Chargers at Chiefs: Who to Watch

Three players to keep an eye on Sunday at Arrowhead Stadium

Hello, Beautiful. We missed you so.

The 2016 National Football League season is back and the Chargers are being thrown right in to the fire. Playing the Chiefs at Arrowhead Stadium is hard enough as it is. Doing it in the season opener when that crowd is going to be even more ramped up than normal after no football for nine months is a recipe for potential disaster.

The Chargers have lost their last four games against the Chiefs by a combined score of 82-33. Their last two trips to Kansas City have yielded a combined total of 10 points. This is not a good trend to be on, especially when you have a quarterback as good as Philip Rivers is.

But offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt is back! In the only trip the Bolts made to Missouri with Coach Whis calling the plays, they hung 41 points on the Chiefs in a 3-point win. There is certainly something to be said for that. Plus, Justin Houston is not going to play with a knee injury and Tamba Hali, also nursing a knee ailment, will be used in a limited role.

Those two guys have made life outright miserable for the Chargers offense. In the last three games against the Bolts, Houston and Hali have 8.0 sacks and an interception (which Houston returned 17 yards for a touchdown). Not having to deal with those two game wreckers at 100%, and the return of the Whis, give San Diego hope that they can steal a win at Arrowhead.

But to do that, these three players will have to do something big:

Travis Benjamin, WR

Keenan Allen is going to see a whole lot of defending Defensive Rookie of the Year Marcus Peters and that is going to be a whole lot fun to watch. But supposing they cancel each other out, the Chargers need another wideout to have an impact and that is exactly what they signed Travis Benjamin for. The burner with breakaway speed did not have a whole lot of opportunities to work on the deep ball with quarterback Philip Rivers during the preseason. Well, not outside of practice, at least. Their only long pass attempt came in Minnesota and was broken up.  Benjamin is expected to be the guy who stretches defenses and opens things up underneath for guys like Allen, Antonio Gates and Hunter Henry. The season opener would be a good place to start but also look for him on the slip screen. Benjamin is a punt returner, too, and I know the Bolts are going to like getting him the ball just past the line with a wall of blockers in front.

Denzel Perryman, ILB

The Chiefs run the ball. A lot. And they do it effectively. Pro Bowl running back Jamaal Charles won’t play as he works his way back from an ACL injury but KC knows they can still be effective with Spencer Ware and Charcandrick West, as they were last year after Charles went down. Perryman, in just his second year, is already one of the top run-stopping linebackers in the entire NFL. If he hits you, odds are you’re not bouncing off and getting a few more yards. As good as Alex Smith is (and he is much better than the “Game Manager” that he’s been labeled) if the Chargers can limit Kansas City’s rushing effectiveness and put the game in his hands and this becomes a battle of quarterbacks, San Diego will have a huge advantage.

Matt Slauson, C

Despite not having their top two quarterback killers the Chiefs do have guys who can get in to the backfield and make splash plays. Dee Ford and Frank Zombo are talented pass rushers and Dontari Poe can cause serious problems in the middle of the line. The Bolts brought Slauson in to be the stabilizing factor in the middle of their offensive line. In 2015 center Trevor Robinson, who only got the job after Chris Watt was injured, was the worst offensive lineman in the entire NFL according to statistical websites. Slauson doesn’t need to be Nick Hardwick for the Bolts to have a shot at winning (although that would be really, really nice). He just needs to be better than whatever else the Chargers have run out there. Remember Slauson takes care of the calls and is the top communicator along the o-line. Plus he bring a little of that nasty attitude the team has been missing since guys like Hardwick, Jeromey Clary and Kris Dielman retired.

Derek’s Prediction

This is a tough one. Arrowhead is going to be rocking. The Chiefs are coming off a run to the Divisional Playoffs and might arguably be even better this year. In a battle of head coaches it’s not even close: Andy Reid has the MONSTER advantage on Mike McCoy. All that being said …

The return of Whis coupled with the injury issues the Chiefs are dealing with lead me to believe the Chargers are going to pull this out. In a game reminiscent of the 2013 affair the Chargers win in shootout fashion.

Final score: Chargers 37, Chiefs 34

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