Week 1 is in the books and for us Chiefs fans it has been a quick turnaround to week 2. We get to see the Chiefs take on the Chargers in their home opener. This has been a much anticipated matchup ever since the schedule was released. Let’s take a look at some things to watch for as these two teams battle it out.
Chargers Pass Rush
This is the aspect of the Chargers team that scares me the most. Having to line up against a defensive line with Joey Bosa on one edge and Khalil Mack on the other is no easy task even for an offensive line that is at their best. Which, if you have seen the injury report for the Chiefs this week, their o-line is not at their best. Trey Smith left the week 1 game early with an ankle injury and has been a limited participant in practice all week, he enters this game as questionable. Orlando Brown Jr. also popped up on the injury report this week with a knee injury, but all signs are pointing to him being full-go tonight. Regardless, this is going to be a tough task for the Chiefs. I think the player group that will need to step up, other than the offensive line, is the running back room. I know this is an Andy Reid/Patrick Mahomes led offense going up against the high-flying Herbert led Chargers…but I really want to see the Chiefs focus on the run early. The Chargers will invite the run until the Chiefs force them to focus on it, so I hope that the Chiefs force their hand in this one and commit to running the ball. This would also help with the pass rush by not letting Bosa and Mack get in a rhythm and pin their ears back. It’s also important to note that Bosa and Mack can both fill the run and hold an edge very well, so I think the Chiefs should specifically look to run the ball between the tackles. The Raiders didn’t run the ball a whole lot last week, but when they did they found the most success running between the tackles – averaging almost 6 yards per attempt. The downside? Trey Smith’s availability plays a huge role in that. Nick Allegretti is a fine offensive guard, but Smith is probably one of the best power run blockers the Chiefs have and if he is unable to go that would be a big blow to the inside run game.
The second way the running backs can help with the pass rush is by staying in and blocking. I am expecting to see the Chiefs keep their running backs in on pass protection a lot tonight to help chip and double those edge rushers. This will help give Mahomes some time, but it will also take away a potential pass-catcher as well. This won’t be a huge problem since Mahomes only targeted a running back last week 7 out of 39 pass attempts, but we will see how that could possibly affect the Chiefs offense.
Chargers Attacking Chiefs Secondary
Other than the pass rush, the area that I’m most eager to watch is how the Chargers utilize their pass-catchers against the Chiefs secondary. I mentioned in my last article that I was not worried about the Cardinals receivers. With Hopkins out, I thought that the Chiefs corners matched up perfectly with the Cardinals receivers. I do not feel the same about the Chargers receivers. The Chiefs secondary has always been susceptible to big, physical receivers…Mike Williams. He was a mismatch last year and I think he will be a mismatch again. It helps that Keenan Allen is out this game, so the Chiefs can focus their efforts on Williams. However, McDuffie is now on IR so that leaves L’Jarius Sneed, Rashad Fenton, Jaylen Watson, and Joshua Williams at corner. I feel good about the Sneed/Williams matchup but if the Chargers are able to scheme up matchups with Williams against any of the other corners, that would be a huge advantage for them. Now, even though Williams is the biggest threat, the other Chargers’ receivers aren’t terrible and they will all see winnable matchups with the majority of focus being on Williams. If they are able to step up and take advantage of their opportunities, that would make this a long game for the Chiefs defense.
Another thing to point out about the Chargers passing attack is that Justin Herbert is not afraid to give his receivers a shot. He is notorious for throwing up 50/50 balls to his big, physical receivers. This has also been a weakness for the Chiefs secondary partly because their corners aren’t the tallest bunch, but mostly because Steve Spagnuolo is not afraid to leave his corners in one-on-one matchups on the boundaries. Spags is a guy that lives by the blitz and dies by the blitz, let’s see if his risks pay off tonight.
Chiefs Against Two High Looks
Here we go again, talking about "Can the Chiefs finally get past two high looks?" It’s a very valid question! The Cardinals defense is not good, we know that. And because of that, they relied heavily on blitzing Mahomes to create pressure and if we know anything it’s death, taxes, and Mahomes shredding the blitz. He did exactly that. The Chargers on the other hand will not need to blitz to get pressure on Mahomes (see Chargers Pass Rush) which means that they will be able to sit back in that two high defense. The Chiefs looked great against a bad, blitzing defense; but now I am interested to see how the Chiefs handle a much better defense that knows how to defend Mahomes. Look for the Chiefs to be methodical and patient in this matchup by running the ball and hitting those underneath routes.
Travis Kelce vs Derwin James
This is one of the matchups that I am most excited to watch. Travis Kelce. Derwin James. Two of the best players at their position. I would be surprised if any other Charger lines up to cover Kelce. Unlike almost any other safety, James has the coverage, size, and ability to cover Kelce step for step.. In the two games last year against the Chargers Kelce put up 7-104-0 and 10-191-2, he was dominant. The Chargers used a lot of Kyzir White against Kelce and since he is no longer on the team (and didn’t do that great of a job covering him anyways) I would look for the Chargers to primarily use James to cover Kelce. I still think that Kelce will get his looks and play a big role in this game simply because it’s Travis Kelce, but this will be a matchup to watch for sure.
Chiefs Attacking Chargers Linebackers
As far as how the Chiefs walk away with a win tonight, I think they will try to take advantage of the middle of the field while on offense. The linebacker group, although athletic, is not that great overall for the Chargers. I mentioned earlier that I would like to see the Chiefs run the football early, CEH had a combined 159 total yards and 1 touchdown in the two games against the Chargers last year, most of that coming on the ground in the week 3 matchup. I would like to see the Chiefs run the ball up the middle on this Chargers defense and make their linebackers fill the run, which is something that they are not great at. These linebackers are also not great in coverage, which means the Chiefs can have a lot of success targeting the middle of the field when passing the ball as well. They went out this offseason and targeted big, strong receivers that can win over the middle of the field and I look for the Chiefs to use those skill sets and put the Chargers linebackers to the test.
Offensive Player to Watch
My offensive player to watch tonight is Juju Smith-Schuster. I think he had a great game against the Cardinals and didn’t even have to be used a whole lot. The only knock that he had against him in that game was the fumble after a big catch. Juju is one of those receivers that the Chiefs got this offseason who can win over the middle of the field. I expect him to get a lot of targets doing just that against the Chargers. This can be the game where Juju makes it clear that he is the Chiefs #1 wide receiver.
Defensive Player to Watch
For my defensive player, I am going with rookie George Karlaftis. Even though "Furious George" did not get a sack last week, he had 6 pressures on a very mobile quarterback. Herbert is mobile, but he is nowhere the runner that Murray is. Karlaftis has such a high motor and relentless effort that I see him being an annoyance to Herbert all night long and I even think he has a good chance to walk away with a few sacks tonight. Look for Karlaftis to play a big role in not allowing Herbert to extend the play and push the ball downfield.
I think this will be another back and forth shootout between not only two of the league’s best teams, but some of the best quarterbacks as well. I do have the Chiefs coming out on top with a 31-24 victory over the Chargers as they move to 2-0 and take the lead in the AFC West.