Heading into Sunday night’s contest at SoFi Stadium, the Kansas City Chiefs find themselves in the unusual position of holding a two-game lead over the Los Angeles Chargers. If the Chiefs win, it will extend their lead in the AFC West to three games as they head down the stretch — which will make it nearly impossible for Los Angeles to catch them as they work toward their goal of a seventh straight division championship.
While the Chargers haven’t quite looked like the Super Bowl contenders that many analysts expected them to be, they are still a good team that has been missing multiple players due to injuries. Two of those players are wide receivers Keenan Allen and Mike Williams, who are both reported to have a good chance of playing in the Sunday Night Football matchup.
In 2022’s first matchup between these teams, Williams went off against what was — at the time — a very young and inexperienced Kansas City secondary, notching eight receptions for 113 yards and a touchdown.
But since then, those young defensive backs have played an additional seven games, gaining crucial reps and experience. During the first matchup, the Chiefs were also without their first-round draft pick: cornerback Trent McDuffie. On Wednesday, the rookie talked about the importance of limiting the Chargers’ offense, which is powered by their own star quarterback Justin Herbert and running back Austin Ekeler.
In a nod of respect to his counterpart, Kansas City quarterback Patrick Mahomes echoed McDuffie’s sentiments, acknowledging that Herbert possesses elite arm talent — and like himself, has the ability to make highlight-reel throws at any moment.
“He’s a special arm talent,” noted Mahomes. “He throws some passes that I don’t think anyone can throw in this league — and that includes myself. He has a cannon for an arm. There are some throws [where] you just kind of shake your head because they are just that special.
“I understand that it’ll be a great challenge for us as a team to go up against the Chargers — and the talent that they have over there. How can we match that intensity, how can we match that talent — and go out there and win a football game — is what we have to focus on.”
Should he return for the game, the 6-foot-4 Williams could again present a matchup problem. But McDuffie said he and his teammates understand the challenge.
“You got to know that they’re big bodies,” he observed. “They’re going to be strong. So you got to fight pressure with pressure — and go make a play when the ball is in the air.”
At 5 feet 11, McDuffie isn’t the league’s biggest cornerback — but he said that competing against larger players has never really been a problem
“There are a few receivers that I played against who were bigger than me,” recalled McDuffie, “but once you watch the film — and once you break down what they’re good at; [their] strengths and weaknesses — you kind of create this game plan where you can fight certain things that you know they’re going to do. You kind of just have to go out there and be a ballplayer.”
But regardless of who is (or is not) available to Los Angeles on Sunday, Mahomes said that the ultimate responsibility for a Chiefs victory falls on Kansas City’s players.
“Anybody can beat anybody any day,” he emphasized. “It hasn’t gone [the Chargers’] way in some of these games — these close, hard-fought games. But we understand how good the Chargers are. We’re not looking ahead to being three games up — or whatever it is. We’re looking at what can we do to win today — so that we can win on Sunday. So we understand it’s going to be a great challenge — and we’re going to play our best football if we want to win.”
Chiefs head coach Andy Reid may have best summarized the team’s Week 11 mission.
“At the time where these games are,” said Reid, “[they are] so, so important. It’s important for the Chargers; it’s important for us.
“So that’s the time of year you’re in — and you’ve got to make sure that you batten down the hatches, man: detail your work and don’t leave anything uncovered.”