be extremely conservative. The team's offensive coordinator Mike Solari isn't known for making changes during a game so what you'll see in the first quarter will probably be the same in the fourth quarter.

ML: The Chiefs always play tough at home, having beaten the Chargers in nine of the last ten meetings in Arrowhead. This year has been a different story, though, as the Chiefs have lost twice as many home games as they've won. What's been the difference? Do you expect to see that homefield advantage re-asserted with December rolling in?

NA: The Chargers have a great opportunity to defeat the Chiefs on Sunday. The Arrowhead mystique has vanished this season. Kansas City has already lost four home games and in each of them they were tied or had the lead at halftime. This team seems to fall apart in the fourth quarter, the only exception being in their road win at San Diego. Kansas City only has two remaining home games on the schedule and if they're going to make a move then they'll need to make plays early to keep the crowd in the game. There have been more boos at Arrowhead this year than at any time in recent memory.

I do think this trend will change next year, so if the Chargers want to make it 2-for-11 they'll need to get out to a big lead, because I don't think the Chiefs can come back from any kind of significant deficit. The Chiefs know if they lose this game they can forget about the playoffs. Granted, even if they win the chances are still remote.

ML: When Croyle drops back to pass, his favorite targets are Dwayne Bowe and Tony Gonzalez. What third receiver has the best chance to make an impact against the Chargers? Is it Eddie Kennison, Samie Parker or Jeff Webb?

NA: If Croyle does start, he looks first for Dwayne Bowe. He's clearly been the game's best rookie wide receiver and he brings a street-ball style that feeds into the type of downfield passing style that suits Croyle. On the other side of the fence, one player who has suffered somewhat has been tight end Tony Gonzalez. Though he had a good game against the Raiders, the Chiefs future Hall of Famer hasn't been the down-the-field target he was when Huard was the quarterback. The thing about Croyle is that he really surveys the field, where as Huard locks onto a receiver and lets it fly.

The other three receivers will get their opportunities in this offense. The one to keep an eye on is Jeff Webb. No receiver has grown more than Webb, who will be the team's No. 3 receiver in 2008. Eddie Kennison and Samie Parker catch very few balls and could be on the bubble for a roster spot next year. I have to say that Parker, who had a career of dropped balls, has been solid this year. He hasn't missed too many balls this season, but they don't throw it to him as often as they did the last two years.

Nick Athan is the publisher of WarPaintIllustrated.com.


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