The Kansas City Chiefs defense appeared to turn a corner five games ago in the second half of Monday Night Football in Mexico City against the Los Angeles Chargers. After allowing 312 yards in the first half, the Chiefs allowed only 126 the rest of the way, as they won 24-17.
The Chiefs haven’t allowed more than 332 games since, including three straight games of 278 yards or less as part of the team’s five-game winning streak.
Chiefs defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo recalled the Chiefs first game against the Chargers on Tuesday.
“I remember it was a challenge at the end,” said Spagnuolo. “It was a tight game, a one-possession game, and Dan (Sorensen) had to make that interception at the end. Here’s how I look at the Chargers: They have a head coach that keeps them battling in games, they have a quarterback that has been around for a long time that does a lot of good things, they have a running back … I would share this with you – our pro personnel department, when they give us the depth chart each week that I put up for the players, they usually put in red the guys that they think are the stars. There were about six or seven red stars with this team. Usually, we have three. That tells you all you need to know about them. I don’t remember anything unique, other than the guys played really well. Hopefully we do the same thing.”
One of those red players is running back Austin Ekeler, who has 1,461 yards from scrimmage on the season.
”Oh yeah, he was red,” laughed Spagnuolo. “Bright red. He is a problem. He is one of those guys that we label as a game-wrecker, or can be a game-wrecker, and we can’t let that happen. He does a lot of things really well. He was scary the last time we played him. He’s scarier now.”
Ekeler had eight receptions for 108 yards in the first contest, as well as 24 yards on the ground.
“He’s nifty,” added Spagnuolo. “He has wide receiver moves and the one he does with the ball like most running backs that can catch it. When he catches it and turns himself into a running back, he’s a problem with yards after catch. It’s the explosive plays that get you in trouble on defense. They’ve got a number of players that Philip Rivers has that can create an explosive play, and he’s one of them.”
This could be the final game Rivers faces the Chiefs as a member of the Chargers. At the age of 38, Rivers will become a free agent this offseason, and it isn’t a given he returns to Los Angeles.
In 2019, he has thrown 21 touchdowns and 18 interceptions in what has been a somewhat forgettable season. But Spagnuolo won’t overlook the longtime Chargers quarterback either.
“He is still the elite competitor that we all know him to be,” said Spagnuolo. “If you can get yourself close to the action during a game when he’s playing, boy is he into it... with everybody. I think he thoroughly enjoys the game within the game that we talked about, the cat and mouse, whether it’s the MIKE linebacker and him, and he does it so well... he’s always been like that, and I still think he’s playing at a high level. I know everybody wants to evaluate him, but we don’t look at it any other way that this guy could come in here and be everything we’ve seen him be before, and hopefully, we don’t let that happen.”
Though the Chargers are 5-10 with nothing left to play for, Spagnuolo isn’t taking them lightly. The Chiefs still need to protect their seeding with a win against Los Angeles at Arrowhead on Sunday.