Nick Athan: The jury is out on young Tyler Thigpen. He's played well with the Chiefs new "Pistol" offense but there are some in the organization who are yet to be convinced he can be the quarterback of the future.
The issue really boils down to one simple fact: Can he make enough plays throughout the course of the game that lead to victories? He's failed to make plays in crunch time in road losses at San Diego and Denver and that has some questioning if he has the skill-set to win games late.
On the flip side, tight end Tony Gonzalez has taken him under his wing and that shows that the veterans -- the few that are left on this team -- believe in Thigpen. Right now he's the Chiefs best option at quarterback.
Next year Brodie Croyle will return but the Chiefs are eying one of the top quarterbacks in next April's Draft. If Oklahoma QB Sam Bradford or Georgia QB Matt Stafford are on the board, I can't see any reason why the Chiefs won't hedge their bets and draft one of them.
ML: RB Larry Johnson has been held under 4 yards per carry in four of his last five games. What will the Chiefs do to get him rolling against the Chargers?
The problem with the Chiefs offense right now is that the pass is the primary weapon. Still, the Chiefs would be smart to use Johnson in more creative ways in the offense. They don't use him in the screen passes or pitch the ball to him so he can break away from the front seven. It's questionable to me that Johnson will return in 2009 and -- if the Chiefs are going to get trade value for him in the spring -- he needs to have at least one 100-yard rushing game and find the end zone a couple of times.
ML: TE Tony Gonzalez always enjoys monster games against the Chargers. What, if anything, can opposing defenses do to slow him down?
NA: Right now there isn't anything any team can do to stop Gonzalez. He's the premier tight end in the game and it does not matter if you double or triple team him at the moment. He's loving the Chiefs new offense and he's building great rapport with quarterback Tyler Thigpen.
The Chargers will be lucky to hold him to double-digit catches and keep his receiving yards under the century mark. For a man in his early thirties, he looks like he could play this game another five years. There is no doubt in my mind he'll have a monster game on Sunday against San Diego.
ML: How is it that the Chiefs, with three former first-round picks starting on the D-line, have only six sacks this season? What will they do to pressure QB Philip Rivers?
Outside is where the real troubles abound for this front four. Tamba Hali has been a disappointment and the word "bust" is being mentioned when his name comes up in inner circles. The former Penn State product is not the same player now that he's the team's primary pass rusher. When Jared Allen was around, Hali was a potential double-digit sack guy; right now, he's just not playing very well.
On the other side, the Chiefs are forced to play Alphonso Boone because of so many injuries and he's more of an inside guy than an outside guy. The good news for Chiefs fans is the fact that one-third of their sacks came against Rivers in the Chiefs loss at San Diego in October.
ML: Which of Kansas City 's rookies has impressed you the most so far this season? Which of them has the highest potential to become a superstar?
NA: To me the most impressive rookie has been left tackle Branden Albert. He's been consistent since the day he walked on the field last May in OTA sessions. For a guy who spent his senior year at Virginia playing guard, he's done an amazing job at protecting the backside of the Chiefs carousel of quarterbacks this year.
ESPN's Merrill Hodge told me of all the rookie linemen he's seen this year, Albert has the most upside to be a very dominant left tackle for years to come. The Chiefs made some solid choices a year ago but none better in my opinion than Albert.
ML: What do you think of the coaching job Herm Edwards has done this season? If Edwards was coaching the Chargers and Norv Turner was coaching the Chiefs, what do you think the respective records of those teams would be?
NA: What a great question. I'm going to ask you that one right back in Part II. I think Edwards has done some of his best coaching in his entire career. He's had to deal with less than cooperative support from the front office about bleeding the veteran roster and adding youth as its core. He's had to deal with the distractions of Tony Gonzalez demanding a trade and the Larry Johnson stuff off the field. He took back control of the locker room in early October and the team -- though they continue to mount losses -- has been in virtually every game since their blowout loss at Carolina.
I think if Edwards had the talent the Chargers possess, there isn't any doubt San Diego would be ahead of the Broncos for the AFC West lead. If Turner were the Chiefs coach, I doubt they'd have a single victory and the locker room would have imploded.