On Sunday, the Kansas City Chiefs face the Los Angeles Chargers. According to DraftKings Sportsbook, Kansas City is favored to win. We welcome Kyle DeDiminicantanio of Bolts from the Blue — our sister SBNation site covering the Chargers — for Five Questions with the Enemy.
1. Year after year, the Chargers seem to have the talent but can’t seem to put it all together. The same could be said for this season too. What’s been the reason for the Chargers up and up-and-down start?
It’s wildly frustrating. The Bolts have featured a bonafide franchise quarterback behind center since Drew Brees improved his game following the Philip Rivers selection 2004 draft. Despite their luck in drafting quarterbacks and putting together strong rosters on paper, the results have far lagged behind the expectations... and as you mentioned, this year feels like more of the same.
The cause this year has varied game to game, but the Chargers have struggled to play complete games under Staley’s leadership. When the offense is firing on all cylinders, the defense struggles to get a stop. When the defense is playing well and keeping points off the board, the offense seems to run out of gas and flat-out fails to put a team away, always inviting their opponent the opportunity to march right back into the game. If you watched the playoff game against the Jaguars last year, it was a perfect example. How many teams win the turnover margin 5-0 and still find a way to lose?
It seems to be a coaching problem. Any time you have a “defensive guru” head coach that can’t get his defense in the above-average side of the defensive rankings in three straight years, you have to question his overall competency.
2. How has the offense looked under Kellen Moore? What’s different from last year?
The offense still seems to be in transition, and again is having difficulty closing out games. All three of the Chargers’ losses have come down to a two-minute drill opportunity, with the ball in Justin Herbert’s hands. In each of those drives, the Chargers got pushed around and looked out-coached.
Moore has shown a knack for scheming more players open downfield, and showed encouraging signs of a promising running attack in the preseason, but the running game has largely stalled following the Miami loss. There’s still optimism he turns things around and gets the squad playing to its potential, but it’s going to require playing more to the strengths of the new receivers. Quentin Johnston has been used sparingly, primarily as a decoy thus far, when he should be given more underneath routes and buttonhooks that give him an opportunity to stack some yards after the catch, which was his strength coming out of college.
3. Who’s been the standout performer on both sides of the ball?
At 31, Keenan Allen is having one of the best starts to his career. He struggled with hamstring injuries last year, but was extremely efficient and productive when he returned late in the season, and he seems to be hitting another gear this year. He doesn’t possess the same YAC threat the youthful Allen once did, but his route running and hands are aging like fine wine.
On the defensive side of the ball, the biggest surprise breakout player is Tuli Tuipulotu. He was drafted in the second round of the 2023 draft, and is by far the most promising rookie at this point. With Joey Bosa continuing to battle multiple injuries this season, Tuli has stepped up and allowed Bosa to slide into a rotational role which seems to have improved his efficiency. I’d expect a decent amount of NASCAR packages with the Bolts’ three EDGES, Tuipulotu, Bosa, and Khalil Mack all on the field together. The defense has played its best with those three teaming up.
4. What needs to be achieved this year for Brandon Staley to keep his job beyond 2023?
It’s a hotly debated topic on Chargers Twitter/X and on Bolts From the Blue, but my personal opinion is that the Chargers need to at least make it to the Conference Championship to justify retaining Staley.
It sounds like a lofty expectation, but when the Chargers were in cap trouble this last offseason, instead of trading or cutting some of our players with hefty cap hits they restructured Mack, Allen, Bosa, and Mike Williams to push approximately $33 million in cap to 2024’s budget and $7 million into 2025. Various accounts have the Chargers projected between $70-80 million over the cap when budgeting for in-season moves, draft picks, and filling current vacancies on the roster.
This essentially means Staley has to prove he can win with this roster, because there will likely be an exodus of talent as they move to get cap compliant in 2024. If Staley can’t win with an absolutely loaded roster, and with the Chargers spending significantly more cap on their defense than any other team, why should he be trusted to guide the Bolts through a minor rebuild?
5. The Chiefs are slight favorites according to DraftKings Sportsbook, but we all know matchups between these two teams can be rollercoasters. Who do you see coming out on top and who are you backing for an anytime touchdown?
I have a hard time betting on the Chargers right now. Since Corey Linsley has signed with the Chargers, I’ve always thought he is the most important Charger not named Justin Herbert. He takes command of the offense line, and when he’s out with an injury, the entire offense regresses significantly.
I’m expecting Chris Jones to have an exceptional day in Linsley’s absence. I’d expect Allen to have another stellar game and likely would back him for a touchdown, but as the Chargers defensive backfield has been a mess this season, I wouldn’t be shocked if this was a breakout game for Rashee Rice. He’d likely be my under-the-radar selection for an anytime touchdown, or a same-game parlay if you can put one together.
Be sure to check out the answers I gave to their questions by clicking here.