On Thursday, the Kansas City Chiefs face the Los Angeles Chargers. According to DraftKings Sportsbook, Kansas City is favored to win. We welcome Michael Peterson of Bolts from the Blue— our sister SBNation site covering the Chargers — for Five Questions with the Enemy.
1. How did it feel to get revenge on the Raiders for the heartbreak of last season?
It felt fantastic. Obviously it HAD to be stressful in the fourth quarter because that’s just what happens in AFC West matchups. The only way it would have been more rewarding would have been for the offense not to sputter over their final four drives of the game — but thankfully, the defense stepped in and played like the unit it is expected to be. As of now, it looks like all that money spent on that side of the ball will pay off nicely.
2. There’s been a lot of talk about the evolution of Brandon Staley’s defense. Are the pieces in place for it to be as effective as he would like?
Yes. I’d say the pieces on defense right now are much more in line with what he needs — as opposed to the personnel he had to work with a year ago.
First, defensive tackles Sebastian Joseph-Day and Austin Johnson are huge improvements over both Jerry Tillery and Justin Jones — especially when it comes to stopping the run. And then Khalil Mack on the edge opposite Joey Bosa? Woof. He is incredible, with three sacks in his Chargers debut — while also playing a key role in limiting the Raiders to under 70 yards on the ground. Lastly, while we didn’t get to see J.C. Jackson in Week 1, Bryce Callahan did a heck of a job erasing Hunter Renfrow from the field while also adding an interception in his team debut. He is already a massive upgrade over the elder Chris Harris from last season.
3. Justin Herbert didn’t complete more than four passes to the same receiver on Sunday. Was that through design or circumstance?
That was such a non-friendly game for fantasy football people. With a team that employs Austin Ekeler, Keenan Allen and Mike Williams, Herbert’s three touchdowns went to Zander Horvath, DeAndre Carter and Gerald Everett. It certainly hurt MY fantasy team, I’ll tell you that.
I’d actually say that it was more from circumstance than by design. The Raiders’ cornerback played a heck of a game against Williams, which really forced Herbert to look elsewhere — especially once Allen was knocked out of the game. If he hadn’t hurt his hamstring, Allen would have most certainly led the team with way more than four catches.
In a postgame interview, offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi admitted that he may have gotten “too conservative” during the fourth quarter. It should also be said that Ekeler played just 49% of the offense’s snaps in a game that came down to the wire. The Raiders’ front line did a fine job of influencing the line of scrimmage, but there’s zero reason your best playmaker shouldn’t be on the field for the majority of the game. It just doesn’t compute. Lombardi needed to continue trying to win the game as opposed to tucking inside the turtle shell and hoping not to lose. If he did the former, someone would have received more than four catches — and the offense likely wouldn’t have come to a skidding halt in the fourth quarter.
4. Which position groups struggled against the Raiders? How could the Chiefs expose them?
The running game was most certainly a shortcoming against Las Vegas. Ekeler averaged less than three yards per carry and struggled to find much running room between the tackles. Raiders edge rusher Maxx Crosby also played a heck of a game in stopping the run. He faced an improved Trey Pipkins at right tackle, but Crosby is still in another league from the former D-II lineman.
With the right tackle spot still the squeaky wheel up front, that’s where the Chiefs need to focus their attention. Ekeler has always been a better runner outside the tackles — and Crosby was able to consistently set the edge on Sunday. Getting one of their beefed-up linebackers (Bolton, Chenal) in a similar role could easily make the Chargers uncomfortable.
I think I’d also be wrong not to mention the linebackers. In the last matchup between these teams, Travis Kelce had a massive game. Darren Waller had a couple big catches against this group on Sunday. I don’t see how Kelce couldn’t do the same — although he may be stuck with Derwin James in coverage more often than not.
5. The Chargers are 3.5 underdogs on Thursday. Do you think that’s fair?
I think that’s incredibly fair. It’s at Arrowhead. The Chiefs are still the elite of the AFC West — no matter how much better the other teams look on paper. I’d like the Chargers’ odds much more if turns out that J.C. Jackson plays.
Be sure to check out the answers I gave to their questions by clicking here.