Arrowhead Pride Faithful,
My name is Field Yates, and I'll be contributing to the website periodically. I spent two seasons working for the Chiefs, one in scouting and one in coaching. My football background runs deeper than my time in Kansas City, as I also spent four summers interning with the New England Patriots in a coaching and scouting role, and I played the game collegiately at Wesleyan University (site of the first ever forward pass in football).
I maintain my own NFL blog, which you can check out at ThoughtsFromTheField.tumblr.
Now on to the first edition of my 5 Keys to Victory for the Kansas City Chiefs:The last time the Kansas City Chiefs played host to the San Diego Chargers on the national stage of Monday Night Football, the two played for the right to stand atop the AFC West standings, and the Chiefs scored an unlikely upset victory in Week 1 of the 2010 NFL season.
After an equally unlikely month of October in 2011, the Chiefs have surged back into the AFC West mix and once again will play host to the Chargers on Monday Night Football, with first place in the AFC West again at stake.
The Chiefs have yet to lose in October, toppling the then-winless Vikings at home before traveling to Indianapolis and blistering the Colts with a second half rally en route to a 28-24 victory. After humbling the Raiders in Carson Palmer's debut in silver and black, the Chiefs look very much alive in the AFC West, trailing the Chargers by only a game heading into Week 8.
The Chargers are looking to bounce back from a lethargic second half that doomed them on the road versus the New York Jets, and their star quarterback, Philip Rivers, has come under fire after a rusty start to 2011.
The Chiefs and Chargers are familiar foes, having squared off in San Diego just five weeks ago, when Chargers S Eric Weddle picked off a Matt Cassel pass late in the game to seal a Chargers win. But much has changed since that forgettable afternoon for Cassel, and all of sudden the Chiefs are starting to look like the team that captured the 2010 AFC West Championship -- the franchise's first in 7 years.
The Chargers know the dangers of playing on the road, having won just one game away from San Diego in 2011, and the Chiefs are hoping Monday night at Arrowhead will be their most raucous home atmosphere yet.
Here's five keys to victory for the Chiefs when they take the field on Halloween night:
1. Contain Antonio Gates: Gates has battled a foot injury for much of 2011, but returned to the field in Week 7 after a three game absence for the Chargers. When rolling, Gates is amongst the league's most prolific tight ends, and the favorite target of QB Philip Rivers. The Chiefs are all too familiar with the wrath of Gates, as he's racked up 12 touchdown catches in 13 career games against them. But the Patriots and Jets -- the only two teams to beat San Diego in 2011 -- have shown that keying in on Gates is a recipe for success. Gates was held reception-less in New England's 35-21 Week 2 win, and the Jets held Gates without a catch in the 2nd half of their come back victory last Sunday. Gates is a troublesome match-up for most safeties and linebackers, but both the Patriots and Jets incorporated some bracket coverage of Gates with two defenders without compromising the entirety of their defense. In Derrick Johnson, the Chiefs boast a better cover linebacker than either New England or New York, so look for DJ and the safeties behind him to work to hold Gates in check. Gates continues to shake the rust off of his foot injury, so the Chiefs would also be well-served to play physically at the line of scrimmage with Gates, a practice Romeo Crennel regularly employs. The task is a tall one, but containing Gates is a must for the Chiefs on Monday night.
2. Establish the Run Early: Make no mistake about it, the Chargers defense is largely solid, but perhaps the biggest area of weakness is the run defense. San Diego has surrendered over 120 yards per game on the ground, including 162 last week versus the usually-poor-running Jets. The Chiefs have shown a commitment to running the football even without Jamaal Charles, and that needs to remain the case in Week 8. San Diego was able to wear the Chiefs down in Week 3 by holding onto the football for nearly 10 minutes more than the Chiefs, but the Chiefs can eliminate that possibility by running the ball effectively in the early portion of Monday night's affair. Jackie Battle, Thomas Jones, Dexter McCluster and Le'Ron McClain have proven to be a serviceable quartet of ground-gainers for the Chiefs, and look for Battle to step up on Monday in what should be a physical contest at the line of scrimmage. Keeping hold of the football will allow the Chiefs defense to rest, and keep the dangerous Chargers offense of the field -- something Kansas City wasn't able to accomplish in Week 3.
3. Move Eric Weddle Laterally: Weddle is a fine safety who earned a big contract heading into 2011, but where he can be exposed is in the open field when he has to move laterally. Many will remember the last time the Chiefs hosted the Chargers on Monday Night Football, when Jamaal Charles gutted the Chargers defense for a 53-yard score and shook Weddle on his way to the end zone. Without a speedy back to break through to the second and third levels, and with Tony Moeaki on IR, the onus falls on the Chiefs wide receivers to get Weddle on the move. Dwayne Bowe has flashed vertical threat ability in 2011, and if somehow Jon Baldwin can tag team with Bowe to spread the field, Weddle will have a busy day moving sideline-to-sideline. Weddle is at his best when he has the free range to scan the field and instinctively find the football, which he did when he stole the Cassel pass late in the first match-up. If the Chiefs -- specifically their play-calling and wide receivers -- can dictate where Weddle ends up, they'll have a grand opportunity to neutralize his impact on the game.
4. Play the Coverage Called: The Chiefs pass defense deserves big kudos after forcing six interceptions versus the Raiders last weekend, and it'll take another stellar effort to bottle-up the Chargers passing game Monday night. The Chargers are one of the most reliant teams in the NFL on the vertical passing tree, and it's almost a foregone conclusion that Philip Rivers will toss a few jump balls to his rangy receivers every game. The Chiefs secondary has played solid technical football this season and also competed extremely well at the point of catch (particularly Brandon Flowers), but one thing the group can ill-afford is to be in poor position. The best way to avoid that trap is to communicate and play the defensive coverage called. The Chargers quick strike ability is only enhanced when defenders play out of position, so whether it's a safety retreating to the deep half in Cover 2 or a linebacker buzzing under a receiver in Cover 3, the Chiefs defense needs to play disciplined, cohesive football.
5. Pressure Philip Rivers: It's hard to knock the Chiefs for much of what they've done in the past three weeks, but one area in need of improvement is the pass rush. The typically unblockable Tamba Hali has failed to register a sack in each of the past two games, and the Chiefs have just 3 sacks during their current winning streak. It hasn't cost them yet, but Philip Rivers is a different beast than the quarterbacks the Chiefs have played thus far in October, and when he has the time, he can carve a defense up. Rivers lost his best pass protector, LT Marcus McNeil, to a neck sprain this past Sunday, and it's unclear if he will play in Monday night's contest. Brandyn Dombrowksi is next in line on the Chargers' depth chart to cover Rivers' blind-side, and although he performed well filling in for McNeill in the early part of 2010 (McNeill sat out for 5 games over a contract dispute), Hali and the rest of the Chiefs rushers would relish the opportunity to play against a McNeill-less Chargers line. With San Diego running backs Ryan Matthews and Mike Tolbert both battling minor injuries, the Chargers may look to lean a little more heavily on the pass than they are generally accustomed to, and the Chiefs need Hali to step up if that proves to be the case.