WHEN THE CHIEFS PASS
Did the Chiefs find their stride in the passing game last week against the Vikings? We'll find out this week. They face a San Diego secondary that's been scorched in back to back weeks by Tom Brady and Brett Favre. Personnel-wise, this is the same group of players the Chiefs are already familiar with, outside of rookie safety Eric Weddle, who may see some time matched up with Tony Gonzalez. Last week he covered tight end Bubba Franks in Green Bay.
Where the Chargers are suffering right now is in their pass rush. For some reason, San Diego's new defensive coordinator, Ted Cottrell, favors a 4-3 look on third downs and in obvious passing situations. Shawne Merriman and Shaun Phillips will both put their hands on the ground instead of lining up in the traditional 3-4 look. This is far less confusing for an offensive line to block, as it's much easier to figure out where the pass rush is coming from. As a result, the Chargers only have seven sacks after three games, well off their pace from a year ago. Merriman was neutralized last week by Packers left tackle Chad Clifton, a matchup you'd expect him to win.
Kansas City's offensive line has pass blocked much better this year. Unless Damion McIntosh gets hurt, it's hard to see them struggling with San Diego's pass rush tomorrow. Still, the Chiefs have to continue to throw the ball down the field. The key to beating San Diego's defense is using the shotgun formation early and often. This will tire out SD's pass rushers and allow the Chiefs to run the football later in the game. New England and Green Bay both employed this strategy.
WHEN THE CHARGERS PASS
Say what you want about Philip Rivers. Maybe his arm strength is less than ideal, maybe he has a funky release, maybe he's a bit of a hothead. The guy can flat out play football. In Green Bay last week, Rivers was simply on fire, completing 15 passes in a row to start the game. Right now he's accurate and confident, and his young receiving corps (rookie Craig "Buster" Davis, Vincent Jackson and Malcom Floyd) are playing well.
Then there's All-Pro tight end Antonio Gates. Through three games, he's put up whopping numbers – 27 catches already. Here's the problem for the Chargers – the Chiefs know how to defend Gates. In two games against Kansas City last year, Gates had just 70 yards receiving. The Chiefs have the athletes in Donnie Edwards and Jarrad Page to render the tight end ineffective.
The other problem for San Diego is their pass protection. With LaDainian Tomlinson shut down, the Chargers find themselves in more and more passing situations these days. Their offensive line isn't really built for this. Rivers has already been sacked eight times this season after going down just 27 times last year. If the Chiefs can get to Rivers while blanketing Gates, it could be a long afternoon for San Diego's offense.
WHEN THE CHIEFS RUN
Playing the Vikings wasn't really an ideal matchup for Kansas City's running game a week ago. Things don't really improve this week, as the Chiefs face a run defense that's giving up only 88 yards rushing per game through three weeks and just 3.7 yards per rush. The Chargers replaced both inside linebackers this offseason, but there doesn't appear to be a huge dropoff with Stephen Cooper and Carlos Polk/Matt Wilhelm manning the position.
It's no secret why – nose tackle Jamal Williams is back and plugging just as many gaps as he did a year ago. The Chargers also have a capable backup this year in second-year tackle Brandon McKinney, a mountain of a man. The thought of McKinney giving Williams rest all year is a scary one.
As we said earlier, the key to beating San Diego is use of the shotgun formation. This forces Williams off the field the majority of the time. The Chiefs can then use draws and delays to their advantage in the running game. They've executed this strategy in the past against San Diego.
WHEN THE CHARGERS RUN
Think Larry Johnson's been frustrated this season? It's been even worse for Tomlinson. Everyone is stacking the line against this Chargers team, and there's simply nowhere to run. This is the same power-blocking unit that cleared the way last year, it's just a different ballgame this season.
Teams are constantly run blitzing San Diego, and it's working. The Chiefs have the linebackers to employ the same strategy, but with talk out of the Chargers' camp this week about changing up the playcalling, you can bet they'll try to adjust. San Diego ran all over the Chiefs in the last meeting, but historically haven't fared all that well against Kansas City's run defense, regardless of the venue. With an upgraded defensive tackle rotation this year, the Chiefs should be able to hold their own this time.
This is a matchup of great punters in Dustin Colquitt and Mike Scifres. Neither team's kick return unit is especially great right now. Nate Kaeding is a better field goal kicker than Dave Rayner, but Rayner's got a small edge otherwise. Kaeding leaves his kickoffs short of the end zone more often than not, while Rayner has shown an ability to put it five yards deep.
The return of Donnie Edwards and Damion McIntosh to San Diego presents an intriguing game-within-the-game this weekend. Edwards will surely have a few secrets to beating his old teammates. Chargers head coach Norv Turner is winless against the Chiefs, while Chiefs head coach Herm Edwards is 1-0 lifetime against Turner.
The Chiefs showed us something a week ago, but playing in San Diego is always a tough assignment. The Chargers are a frustrated bunch right now, and playing an angry, talented team coming home from a road trip isn't good news for Kansas City.
Chargers 17, Chiefs 10
Film Review: Chiefs vs Chargers
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