Pre-Snap Read: Chiefs vs. Chargers

The Chiefs have an opportunity to tighten their grip on the AFC West with a road win in San Diego but a victory over the cornered Chargers won't come easy. Still this is one of the most important games the Chiefs will play this season and the boys in Red have the opportunity and the ability to win in San Diego on Sunday.

Chiefs Offense versus the Chargers Defense
In last weeks trip to Miami the Chiefs were able to get a good look at a defense that is strikingly similar to the one they will face this week in San Diego. The Chargers 3-4 defense is comparable to Miami's in both personnel and scheme so the Chiefs could very well be coming in to this week's game with the same game plan they used nine days ago.

For the most part the Chargers play a traditional 3-4 defense where the weak side linebacker is a pass rush specialist that plays most downs with his hand on the ground like a down lineman. They do however frequently bring both outside linebackers up on the line of scrimmage for more of a "50 front" that allows them to execute a variety zone blitzes (This is the same kind of front that you usually see from the New England Patriots).

When it comes to running the ball against San Diego the Chargers make it particularly tough to hit the parameter with the speed of their linebackers. Yet as with most 3-4 defenses what they possess in speed they lack in bulk so they do at times find themselves susceptible to a straight ahead/power running game. This is especially true if the offensive line can handle the nose tackle, a position that happens to be manned for the Chargers by All-Pro Jamal Williams. If Chiefs center Casey Wiegmann can manage to duplicate the performance he had against Miami one week prior, Kansas City will have a great deal of success running the ball. If Wiegmann on the other hand struggles the Chiefs will find it extremely difficult to effectively run the ball. The match-up between Wiegmann and Williams is the most important personnel battle that will take place for the Chiefs offense all day.

On the left side of the Chiefs offense Willie Roaf will find himself matched up against rookie outside linebacker Shawn Merriman and rookie defensive end Luis Castillo. Merriman is a pass rusher that lines to Roaf's outside in a 6 or 7 technique while Castillo lines up directly over Roaf in a 4 technique. Roaf will alternate blocks back and forth between these two players with the help of tight end Jason Dunn and fullback Tony Richardson.

Though they are talented young athletes, it is highly unlikely that Merriman or Castillo will have much success against tackle Willie Roaf. Roaf has made a career at shutting down the Dwight Freeney's, Jason Taylor's, and Simeon Rice's of the world so a couple of inexperienced young players Castillo and Merriman should be heavily out matched at this point in his career.

On the right side of the offensive line Jordan Black and Will Shields will be facing defensive end Igor Olshansky, outside linebacker Steve Foley, and inside linebacker Donnie Edwards. The Chargers also like to flip Foley and Merriman from one side of the defense to the other so Jordan Black will also likely see his share of Merriman as well.

Two weeks ago these match ups on the right side of the line would have been very concerning to most Chiefs fans but after seeing how well Black has performed over the past couple of games he has proven himself worthy of a vote of confidence. His performance against Kevin Carter a week ago proved that he is more than capable of handling the players that the Chargers feature on the left side of their defense.

Eddie Kennison might have another quiet day as he will likely draw most of the attention from the Chargers secondary. Marc Boerigter, Dante Hall, and Chris Horn should however see numerous opportunities to make big plays as they go up against the injured duo of Drayton Florence and Sammy Davis. It is imperative that Boerigter and the other second tier receivers pick up their game this week as they will likely be primary recipients of several play action passes deep down the field.

Bottom Line:
Although the Chargers are statistically the NFL's 2nd ranked defense against the run the Chiefs will have to go to Priest Holmes and Larry Johnson both early and often. It will be difficult to run the patent stretch play against this quick of a defense so the Chiefs will need Waters, Wiegmann, and Shields to gash things open in the middle. If the running game can start clicking in the middle of the Chargers defense then their entire defense will collapse.

Chiefs Defense versus the Chargers Offense
Gunther Cunningham has a favorite saying that he passes along to his players in two easy syllables; "Don't Blink". If the Chiefs are going to have a shot at stopping the Chargers prolific offense this weekend Coach Cunningham will need to follow his own advice. A week ago the Philadelphia Eagles gave the rest of the NFL a blueprint for stopping San Diego and the way they did it happens to fall right in line with the style of defense that Coach Cunningham built his reputation on.

