Unfortunately, the Chiefs face a talented divisional opponent in a different country — and at a substantially different altitude. Luckily for the Chiefs, the Los Angeles Chargers have once again been underachieving. But the Chargers are still a tough matchup — and divisional games are never easy.
Let’s dig into the Chargers personnel — and a concept we may see on Monday night. Then we’ll discuss how the Chiefs defense can try to slow them down — and perhaps start a new streak of good performances.
Philip Rivers leads the Chargers, defying age in his 16th season in the league. Rivers has struggled a bit this year. He’s currently on pace for his lowest touchdown total since 2007. He’s also averaging an interception — and more than two sacks — in every game.
The Chargers lean heavily on their two running backs: Melvin Gordon and Austin Ekeler. Gordon held out the first four games of the season. Upon his return, he has struggled to get re-integrated into the offense, averaging only 3.5 yards per carry on the year. But over the last two weeks, he’s been finding his groove, rushing for 188 yards on 42 carries. Meanwhile, Ekeler continues to get plenty of volume in the passing game. He’s put together a tidy 559 yards and six touchdowns on 57 receptions — good for second on the team. With Gordon in the backfield, the Chargers will routinely split Ekeler out wide — which will be an extremely dangerous 21 personnel grouping.
After Travis Benjamin and Dontrelle Inman were put on injured reserve, the Chargers became more of a two-man operation at wide receiver. Keenan Allen has had a fantastic year, totaling 725 yards on 62 receptions. He continues to abuse cornerbacks with his fantastic burst and crisp routes. Across from Allen, Mike Williams continues to grow as a receiver. His large frame and wingspan may haunt Chiefs fans who recall the 2018 loss to the Chargers — and he’s only gotten better in 2019. Geremy Davis, Andre Patton, and Jason Moore rotate as the Chargers’ third receiver, but none get significant targets.
Hunter Henry is finally healthy — and Rivers loves to target him. He’s a matchup nightmare for Chiefs safeties and linebackers — particularly on vertical routes. He’s averaging 12.7 yards per catch and he’s bunched in three touchdowns, too. Virgil Green will be implemented as a blocking back in 12 personnel situations.
The Chargers have some injuries on offensive line that could have some impact. Both tackles missed practice on Wednesday. Left tackle Russell Okung is the Chargers’ best remaining lineman after center Mike Pouncey was placed on injured reserve. If he can’t play, second-year undrafted free agent Trent Scott will play in his place. Right tackle Sam Tevi is also banged up and would be replaced by rookie Trey Pipkins.
On the interior of the offensive line, left guard Dan Feeney has sometimes played well this season, but he has problems with speed. He may find himself struggling against Chris Jones on the interior. Michael Schofield III mans the other guard spot, and second-year center Scott Quessenberry fills in for Pouncey.
The offensive concept: Pin-pull sweep with jet motion
Pin-pull sweep with jet-motion going away from the play by LAC.— Craig Stout (@barleyhop) November 14, 2019
C and playside G pull as playside OT pins. TE climbs to slot CB. G blocks DE while C loops to the S. Backside guard reach blocks NT. RB cuts to the C and outruns the pursuit LB for major yardage. pic.twitter.com/CBBI1D9khL
Chargers offensive coordinator Shane Steichen has implemented more spread offense running schemes. One of those we’ve seen in recent weeks is something out of Chip Kelly’s Oregon playbook: the pin-pull sweep.
The basic premise of the play comes from the blocking scheme of the three play side blockers — starting with the play side guard. If a defender is lined up to his inside, he blocks down — or pins. But if a defender is lined up to his outside, he pulls. Against a four-man front, the center always pulls — unless the nose tackle is aligned as a zero-technique.
Here we see these blocking rules in effect. With the defense in an over front, the nose tackle is shading the back-side shoulder of the center. The three-technique is aligned inside of the offensive tackle, and the defensive end is aligned outside the tight end.
The offensive tackle pins while the back-side guard reach-blocks the nose tackle. This allows the center (and play side guard) to pull and the tight end to climb. The play side guard blocks the defensive end, and the pulling center is able to climb to the safety. Gordon stretches to the C-gap and is able to hit the hole for big yardage.
Typically, this play can be beaten by an under shift, penetration from the nose tackle (which almost destroyed the play we see here), or pursuit linebackers slipping the front-side A-gap. This is why Steichen likes to tag the concept with jet motion.
The Chargers give the ball to the player in jet motion often enough to force defenses to honor it — particularly when it involves Allen as the motion man. The motion forces the linebackers to pause just long enough to guard against his ability to get downhill and blow up the play. It also delays their play side pursuit downfield, opening it up for even bigger gains.
The Chiefs will have to make sure that their MIKE linebacker flows with the running back — relying on the back-side defensive end, WILL linebacker and cornerback to clean up any jet sweep. So far, the Chargers haven’t tagged many of these concepts with RPOs, so having the MIKE crash quickly may prove to be beneficial.
The bottom line
The Chargers’ weapons are fast, agile, and supremely dangerous with the ball in their hands. That alone makes them a threat to any defense — let alone one that struggled with tackling, gap discipline and coverage busts in Week 10.
Rivers has had moments where he has looked dominant this year, continuing to defy the odds despite his age and throwing motion. He struggled against the Oakland Raiders defense, but he rarely has two consecutive poor performances.
Even so, I think the mold could be broken this week. If Okung and Tevi aren’t able to play — or are unable to play at full strength — even a depleted Chiefs edge rush could be due for a big day. With longer drops and route concepts, Rivers has taken quite a few more sacks this year — and in Mexico City, we might see more of the same.
The Chargers move the ball through their running backs incredibly well — both on the ground and through the air. The Chiefs may opt to keep heavy personnel on the field against Gordon but rotate in an extra safety against Ekeler.
The Chiefs will likely opt to keep two deep safeties in for large portions of the game. The Chargers boast three capable field stretchers in Allen, Williams, and Henry. That could open up some of the Chargers’ underneath passing game against two-man coverage. Playing a little more two-read coverage may help take away these short, quick passes, forcing Rivers to look deeper — giving the Chiefs’ pass rush time to get home.