Chiefs Have Bright Spots In Loss

As 43-14 losses go, the Chiefs' effort against the Chargers Sunday wasn't bad. While the defense surrendered 426 total yards, quarterback Matt Cassel was personally responsible for 16 Charger points and the game was over by halftime, there were positives.

Kansas City's brightest spot was the play of Jamaal Charles. His fumble resulted in a San Diego touchdown, but his ability to run for consistent positive yardage was promising. During the Chiefs' first scoring drive, Charles showed desire in fighting and spinning his way for extra yardage, even lowering his shoulder pads to deliver a few blows of his own.

Since taking over the departed Larry Johnson's duties as the main ball carrier, Charles has scored two rushing touchdowns, averaged over five yards per carry and nearly 85 yards per game. Stretch that sample over a 16-game schedule, and it equates to a 1,345-yard and 10-touchdown season, which isn't factoring in the impact Charles has on special teams and as a receiver.

Against the Chargers, Charles caught three passes for 54 yards. He's averaging three catches a game since he became a starter, and caught a touchdown pass against Pittsburgh. Throw in his return ability, and there's no doubt Charles will be a potent weapon.

Though he's jumped out of the blocks quickly as a starter, there are still questions surrounding Charles. Listed at 199 pounds, Charles' critics will always claim he's not big enough to be an every-down feature back. The only way to prove those critics wrong is by playing every single week. Then there's the fumbling issue. His struggles with holding onto the football are well documented, but Charles' turnover in San Diego was his first as a starter. If he can prove fumbling and injuries aren't an issue, the Chiefs will have a building block in the backfield.

Another good sign for the Chiefs was wide receiver play. With added incentive playing against his old team, Chambers turned in an admirable performance with seven receptions for 70 yards and a touchdown. Add in four catches from Bobby Wade and Lance long, and you've got a good performance from what was once the Chiefs' most suspect unit.

With Dwayne Bowe serving his four-game suspension, Matt Cassel's top three pass catchers Sunday (and four if you include Leonard Pope) were not Chiefs in Week 1 this season, but all have a good chance to return next year. If Bowe can mend fences with Todd Haley, the Chiefs could stand pat over the offseason at wide receiver. Bowe and Chambers make a good starting tandem with Long in the slot and Wade as a backup. If Mark Bradley continues to struggle catching the ball, expect him to be elsewhere in 2010.

What about the bad? Cassel had his worst game as a Chief Sunday, by a wide margin. After protecting the ball all season, his interception, fumble and safety against the Chargers were quite possibly the difference between a close game and a blowout. Interceptions can be tolerated, but not when they're the result of hitting a defensive lineman in the helmet. A pass should absolutely never hit a defensive lineman, especially in the helmet.

His next turnover was equally puzzling. Cassel completely lost control of the ball, without ever being touched by a defender. Len Dawson indicated during his radio broadcast that the ball may not have been properly rubbed down before the game, but unless that ball was lathered in mayonnaise, the fumble was inexcusable. Cassel committed two completely unforced turnovers at crucial junctures. However, since Cassel's early track record as a Chief indicates ball protection, we can chalk this game up as a fluke.

Even more unacceptable than Cassel's two blunders was Rudy Niswanger's wayward snap that resulted in a San Diego touchdown. Niswanger has struggled all season, and though Sunday was the first time he's botched two snaps that badly, it wasn't the first time he's heavily contributed to a Chiefs loss. As the season continues, he appears to be the weakest link on the offensive line, which is saying a lot considering the state of KC's line.

Given the predicament they were put in by four awful offensive turnovers, KC's defense may fly under the radar this week, but despite the Chargers' short fields, the Chiefs allowed over 400 yards. Antonio Gates had a field day in the heart of their secondary. Gates is a great player, but he exposed KC's biggest defensive weakness – the middle.

A lot has been made of the safety position this season, and for good reason, but the Chiefs' middle linebackers have not been pulling their weight, either. Demorrio Williams consistently overpursues in pass coverage, which is especially bad given he's not in on obvious passing downs. The Chiefs need to improve several positions, and middle linebacker is one.

In the end KC's terrible loss to the Chargers means nothing. The Chiefs had been fortunate all season to be on the positive side of the turnover margin, and were due for some bad luck. The problem Sunday was that two players – Cassel and Niswanger – both had arguably the worst games of their careers, and when the two players making all the unforced blunders touch the ball every single offensive play, it spells trouble.

The Chiefs moved the ball well despite the turnovers, and several Chiefs had productive afternoons, so this loss, as bad as it was on the scoreboard, doesn't hurt in the long run.

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