Stop Tomlinson

As the Kansas City Chiefs make their final preparations for the San Diego Chargers, its clear and present danger is stopping all world running back LaDainian Tomlinson.

The Chiefs held the future star to a meager 29 yards in the season opener back in September. That's not likely to happen again with the Chiefs rushing defense struggling.

After watching the Detroit Lions upset the visiting Green Bay Packers on Thanksgiving day, the Chiefs need to take nothing for granted against the 2-9 Chargers. Though this team has a quarterback controversy and a head coach on the hot seat, San Diego has always played tough against the Chiefs at home. In fact, they've won four of their last five including the Chiefs most bitter loss of the season last year at Qualcomm stadium.

This is a game that Chiefs players have marked on their schedule. Last year the Chiefs dominated turnovers and offensively played one of the best games of the season. But the defense failed to stop Drew Brees and the Chiefs lost in the final seconds.

Earlier this year the Chiefs beat the Chargers 24-14 at Arrowhead to open the season. Their first half play was brilliant as they scored three touchdowns and looked invincible on offense. The defense had its best day against the run holding the Chargers running backs to 69 total yards.

But the Chiefs have their problems against the Chargers in San Diego and with his job on the line, head coach Marty Schottenheimer will have his team focused to begin the game. The trick will be keeping them focused if the Chiefs come out strong and put some points on the board.

Schottenheimer has played musical chairs with his quarterbacks and its quite likely cost his team ay chance offensively to get into any rhythm. Doug Flutie has started the last three games and he's gone 1-2. He looked lights out beating the Minnesota Vikings three weeks ago but he looked like a forty-something quarterback in back to back losses against the Denver Broncos and Cincinnati Bengals.

Flutie is clearly a better quarterback than the much younger Drew Brees, but Flutie is not the future. Brees continues to sit on the bench and can learn nothing from carrying a clipboard for Flutie. Brees needs to play and the Chief have a better chance of defeating the Chargers with Brees on the bench. It appears that Schottenheimer will start Flutie.

Beating Flutie is a very simple chore and should not be a problem for the Chiefs. With his lack of size and reduced arm strength, the Chiefs defense needs to keep Flutie in the pocket. Flutie is ineffective as long as he stays in the pocket and has nowhere to run. When he gets outside of the rush containment, he can be deadly.

Flutie has managed to get trouble-maker wide receiver David Boston back into the offense. Boston has been his old self on the field for a change and has shed the weight that plagued him in his first meeting with the Chiefs. Decimated with injuries the Chargers only have one other wide receiver option. Reche Coldwell has the ability to get open and create havoc in open spaces. If Eric Warfield and William Bartee can prevent Boston and Coldwell from cutting across the field on slant patterns, they could prevent the passing lanes that Flutie needs to have open to complete passes.

If that happens, then the Chiefs can focus on Tomlinson. He's been a man among boys the last several weeks ripping off big runs for touchdowns. I don't think there is a younger back who is better at cutting back. The Chiefs rushing defense has been susceptible to the big run.

Chiefs head coach Dick Vermeil addressed that to the team this week in practice. He told them to concentrate on wrapping up the runner at the line of scrimmage and not trying to strip the ball and make the spectacular play. Stop the runner, contain him and then try and take the ball away.

Speaking of takeaways, the Chiefs defense has not created a turnover in the last two games. Both the Bengals and Raiders held onto the ball and that has attributed to lower than expected scores by the team.

Kansas City's defense is not as effective when they don't take the ball away. They've also lost some of their aggressiveness the past two games and that has to be a concern. If the Chiefs are going to contain Flutie and Tomlinson, the defense has to play smarter and with more passion.

Injuries to Mike Maslowski and Shawn Barber have slowed the performance of the defense but Scott Fujita and rookie Kawika Mitchell has to have a big game against the Chargers. Both safeties Jerome Woods and Greg Wesley should be able to cheat on defense to support the run. The Chargers offense is anything but complicated and Greg Robinson, the Chiefs defensive coordinator, should have some blitz schemes in hand to attack the Chargers offense. I doubt he will lay off like he's done the past two weeks.

On offense, Kansas City needs to be aggressive. Over the past six weeks the Chiefs have established themselves as one of the better passing teams in the AFC. That trend should continue on Sunday with the Chargers anemic pass defense. Trent Green could easily have a 400 yard passing game against this defense but he needs to take what the Chargers give him and control time of possession.

<Marc Boerigter the star of the Raiders game had his coming out party in San Diego last year and he might be ready to take over as the teams third receiver. Boerigter might in fact be the key to the Chiefs offense down the stretch and into the playoffs. He has tremendous speed and a body of a tight end. But his hands are clutch and no other Chiefs receiver is better at crossing patterns. With his speed, Boerigter needs little daylight to make a short play into a long gainer.

Expect the Chiefs offense to establish the passing game early and then rely on Priest Holmes to takeover. I think Al Saunders plan is to use more of Holmes in the passing game in hopes of scoring early and then relying on his legs to close out games. Because of the type of games the Chiefs have been in the last two weeks, that plan has not worked as Saunders would have liked.

The X-Factor, Dante Hall, might find the war weather to his liking as he hopes this is the week he gets the one for the thumb. Hall has four returns for a touchdown this season and only needs one more punt or kick-off return to secure his place in NFL history. He narrowly missed converting two returns last week and his close call against the Browns has left Hall salivating to get this over with.

Kansas City knows that a win in San Diego will give them a tie for the AFC West division crown. If the Broncos lose to the Raiders, culminating with a Chiefs victory, Kansas City will win the AFC West outright, secure a playoff spot and stay on course for the #1 slot in the AFC playoff's race for home field advantage.

The Chargers are the worst team in the NFL but so were the Detroit Lions. If you give a team who is down on their luck and in the midst of a stretch that has included 16 losses in their last 20 games any hope, the Chiefs could lose.

With so much at stake, the Chiefs need to come out firing on all cylinders, especially on defense so that does not happen. Kansas City needs to kick this dead horse into submission.

Nick's Notes:

* The Chargers are 1-8 against the AFC this year and 0-4 in the AFC West. The Chiefs are 9-1 against the AFC and 4-0 against the West. One reason the Chargers are 2-9 on the season is the fact that their defense has given up 11 touchdowns the last four games.

*To show the disparity between the Chief defense and the Chargers defense even further this stat will put it all in perspective. The Chargers have given up 314 points this season while the Chiefs improved defense has only given up 198 points. That's tops in the AFC West and ranks in the top 10 in the NFL.

*Mike Maslowski might be sitting on the sidelines for this game. The Chargers will be without wide receiver Tim Dwight who is recovering from a collapsed lung. The Chargers placed him on the injured reserve list this week, thus ending his season.

Fearless Prediction : Chiefs 28 – Chargers 16

Season Prognostication Record : 9-2

2003 Game Recaps
Week #10: Bengals 24 – Chiefs 19
Week # 9: Chiefs 41 - Browns 20
Week # 8: Chiefs 38 – Bills 5
Week # 7: Chiefs 17 – Oakland 10
Week # 6: Chiefs 40 – Packers 34 OT
Week # 5: Chiefs 24 – Broncos 23
Week # 4: Chiefs 17 – Ravens 10
Week # 3: Chiefs 42 – Texans 14
Week # 2: Chiefs 41 - Steelers 20
Week # 1: Chiefs 24 – Chargers 14


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