You can look at injuries, you can look at inexperience, or you can look at play calling in the Red Zone. But, the most consistent problem for the Chargers in 2013 has been tackling.
Or, more accurately, a severe lack of tackling.
The Bolts have been bad at bringing down opposing ball carriers in 2013 as a whole, but last week in Miami was a truly horrific display.
The Chargers missed 12 tackles at Sun Life Stadium. You'd have thought they were being asked to jump on some of those 9-foot alligators in the Everglades. This week defensive coordinator John Pagano voiced his displeasure with his unit.
"It's not acceptable," said Pagano. "The lack of effort through games is something that we're not going to go for. It's not going to happen again."
If the Chargers hope to beat the Chiefs on Sunday, it cannot happen again. Kansas City's defense is too good to allow their offense to prolong drives and hold on to the ball. Missing tackles prolongs drives. So, the Bolts are going to have to show immediate, drastic improvement to have a shot.
All that being said, here are three players to keep an eye on Sunday at Arrowhead Stadium:
Derek Cox, CB:
Through ten games Derek Cox has been a free agent bust. His numbers are not all that bad (seven passes defensed, one INT), but they are in no way indicative of his actual play. In back-to-back games, against the Broncos and Dolphins, Cox has missed a shot at the guy with the ball and watched him run for a long touchdown, and those came after he was benched in the 3rd quarter in Washington for being ineffective.
Cox is one of the larger cornerbacks in the NFL. He should have the length to knock balls away and the strength to keep pass catchers from big gains. Even if Johnny Patrick does play Sunday (he's questionable because of a concussion) Cox will see a lot of time of Kansas City's WR Dwayne Bowe. Cox doesn't have to shut down Bowe completely, but if he lets the Pro Bowler run for massive gains after the catch, the Chargers will be in deep trouble.
Jahleel Addae, S:
Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith is annoyingly solid. Since 2010, no NFL quarterback has thrown fewer interceptions than Smith, who has been picked off just 24 times in nearly four years (Aaron Rodgers is second with 29 picks). Smith has only thrown it to the wrong team four times in 2013. In his career, the Helix High School alum has a 12-0 record in games where he has a QR Rating of 100.0 or better. Some call it being a "game manager." I call it being a "winner."
So, since he is not going to make any mistakes on his own, you have to force the issue. In Jacksonville, Jahleel Addae got his first career NFL sack on a blitz of Chad Henne. The Chargers dropped Henne six times that day, their highest total of the season. Kansas City's offensive line is adequate but certainly not elite. The Bolts can disrupt the Chiefs attack if they can get in to the backfield quickly. Don't be surprised if Pagano gambles a few times calling Addae's number.
Danny Woodhead, RB:
Kansas City's defense is stout, stingy, stellar, and lots of other words that start with "s." The Chiefs give up the second-fewest points per game and are ranked top five in a bunch of other categories. However, there is one area where they seem to have a weakness: stopping long running plays.
Kansas City is 29th in the league in yards allowed per run. That means they are susceptible to big gains on the ground. The last couple of weeks, Ryan Mathews has ripped off a few large runs. In the cold air at Arrowhead, he could very well do it again, and so could Danny Woodhead.
Woodhead's cutback ability can make life miserable for aggressive defenses that have a tendency to occasionally over-pursue. I see the Chargers using their 1-2 punch to try and control the clock, with Mathews and Woodhead eating up large chunks of yards in the process.
In last week's 27-17 loss to the Broncos, the Chiefs showed they are indeed a good team, not simply a lucky one. They also showed they do have holes that can be exploited on both offense and defense.
The Chargers have the kind of personnel to take advantage of those weaknesses. The problem is, they just are not performing at a consistent level and there's nothing to even suggest they'll figure it out inside one of the most inhospitable stadiums on the planet.
It'll be close, but the Bolts will continue to find a way to take themselves out of a winnable game.