Behind Enemy Lines: Chiefs vs. Chargers I

With the big AFC West showdown slated for this Sunday between the Kansas City Chiefs and San Diego Chargers, rival publishers Michael Lombardo of SD Bolt Report and Nick Athan of Warpaint Illustrated go behind enemy lines.

ML: 1. The Chiefs always have a lot of success against LaDainian Tomlinson, holding him under 70 yards rushing in three of their last four meetings. Even though Tomlinson has struggled this season, he showed signs of turning it around in week three. Will the Chiefs be the fourth consecutive team to stifle the reigning MVP? What will they do to slow him down? And who will cover him out of the backfield?

NA: - This year's defense will surely be keying on LT, who arguably is the best running back in the NFL. However, even when KC's defense was horrible, they were able to bottle him up and contain him. The one thing to be concerned about is that the Chiefs have never been able to stop Tomlinson from throwing the ball for touchdowns.

But this year they'll have a secret weapon in linebacker Donnie Edwards. He may not cover Tomlinson all the time, but either the former Charger or the brilliant Derrick Johnson will be in charge of shadowing him wherever he goes. I can tell you that the Chiefs believe stopping Tomlinson is the key to coming out of San Diego with a victory. If they can contain him and force quarterback Philip Rivers to beat them, they may be able to capitalize on some mistakes.

ML: 2. There will be a classic battle between youth and experience when Chargers' receivers, Vincent Jackson and Craig Davis, face off against Ty Law and Patrick Surtain. How do you handicap this match-up? Also, who will have the better game – and season – Davis, or his former LSU cohort, Dwayne Bowe?

NA: - Law has struggled this year, but he's got some game left. He has the ability to fool quarterbacks and though he isn't as quick as he once was, he can break up a pass. Surtain plays a bit more aggressive and that means tighter coverage on either Jackson or Davis. With two fast safeties in Bernard Pollard and Jarrad Page concentrating on stopping tight end Antonio Gates, that could open up some one-on-one matchups.

As far as Bowe, he's coming into his own and his blend of power, hands and comfort within the offense gives him the edge. I expect a 100-yard receiving day out of Bowe, who is looking forward to playing against a Chargers secondary that has been torched the last two weeks. If he gets single coverage on any Chargers corner, he'll win that battle.

ML: 3. How do you like the match-ups facing ex-Chargers Donnie Edwards and Damion McIntosh? Will Edwards shadow Antonio Gates? Can McIntosh seal Shawne Merriman off the edge?

NA: - I think McIntosh is looking forward to playing the Chargers. He's been a rock in KC for this offensive line and he's highly motivated to go up against Merriman and company. Last week against the Vikings he dominated more physical pass rushers than Merriman, so I like his chances at stopping Merriman Sunday, who was basically ineffective in two games versus Kansas City last year.

As far as Edwards, he's ready to go back to San Diego. The Chargers' defense isn't the same without him and he's been a leader for the Chiefs' resurgence into a top five defense. When this game is over I think Chargers fans will be throwing apples and oranges at General Manager AJ Smith's suite for letting Edwards flee to Kansas City.

ML: 4. This game features two great fullbacks with contrasting styles. While Lorenzo Neal serves as a virtual battering ram, Wilson is more of a versatile H-back. How will the Chiefs move Wilson around to help him spring Larry Johnson on some big runs? Will he play more in the backfield or on the line?

NA: - I wouldn't go as far as saying two great fullbacks. Clearly Neal is one of the best, and he can run the ball on occasion. He's the perfect front man for LT, though the Chiefs are much stronger up the middle than they've been in the last five seasons. In fact, this year's front four might be the best we've seen in these parts since the early 90's.

Wilson really is a tweener. He's not big enough to be a tight end and I don't think he's physical enough to be a fullback. He can get the job done but the team is trying to develop Boomer Grigsby as their battering ram. He's still a work in progress but will be active this week.

ML: 5. There was a lot of talk in the preseason about Brodie Croyle being the favorite to win the starting quarterback job. Instead, Herm Edwards tabbed veteran Damon Huard and netted only modest results. Was starting Huard the right decision? How long until Croyle moves into the starting line-up? What is the best way to handle this quarterback quandary?

NA: - Croyle almost entered the game in the third quarter against the Minnesota Vikings last Sunday. Huard gave himself a bit of leeway this week when he came out in the second half to grab a victory. But Croyle is the future, and if Huard struggles in the first half the kid from Alabama will get his shot. Huard is on a short leash and it's unfortunate because I think he'll be fine. But sooner or later Croyle will get the nod and when he does it'll be his horse to ride the rest of the season.

Still, the decision by Edwards to start the season with Huard made sense. The preseason wasn't the correct forum for Croyle, who never played with the full starting unit in four games. That hurt his development more than anything.

ML: 6. The Chargers and Chiefs are both coming off playoff appearances and are both disappointed with their current place in the standings. However, the season is still young and every team in the AFC West has a blemished record. How do you see this division shaking out? Where will the Chargers and Chiefs stand when it's all said and done? Does the loser of this game have a shot at the playoffs?

NA: - This is the Super Bowl for the Chiefs. If they win and Denver takes a thumping at Indianapolis then Kansas City will be tied for the division lead. Then the Chiefs will have six of their next eight games at home and that could be enough to build a comfortable lead in the division. The AFC West isn't anywhere near as good as it's been advertised. Every team is in a transition phase and I believe the team that wins this game on Sunday between the Chiefs and Chargers will be the team to beat the next 12 weeks.

The loser of this game will be in for a long season. If Kansas City wins, they control their own fate. The pressure is on San Diego to win this game because they were so great a year ago. If they lose again the Norv Turner bashers will be out in full force. The Chiefs know the Chargers are in trouble, o they believe they can go to San Diego and win this football game. But the Chargers are at home, so they should still pull out a victory.

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