It's almost game day as we prepare for yet another Week 17 against the San Diego Chargers with Chase Daniel starting. With Alex Smith's lacerated spleen, Daniel makes the start as he did last year when the Chiefs rested their starters in Week 17 against the Chargers.
To prep for the game, I exchanged questions with John Gennaro over at our Chargers blog, Bolts From The Blue. Thanks to John for answering my questions.
1. What is one thing about the Chargers offense that has changed since we last played each other?
BFTB: The loss to the Chiefs was really the beginning of a really rough patch for the Chargers offense. The o-line got significantly worse, Philip Rivers got injured, and Frank Reich hit some bumps in the road as a player-caller. In addition (or as a result), the running game all but disappeared.
In recently weeks, the running game has found some traction (but not much) behind an offensive line that is still terrible but at least (mostly) consistent. Reich's play-calling has gotten much better and Rivers has found ways to get into a rhythm, even with a bulging disc in his back and not much help around him.
2. What is one thing about the Chargers defense that has changed since we last played each other?
BFTB: It's hard to pick just one thing. The defense has changed everything about itself like three times since that game. Melvin Ingram returned from injury and looked like a monster, then was mostly embarrassed against the 49ers after taking a hard hit to the knees. He seems to be the big difference on whether or not San Diego can get consistent pressure on opposing QBs, and whether the team can stop running plays in the backfield.
3. How confident are you that the Chargers can win in a big game?
BFTB: I'm confident that they'll come out with a very good game plan, but the team is so injured right now that it appears they're held together by string and duct tape. One big hit to the right player and it all comes crashing down like a house of cards. That being said, they won't be scared of the spotlight or the do-or-die aspect of Sunday's game. This is a veteran team that typically plays bigger under brighter lights, as long as injuries don't derail them.
4. What are the Chargers plans for stopping Justin Houston? He is two sacks away from Derrick Thomas' franchise record.
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BFTB: What worked against the 49ers in the second half last week was using the RB more like a TE out of the backfield than as an actual running threat. Branden Oliver (the team's starting RB with Ryan Mathews out, which he likely will be again) sits on the bench while Donald Brown and Ronnie Brown take turns chipping the opposing team's best pass rusher and occasionally catching dump-offs and screen passes.
D.J. Fluker has the power and the skills to stop someone like Houston, just not the quickness to keep him from getting around him. Give him a chipping RB to protect the outside lane, and Fluker should be fine.
5. What is your prediction for the game?
BFTB: With Alex Smith out and the Chiefs not having much to play for, I think the Chargers win a close one. Maybe 24-20, something in that area. I will be surprised if KC puts together a good game against this defense (which is well-matched with KC's offense) and wins a mostly-meaningless game.