The San Diego Chargers come into Arrowhead with a young and inexperienced secondary. The Kansas City Chiefs offense is licking their chops and ready to loosen the reigns on their high powered offense. It's a statement game for the Chiefs who only have one goal this year, win the Super Bowl. That journey starts on Sunday.
The Chiefs and Chargers split two games last year with each team winning at home. In 2003 both teams have higher expectations after making strong free agent acquisitions. The Chiefs added Shawn Barber, Vonnie Holliday and Dexter McCleon. The Chargers added the enormously talented David Boston to bolster their weak wide receiver corps.
However, Boston is anything but healthy entering this game. He's had nagging injuries throughout most of the off-season and training camp. He'll play but he's nowhere near 100% and the Chargers will rely on veteran Tim Dwight.
With Boston hurting, the Chargers will be forced to rely on one of their second year wide receivers, Reche Caldwell and Eric Parker to pick up the slack. Even though the Chargers are considered a running team, San Diego Chargers head coach Marty Schottenheimer showed the ability in 2002 to open up the passing game with Drew Brees under center. The Chargers game plan will be to exploit the Chiefs secondary and then rely on stud running back LaDainian Tomlinson to pound the ball.
Due to the injury to cornerback William Bartee the Chiefs will be forced to play more zone coverage especially if Dexter McCleon or Eric Warfield struggles in man to man coverage. Linebackers Scott Fujita and Shawn Barber will likely be asked to drop back in pass coverage to help cover Tomlinson and tight end Stephen Alexander.
The Chiefs for the most part kept Tomlinson under check last year. But Tomlinson can score from anywhere on the field and if the Chargers mount a consistent running attack, the Brees becomes even more effective.
Chiefs fans remember the success Brees had against them last year. He led the Chargers to a fourth quarter come from behind victory over Kansas City in San Diego and nearly pulled off another victory in Kansas City before struggling late in that game.
Brees has a strong arm and with his ability to be accurate, most corners play off the Chargers wide receivers. Brees relies on timing patterns and the Chiefs should play bump and run to disrupt the timing of Brees. But the Chiefs best defensive weapon will be to put pressure on Brees and force him to make mistakes. They need to get a strong push up the middle by Ryan Sims and use their safeties to blitz on obvious passing plays.
But Brees has a tendency to hurry his throws when the pocket crumbles around him. With Sims pushing up the middle, that should open up some blitzing lanes for safety Greg Wesley and Jerome Woods. If that happens, the Chargers will be forced to pinch the middle and that will allow defensive ends Eric Hicks, Vonnie Holliday and R-Kal Truluck to get a beat on Brees.
On offense, the Chiefs will be facing a young and untested secondary. Schottenheimer announced earlier in the week that rookie Sammy Davis and second year cornerback Quentin Jammer will start for the Chargers. Jammer started four games last year for the Chargers and showed flashes that he can be a shut down corner. But the Chiefs will test both of them often.
Trent Green has an offensive arsenal around him that includes Tony Gonzalez, Eddie Kennison, Dante Hall, Marc Boerigter, Johnnie Morton and Priest Holmes. And if that's not enough, he's playing behind the best offensive line in football.
It almost isn't fair. Especially for a young secondary that neither has depth nor faced an offense like the Chiefs. The Chargers will be relying on former Chiefs linebacker Donnie Edwards and former K-State Wildcat Ben Leber. But the pressure will be on third year middle linebacker Zeke Moreno. He replaces all pro Junior Seau who was released by the Chargers in the off-season. The Chargers have high hopes for Moreno but the pressure to replace Seau might cause him to make some early mistakes.
The Chargers defensive line has one of the leagues best pass rushers in Marcellus Wiley when he's healthy. Wiley will be highly motivated for this game after sitting out most of last season with a knee injury. His end mate, Adrian Dingle only had four sacks last year. The Chargers weakness is their interior defensive line. Jamal Williams has the talent but he's coming back from an ankle injury and Jason Fisk has not been very productive since coming to the Chargers as a free agent in 2002.
But the key to this game will be the Chargers ability to stop Priest Holmes. The Chiefs Pro Bowl running back has a new contact, a healthy hip and plenty of motivation to prove to everyone at Arrowhead and around the NFL, that he is the games best player.
Before his injury last year, he would have shattered every NFL scoring record and the Chiefs know he's the key to making their Super Bowl dreams possible. Even if the Chargers are successful shutting down the Chiefs running attack, they have a challenge in stopping their passing game.
*CBS TV is bringing in their #1 broadcasting crew for Sunday's season opener at Arrowhead. Greg Gumbel, Phil Simms and sideline reporter Armen Keteyian will call the action for a national TV audience.
*Marc Boerigter made his regular season debut last year against the Chargers in San Diego where he scored two touchdowns. He followed that brilliant performance with another two touchdown game in the second meeting in Kansas City. In the second game, Boerigter scored a 99-yard touchdown.
*Tony Gonzalez and Eddie Kennison were limited in practice on Friday but both are expected to play Sunday. Dante Hall practiced and will return punts and kick-offs. According to Dick Vermeil, Hall will also line up at wide receiver.
*Rookie running back Larrry Johnson is not expected to suit up because of the limitations of the 46 man roster. Johnson was impressive over the last two exibtion games and he's been receiving praise from Dick Vermeil. It appears that Vermeil is gaining confidence and appreciation for his young rookie running back.
*Dick Vermeil is only 6-8 in the AFC West since he took over the Chiefs in 2001. They posted a 4-4 mark in his first season under the old divsion format that had five teams. In 2002, the Chiefs went 2-4 in the division as they defeated both the Raiders and Chargers at home but lost to the Broncos at Arrowhead. They were unable to earn a single victory on the road as they lost all three divsion games away from Kansas City. The Chiefs talked all off-season about the importance of divsion games especially with the new divsion alignments. None is more important than the first one. A win by either team will give them a leg up on their divsion rivals. No other AFC West teams are playing head to head this weekend. So the winner will take the early lead in the divsion.
*Marty Schottenheimer is 1-2 vs. the Chiefs since he left Kansas City. He lost to the Chiefs 45-13 in 2001 when he was head coach of the Washington Redskins. Last year with the Chargers San Diego defeated the Chiefs 35-34 at home and lost to them 24-22 at Kansas City.
*Fearless Prediction: Kansas City 31 - Chargers 13
Around the AFC West
The Denver Broncos open the season on the road against the Cincinnati Bengals. The game will mark the debut of Broncos quarterback Jake Plummer. Running back Clinton Portis will try to avoid any sophomore jitters with another solid season. But the Bengals showed life in the exhibition season and new head coach Marvin Lewis has his team ready and is poised for an opening day upset over the heavily favored visitors from Denver.
The Oakland Raiders face a tough opening game Sunday Night in Tennessee as they begin defense of their AFC Championship against the Titans. The Raiders ran roughshod over the Titans twice last season once in the regular season and in the AFC Championship game. Tennessee will be looking for revenge as they start the season with a healthy Steve McNair and Jevon Kearse.