Well this was unexpected.
The Chargers went from 0-4 to 7-6 and tied for 1st place in the AFC West. Now a big part of that is the Chiefs went from 5-0 to 7-6 and not many people expected that to happen. Even Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers admitted he was surprised with how drastically Kansas City fell back to the pack.
So Saturday night at Arrowhead Stadium the Chargers and Chiefs meet to see who takes control of the division. If Kansas City wins they can put the Bolts away with one more win (over either the Dolphins or Broncos) because even if they finish with identical 9-7 records KC will have the tiebreaker having beaten the Bolts both meetings.
If the Chargers win they take a 1-game lead with two to play, not as much of a stranglehold on the top spot but certainly in good shape with games against the Jets and Raiders left.
So who wins this clash of division foes? Fernando Ramirez looks at the Chargers while Derek Togerson deals with the Chiefs keys to victory.
Chargers Key #1: Run Gordon Run
The offense has been fairly balanced in the four game win streak. This week could be a little bit different. The Chargers could look to run the ball more this week mixing and matching Melvin Gordon and Austin Ekeler because the Chiefs have one of the worst run stopping defenses in the NFL. The Chiefs are giving up about 125 yards per game on the ground. Last week, The Raiders ran the ball early and had success, but abandoned it when they fell behind. The Chargers can trust Gordon as he hasn’t fumbled this at all this season. Look for the Chargers to run the ball to tire out the already weakened Chiefs defense.
Chiefs Key #1: Spread Out the Targets
Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith is at his best when he’s versatile. His top three passing targets this year are WR Tyreek Hill, TE Travis Kelce and RB Kareem Hunt. Smith, a Helix High School alum, will be facing one of the NFL’s best pass rushes. If his primary target isn’t open he needs to get through his progressions as quickly as possible and get the ball out to whoever is open because all three of those guys can be game-breaking playmakers. If he hangs on and tries to wait for a big play Smith will likely end up on his back quite a bit.
Chargers Key #2: Hit Alex Smith
It is no secret that the Chargers have one of the best pass rushing duos in the NFL in Melvin Ingram and Joey Bosa. The Chiefs offensive line is bleeding as their center Mitch Morse has been put on IR with a foot injury. Their offensive line has not been able to keep defenders off of Smith during their recent struggles. To win this game the Chargers will need to get turnovers which they had in recent games and the way to get him to turn the ball over is by hitting him. Last week, The Raiders sacked Smith four times, and Oakland is not one of the better sacking teams. Look for defensive coordinator Gus Bradley to put Ingram over the center to use his athleticism and not let Smith run wild over them.
Chiefs Key #2: Don’t Let Anyone Over the Top
The Chargers offense has been extremely successful taking shots down the field of late. If rabbits like Tyrell Williams or Travis Benjamin are able to get by the defensive back it’s really hard for a safety to get to them in time to stop a monster gain. That will be made even more difficult for the Chiefs since Eric Berry is out. They’ll have to make sure they don’t let anyone run clean 30 or more yards downfield. Of course, then they still have to deal with Keenan Allen on the intermediate stuff and that’s no picnic either. That’s where Justin Houston has to get re-acquainted with Philip Rivers. In his last four games against the Chargers Houston has 6.0 sacks.
Chargers Key #3: Protect Rivers
The Chargers offensive line has been one of the unsung heroes of this season. One of the biggest problems of the last few years is Rivers had not been protected. This season he has only been sacked 15 times this season, which is the lowest in the NFL. The offensive line will need to continue this trend because as it has been evident that in the last few weeks Rivers has been on fire. One of the most dangerous pass rushers, Justin Houston, will be lining up on right tackle Joe Barksdale’s side, so the Chargers need to make sure that tight ends and running backs are chipping Houston to help Barksdale weather the storm. This game will come down to which team will protect their quarterback better.
Chiefs Key #3: Make Plays Marcus Peters
In their 24-10 Week 3 win at StubHub Center, Chiefs cornerback Marcus Peters had a pick and three tackles. He was recently suspended for a game by the team for not being a very nice person and throwing a few tantrums but now he’s back and he’ll very likely be matched up with Allen, who has become arguably the best 3rd down receiver in the NFL. Rivers has not thrown an interception in a month and that one was an overtime heave against Jacksonville that was probably as much Benjamin’s fault as his. Peters will need to get another turnover and help keep the, of late, extremely potent Chargers offense off the field.
Fernando’s Prediction: Chargers 27 Chiefs 20. The Chiefs have been weakened and it’s hard to jump start when you have hit rock bottom. The Chargers will be closer to going to the playoffs for the first time since 2013.
Derek’s Prediction: Chiefs 23, Chargers 17. Even through their tough stretch one thing is certain … the Chiefs are a different team at Arrowhead Stadium. They’re 4-2 at home this year with their losses coming to the Steelers and Bills (with a ticked off and motivated Tyrod Taylor at QB after his benching against the Chargers), both by six points. Plus KC has beaten the Bolts seven straight times. They make it eight on Saturday night.
Chargers at Chiefs: 3 Keys to Victory
What both teams have to do to get a win on Saturday at Arrowhead Stadium
Well this was unexpected.