The Kansas City Chiefs will play the San Diego Chargers for at least a share of first place in the AFC West on Sunday.
The Chiefs and Chargers have played some real classics in recent years. Everyone remembers the Monday Night Magic game of 2010 and last season’s Monday Night Miracle. Both games went the Chiefs’ way.
Away from the bright lights of primetime, however, KC has struggled against Philip Rivers and company. Sunday’s game will be at Arrowhead but it will be just a regular afternoon game. The teams will meet in primetime for the third year in a row this season but that won’t be until later and it will be in San Diego this time.
If the Chiefs are to keep their playoff hopes alive, they have to continue their Arrowhead winning streak against the Bolts.
Here are five things I think the Chiefs can do to give themselves a shot.
1. Beware the screen
The Saints did not run the ball nearly enough against the Chiefs. One of the things that worked so well for the Bills against KC was coming out in a passing formation with the intention to run. KC’s sub-package defense was just not equipped to stop C.J Spiller.
The Chiefs know this and I am sure they have made some adjustments. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Chargers coach Norv Turner turn that strategy around by coming out in running formations only to work in some screen passes to Ryan Matthews. I’ve always felt the Chargers were excellent at the screen game and KC’s defenders have a tendency to over-pursue and find themselves out of position. The Chiefs must play disciplined football to avoid letting the Chargers use trickery to set up the big play.
2. Get after Rivers
The Saints couldn’t block Justin Houston. Tamba Hali has yet to record a sack but is still one of the most dangerous pass rushers in the NFL. If Hali and Houston can generate pressure on Rivers, the QB could make mistakes. We’ve all seen Rivers get flustered and frustrated at Arrowhead. Phil lets pressure get to him. Hali and Houston must deliver.
3. Attack the left side
FanSided’s Chargers editor Ernie has informed me that if LT Jared Gaither sits out out again with an injury that the team will once again start undrafted free agent Mike Harris, who, in Ernie’s words has been “getting beat like a drum.”
How bad has Harris been? According to Pro Football Focus, he’s give up 14 QB hurries so far this season. 10 of those came in ONE GAME against the Titans. He has also graded terribly. He has a -11.7 grade on the season. His pass blocking grade is -8.4. He has given up one sack and two QB hits.
Basically, he’s Barry Richardson in a Chargers uniform.
Gaither has back problems and has been limited in practice this week. He says he is ready to go but Norv Turner hasn’t committed to him playing yet. If he does play, there is a chance he’ll struggle, either from the injury or conditioning. Whether it is Gaither or Harris, the Chiefs need to attack the left side of the SD line early and often.
4. Draughn on
Jamaal Charles is the most dangerous man on the KC offense. Clearly he needs to be involved but if the Chiefs give him the ball over 30 times again, they may get him killed. Peyton Hillis is unlikely to play. That means KC needs to give the Chargers a heavy dose of Shaun Draughn. Draughn has looked good so far this season and the Chiefs need him to step up and produce to keep Charles fresh.
If I am Romeo Crennel, I am giving the Chargers a heavy dose of my running game, particularly Draughn, in the first half. Then, once the Chargers D is getting a little tired, I unleash Jamaal.
For this strategy to work, the Chiefs need to keep the game close. If they fall too far behind, you can expect Eric Weddle to come up with his annual Matt Cassel interception.
5. Help Jeff Allen
With Rodney Hudson on IR, G Ryan Lilja will be playing center, thrusting rookie Jeff Allen into a starting role. Allen probably isn’t ready to play at an NFL level yet. Despite KC’s success running the football last week, Allen struggled. PFF gave him a -3.6 grade on his 58 snaps at guard. Most of that poor mark came as a run blocker, where he graded -3.4. The Chiefs need to make sure Allen doesn’t become a liability.
Bonus: Arrowhead needs to step up its game
The home crowd has done a fantastic job the last two times the Chargers came to Arrowhead. The playoff atmosphere and frenzied crowd led to many a Chargers delay of game penalty.
But recently, the fans haven’t been bringing it on Sunday afternoons like the old days. If you are going to the game, make sure everyone around you knows how important this game is. It is for first place. It is a division game. It could push this team to a huge turnaround. It won’t be under the lights and it won’t be shown nationally but Arrowhead needs to go old school on the Chargers on Sunday.