Offensive matchup to watch: Kris Dielman vs. Alfonso Boone
Dielman is the San Diego's most consistent offensive lineman and the emotional leader of that unit. He sees LaDainian Tomlinson's mediocre season as an affront to his ability as a blocker and has been busting his tail to reinvigorate the running game. With Nick Hardwick back in the lineup, Dielman is once against flanked by a pair of Pro Bowlers. If he can deliver a strong showing in Kansas City, the Chargers should find ample running room on the left side.
Boone will be charged with tying up Dielman and preventing him from reaching the second level. Boone joined the Chiefs this offseason after a seven-year career with the Chicago Bears and has started every game for the first time in his career. He is not overly athletic but has the size (6 foot 3, 305 lbs.) and strength to clog running lanes. He is not a great pass rusher (11.5 sacks in seven-plus seasons), but he has a knack for knocking down balls at the line of scrimmage, with a career-high five pass breakups so far this season.
Defensive matchup to watch: Stephen Cooper vs. Kris Wilson
Cooper leads the Chargers in tackles (74) and is on pace to finish with more than 100 for the first time in his career (108). He has a nose for the ball and ably sifts through the trash near the line of scrimmage. Cooper typically excels at sliding off blocks, but he has a unique challenge this week in Wilson, a fullback-tight end hybrid.
Wilson's ability as a pass catcher (17 catches, 133 yards) makes this a tough assignment for Cooper, who lacks lateral quickness and gives up a lot of underneath completions. Cooper will have to shake Wilson's sticky blocks in the running game and shadow him in the passing game if the Chargers are to prevent Chiefs from moving the chains. Significant is that Wilson has already fumbled twice this season, so Cooper may be able to chip in another fumble recovery for a defense that already has 12 of them.
The Chargers will win if…no Kansas City player gains more than 100 yards. Kolby Smith will obviously get his touches given what he did in his debut performance. Tony Gonzalez and Dwayne Bowe will get their looks, too, as the only receivers on the roster with a pulse. The key for the Chargers is to stop the run, put Damon Huard in obvious passing situations, and smother Gonzalez and Bowe while the pass rush goes to work. If the defense can pull this off for 60 minutes, then the Chargers improve to 7-5.
The Chargers will lose if…Antonio Gates finishes with less than 60 yards. When teams bottle up Gates, the entire offense falls out of sync. He has the ability to draw linebackers away from Tomlinson and to keep safety help off the receivers. The Chargers are 4-1 when Gates gains at least 90 yards, 4-2 when he scores and 2-0 when he scores twice. Norv Turner must find a way to keep him involved.
Final prediction: Chargers 20, Chiefs 9
Damon Huard is an impressive manage-the-game quarterback. However, his two-week absence from the lineup will undo a lot of that good work. The Chargers are still irked by the week-four loss and eager to make amends. The San Diego secondary is out to make a statement after poor backend tackling cost the Chargers in the last meeting. I say they succeed, dropping the Chiefs to 2-5 at home and prompting the Arrowhead faithful to use the seldom heard "Tyler Thigpen!" chant.
Michael Lombardo is a member of the Pro Football Writers of America and a long-time contributor to the Scout.com network. He has followed the Chargers for more than 14 years and covered the team since 2003.
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