Chargers at Chiefs: Who To Watch For

Three Players To Keep An Eye On Sunday In Kansas City

The Chargers 2014 season is moving along pretty much like most people expected it to, and that includes a few of the guys in the locker room.

“A few weeks ago a handful of us kind of said, shoot, you know it’s going to come down to Kansas City,” said quarterback Philip Rivers. “And, here it is.”

When the schedule came out and we, as football fans, started predicting wins and losses before training camp even started (which is usually an exercise in futility but still a bunch of fun), the consensus was the Chargers needed to hit their final five game stretch at 8-3 or, at worst, 7-4, then hope for three wins from the gauntlet that was Baltimore, New England, Denver, San Francisco and Kansas City.

It’s nice to be right for once!

Sunday’s showdown at Arrowhead Stadium not a playoff game, but a win will put the Chargers back in to the playoffs. So it’s basically a playoff game.

“If we win we move on. If we don’t we’re done,” said Rivers. “It definitely has that (playoff) feel to it.”

The similarities to the end of the 2013 season are spooky. Submitted for your approval:

-    In both 2013 and 2014, the Chargers needed to win their final two games while someone else had to lose.
-    In both 2013 and 2014, if the Chargers win their final game, they get a Wild Card spot.
-    In both 2013 and 2014, the Chargers drew the Chiefs for that final game.
-    In both 2013 and 2014, Kansas City starting QB Alex Smith will not be in uniform.

Smith was held out last year because the Chiefs had already secured the playoff positioning and rested most of their starters. This time, The Helix High School alum is injured. Smith suffered a lacerated spleen a week ago in a loss at Pittsburgh, and injury that will not require surgery, but will keep him sidelined for about six weeks.

So, once again it will be Chase Daniel who gets his one and, barring a Chiefs win and a string of losses by other teams, only start of the season against the Bolts. Daniel has only attempted one pass all season.

However, last year he had only thrown eight times in 15 games and still managed to connect on 21 of 30 passes for 200 yards and a touchdown with no turnovers against the San Diego defense. Obviously, head coach Andy Reid knows how to prepare a quarterback for a game.

The Chargers will not have Ryan Mathews or Keenan Allen available. Allen is officially listed as doubtful but with a broken collarbone, it would take a Willis Reed-like performance for him to see the field. His loss is not as concerning as it was a week ago due to the play of wide receiver Dontrelle Inman. In the second half against the 49ers, Inman made the first seven catches of his career, including one season-saving 4th down conversion. Not bad for a guy who spent the last two seasons in the CFL and had never even been targeted in an NFL game before.

Inman will likely get his first NFL start next to Malcom Floyd and Eddie Royal in Kansas City, with Seyi Ajirotutu, the man who caught the last-minute touchdown pass in a late November game to beat the Chiefs at Arrowhead a year ago, waiting in the wings.

The Chiefs might not have their big-play runner Jamaal Charles, who is questionable with another injury. He has long been a thorn in the side of Chargers defensive coordinator John Pagano, who has seen Charles run by, around and through San Diego tacklers like they’re stuck in cement.

But, the real concern is (stop me if you’ve heard this one) the Chargers offensive line. Johnnie Troutman was placed on season-ending Injured Reserve with a knee injury. Chris Watt is officially listed as questionable with a bad ankle, but he missed two and a half days of practice so it’s highly unlikely he’ll be able to contribute much.

That leaves the Chargers with their fifth starting center of the season, Trevor Robinson, who has played extremely well in relief duties in both Baltimore and San Francisco. However, it opens a couple of huge holes, and not the kinds offensive lines usually like to open.

Assuming Watt is not available, or at least no unless it’s an absolute emergency, the Bolts have one center (Robinson), one guard (Chad Rinehart), and five tackles (King Dunlap, D.J. Fluker, Willie Smith, Jeremiah Sirles and Kenny Wiggins) healthy.

Sirles, an undrafted rookie out of Nebraska, replaced Troutman at right guard at Levi’s Stadium and played well, so he probably has the inside track on a start against the Chiefs. But, he’s never snapped in a game. Neither have the starting tackles. If Smith or Wiggins have, it was a looooooooong time ago. So, if Robinson should get hurt, the Chargers would have a real pickle on their hands.

“We have a plan in place,” said head coach Mike McCoy. Well, actually, I don’t know if he said that or not. I’m just assuming that’s what he would have said because the other 58 times I, or anyone else, has asked him that question about contingencies, that’s the answer he’s given.

Alright, now that we have that all straightened out, let’s get to our three players to watch:

Melvin Ingram, OLB

In the first half of last week’s game, 49ers running back Frank Gore cut through the San Diego defense with ease. On his 52-yard touchdown run, Gore blasted through Ingram and cornerback Brandon Flowers (who made harder contact with each other than the ball carrier). But, there is no denying that Ingram has had a giant impact on the Chargers defense since returning from his hip injury. Even if Charles can’t play, the Chiefs have another dangerous runner in Knile Davis. Wide receiver Dwayne Bowe is also questionable (a word I’ve written FAR too much in this story) so Daniel will likely be relying on his tight ends and running game. Ingram’s ability to hit the QB and tackle runners before they get a head of steam will be crucial for the Chargers to avoid another deep deficit.

Antonio Gates, TE

I know, I know. DUH. The guy’s a Hall of Famer, Derek, why are you doing something so obvious? Back off me, there is a reason. Gates is 53 yards short of 10,000 for his career, which would make him just the fourth tight end in NFL history to reach that milestone. He’s also one touchdown shy of 100 for his career. The only other tight end to even catch 100 TD passes is Tony Gonzalez, who played the bulk of his Canton-bound career in Kansas City. Watching Gates reach both those landmark numbers at Arrowhead Stadium would be a fantastic bit of symmetry, and don’t think Philip Rivers, football historian that he is, is not fully aware of that. Philip will give his long-time friend plenty of chances to make plays.

Andrew Gachkar, LB

This is more for special teams. The Chiefs have one of the most dangerous punt and kick returners in the game in rookie DeAnthony Thomas. This kid is shifty enough to elude tacklers and if he gets in the open field, you might as well try to track down Usain Bolt. Gachkar is one of three Chargers (along with Darrell Stuckey and Ajirotutu) that rank in the top-15 in the NFL in special teams tackles. He’s played extremely well of late on coverage teams. The Chargers will need him to keep that up to contain Thomas, who can flip a field (or the scoreboard) any time he touches the ball.

Derek’s Prediction

The Chargers have fallen behind by double-digits in four of their last five games. They’ve rallied to win three of them. That would not be a wise move against the Chiefs. Tamba Hali and Justin Houston make up arguably the most effective pass-rush combination in the NFL (that’s because I’m only counting J.J. Watt as one guy). With them on the field against a Chargers line held together by enough Bondo and duct tape to keep the Titanic afloat, the last thing San Diego wants to do is put themselves in a position where they have to throw every down.

Fortunately, I don’t think that will be the case. They might start slowly on offense again, but the improved tackling from the second half against the 49ers will continue early against the Chiefs. Eventually, Rivers and that offense will loosen up and score a few points. Eric Weddle will pick off Chase Daniel and the Kansas City offense that went without a touchdown against the Steelers will continue to sputter.

Final Score: Chargers 26, Chiefs 16

See you in the post-season.

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