The Chargers are among a group of 8 teams in the AFC that still have a shot at the 6th seed for the playoffs. Although the chances of them making the postseason are very slim, they have yet to be mathematically eliminated. Let me be clear before I proceed. It’s not looking very good for a multitude of reasons. But for this post, I am going to ignore the playoffs and focus on the week 12 matchup with the Kansas City Chiefs.
This is a game that even the majority of Charger fans don’t expect San Diego to win. The Bolts travel to Arrowhead facing a 9-1 Chief team that is coming off its first loss of the season. The Bolts bring with them a record of 4-6 and a 3 game losing streak. During the first ten games of 2013, the revolving door on the offensive line has been very impressive. Despite multiple injuries at every spot in the starting 5 during this season at one time or another, Philip Rivers has only been sacked 19 times thus far.
Hoping to increase that number significantly are the Kansas City Chiefs led by the pass rushing duo of Tamba Hali and Justin Houston. The combination of both Hali and Houston will test the dogs up front for the Chargers. Not to mention, Dontari Poe has become a significant force at the nose tackle position. I could keep going on and on about the Kansas City defense and its players. San Diego will definitely have its hands full. But that is not solely due to the Charger offense having to contend with the vaunted Chief defense.
Despite Alex Smith not being much of a game changer at the quarterback position. He has been very solid at managing games. He has been very poor at deep passes but that has never been confused for being a strength of his game. Since 2011, no NFL signal caller that has played in every game has a higher winning percentage than Smith.
Although Smith has performed respectfully as a Chief, he is the least of our worries. The Andy Reid offense in Kansas City is focused on the running back position; whether that be via running plays or attempting to get the back the ball in the passing game. The key cog in Reid’s offense is Jamaal Charles.
To say that Charles is a force to be reckoned with is an understatement. He is a home-run threat that is capable of scoring each and every time he touches the ball. Adding to threat of Charles is the mercurial wide receiver Dwayne Bowe. Despite posting three yard 1,000 yard seasons in his career, Bowe is on pace for about 700 yards or so. Bowe has always been an issue for San Diego’s secondary due to his size.
In addition to both Charles and Bowe is Dexter McCluster. He is a very dynamic player that moves all over the field. His speed and quickness are definitely worth mentioning. He is not the most consistent player but he certainly poses a mismatch versus linebackers.
Winning this game will be a tall task for the Bolts. Although it will be very difficult, they Chargers can leave Kansas City with a victory. Here are some keys to getting their first divisional win of the 2013 season at Arrowhead.
1- FREE 24!!! The Chargers need to grind this game out on the ground and Ryan Mathews needs to see the bulk of the carries. He has been running very hard and he even broke off a couple big gains in recent weeks. Get 24 the rock and get it to him often.
2- The offense needs to find a way to get both Antonio Gates and Ladarius Green on the field at the same time. Running some 2 tight end sets would help neutralize the linebacking corp of Kansas City. Furthermore, Green is ripe for a breakout game. He has earned the right for a bigger role in this offense. He is making plays each time his number is called. As far as Gates is concerned, he is one of the best to ever do it. Utilizing him in the redzone should help with the woeful performance of the offense inside the 20.
3- Rivers must continue to get the ball out of his hand quickly. The pass rush of Kansas City was held without sack last week versus Denver. The passing game should be focused on protecting Rivers with multiple routes and reads that do not take a long time to progress.
4- Keep getting the ball to Danny Woodhead in the passing game. He currently leads the team in receptions and the NFL in catches at the running back position. This key actually piggybacks off of the last one. Woodhead is a tough runner and not afraid of contact. It is going to be cold so the defenders that don’t wrap up will be asking for trouble when Danny has the ball.
5- Protect the football. This is an obvious necessity in any game. But when you are playing in a game on the road, where the temp might not be as high as freezing by kickoff, you can not give the opposing team any advantages. Extra opportunities for the Chief offense will spell disaster for San Diego. The stadium is going to be extremely loud. Add in a turnover or two and their decibel level record might be broken
1- The defense has got to get back to the fundamentals and make tackles. It’s a bit embarrassing to start off defensive keys to the game with tackling being a must. It has gotten really bad. Some of this should be addressed by coaching and then the players need to go back to the basics.
2- John Pagano must be aggressive in playcalling. Due to Alex Smith’s inability to get the ball down the field effectively in the deep passing game, I would really like to see the Chargers play more press coverage. Disguising the coverage and blitzes could end up being the biggest way to sneak away with a win today. I am not looking forward to another week of the “bend but don’t break” philosophy on the defensive side of the ball.
3- The front seven must create pressure to fluster Smith and give the secondary a chance to make plays. The Chargers have been banged up all over the linebacking corp and the defensive linemen have been under-performing as a group. This goes back to the scheme and Pagano. He needs to get the most out of the guys that we do have in the game. I am fine with giving up a play here and there if the team is being aggressive and gambling via blitz packages, Dline stunts etc.
4- The defense must capitalize on turnover opportunities. The Bolts have had some chances to make game-changing plays and have either been out of position or dropped interceptions. This game is a last-ditch effort at keeping their playoff hopes alive. If they want to fly back home to San Diego victorious then they have to create turnovers.
5- Cam Thomas has got to do a better job. I am not going to elaborate. We all know how important the nose tackle position is in a 3-4 defense. Thomas has yet to show that the nose tackle position is not one of the biggest needs for the upcoming 2014 season. The same goes for the secondary. Derek Cox, Shareece Wright and Marcus Gilchrist have got to step up and challenge the Kansas City receivers. Eric Weddle has been asked to do so much this year. He has played all over the field and that is to be commended. But his tackling, or lack thereof, has been questionable.
There you have it. This was a game that I circled in the offseason as a possible loss. Traveling to Arrowhead in late November means cold, non-San Diego weather and the loudest fans in all of the NFL. More often than not, you can throw out the records when these two teams play. The all time series record when these teams have met is locked up at 52-52-1. Today’s winner walks away with a one game lead in the head-to-head series. But for San Diego, it means so much more than that. It means one more week to fight for the 6th seed in the AFC. It will be a very difficult road, but I’ll be here regardless of the outcome.