Prior to the Chargers meeting with the Eagles most league experts would have scoffed at the notion that any defense in the NFL possessed the capability of holding LaDainian Tomlinson to 7 yards rushing on 17 carries. Once the two teams reached the end of last weeks fourth quarter however the Eagles had proven that it could be done.

Philadelphia's defensive coordinator Jim Johnson devised a game plan that primarily used an eight man front with eight man run blitzes on most plays. Regardless of where the Eagles defenders had initially lined after breaking the huddle their linebackers and safeties were practically on the line of scrimmage prior every snap. With three to four defenders penetrating in to the back field on every play the Eagles defense controlled the tempo of the game. The only time the Eagles struggled on defense is when they dropped their linebackers and safeties in to zone coverage and only brought pressure with their front four.

In 2004 a major key to the Chargers offensive dominance was the left side of their line with the duo of mammoth guard Toniu Fonoti and tackle Roman Oben. Fonoti was an unmovable force in the passing game and a bull dozer in the running game. Now in the 2005 season the Chargers have had to replace Fonoti with journeyman Kris Dielman and it is hard to imagine anyone happier about the personnel move than Chiefs defensive tackle Lional Dalton.

Dalton struggled against Fonoti last season and therefore wasn't much help to his line mate Jared Allen in collapsing the pocket. Now however the duo of Dalton and Allen stand a better chance of making some plays without a 360lb human wall standing in their way.

On the interior of the Chargers offensive line back up center Bob Hallen will likely start for the second week in a row in place of the injured Nick Hardwick. Hallen was repeatedly beaten a week ago by Philadelphia's middle linebacker Jeremiah Trotter so look for the Chiefs to test his ability to pick up Kawika Mitchell on the linebacker blitz.

It also looks as if the center Hallen and right guard Mike Goff will end up facing defensive tackle John Browning this weekend. Browning is coming off of his second straight stellar performance but he missed all of this weeks practices with a sore knee. Browning was however able to participate in Friday's walk through and according to Coach Vermeil his playing status will be a game time decision. If Browning is unable to play second year player Junior Siavii will start in his place at left defensive tackle with Jimmy Wilkerson also being added in to the defensive tackle rotation. In that instance Siavii would likely play first and second down with Wilkerson picking up duty on third downs.

The Chiefs linebackers need to have their talents maximized in this game and given the freedom to play downhill. There is no reason that they cannot be as equally as disruptive as the Eagles linebackers were to this Chargers offense as long as they stay disciplined, control their gaps, and play within the scheme.

As with the linebackers things are almost as simple with the defensive ends. Jared Allen, Carlos Hall, and Eric Hicks cannot crash to the inside they way have been accustomed to over the past several weeks (Remember the Ronnie Brown touchdown?). The Chargers run fairly heavily to the outside and they also like to roll the pocket on bootlegs.

If the Chiefs defensive ends can take their initial five steps straight up the field they will cut of both of these plays and funnel everything back in towards the linebackers. (The Eagles defensive ends were fantastic at doing this against the Chargers).

With Eric Warfield returning to the lineup as the starting right corner the Chiefs secondary will be vastly improved. Warfield and Patrick Surtain should match up favorably against receivers Keenan McCardell and Eric Parker while I suspect the Chiefs will do something a little different this week in their Nickel package to cover Antonio Gates.

Rather than give 5'9" Benny Sapp the difficult task of covering the 6'4" Gates the Chiefs could wind up using safeties Jerome Woods or William Bartee as the Nickel back when Gates is in the game. Bartee could very well be the odds on favorite to perform this duty after the solid job he did against Tony Gonzalez in similar situations during training camp.

Bottom Line -
The Chiefs have to do their best impression of the Eagles defense on Sunday. If they sit in a soft zone like they did against the Eagles and Raiders then the San Diego Chargers will pick them apart.

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