Kansas City takes on the Los Angeles Chargers this Sunday in their first meeting of the season. Both teams are coming off close games, albeit alternate endings. The Chiefs are coming off a seven point win, while LA returns home after a two-point loss to the Miami Dolphins, as they’re now 5-19 in the last 24 one-possession games. This division rivalry has had very little bite to it as of late, since the Chiefs haven’t lost to the Chargers in over three seasons. With these five keys, I explain why that streak will continue.
1. Alex Smith
Who foresaw this version of Alex that we’re seeing this season? I sure didn’t, and his sudden aptitude to push the ball down field is one of the key storylines of the first couple weeks in the NFL. His 257 deep passing yards (passes thrown twenty or more yards in the air) leads the NFL. The Chargers boast one of the league’s best corner duos with Jason Verrett and Casey Heyward, but if Smith can throw deep on these guys, the Chiefs can truly be taken seriously as contenders. Even if it’s not Tyreek Hill streaking down the sideline, the reality for safeties that the deep pass is coming allows the underneath routes to open up. Sunday will be a big test for him, but also for…
2. Eric Fisher and Mitchell Schwartz
Last Sunday was not a great game for the Chiefs tackles. Brandon Graham put a clown suit on Schwartz for much of the game, and while Fisher wasn’t as bad, he wasn’t great either. Against Melvin Ingram and Joey Bosa, the test will be just as stiff. Part of the reason for the Chiefs slow start against the Eagles was because of the pressure being applied to Alex Smith. If the Chiefs are going to score, they’re going to need to afford Smith better protection.
3. Whoever is on Keenan Allen
The star receiver caught ten passes last weekend, and he’ll be looking to stuff the stat box again this week. In Week One of last year, Allen caught nearly ten passes in the first half before leaving with an injury. If Kansas City is going to slow Philip Rivers, they’ll have to slow his top target. Due to Marcus Peters not being a traveling corner, Allen could line up opposite any cornerback the Chiefs trot out, meaning they all will have to be on their game.
4. Chris Jones, Bennie Logan, Allen Bailey
Melvin Gordon rushed for just 13 yards on 9 carries last Sunday, and while KC may not boast Ndamukong Suh, they do have a few beasts of their own. Chris Jones is coming off a 3 sack/FF/INT performance against Philly, earning him Defensive Player of the Week honors, and the Chargers (once again) don’t have a great offensive line. I can see him, along with Logan and Bailey, shutting down the run early again in this one.
5. Second-half Andy Reid
Against the Patriots, the Chiefs became very aggressive in the second half. That fueled a 28-3 run and eventual 42-27 victory. Last week, they started slow, but scored two second half touchdowns (thanks to commitment to rookie phenom Kareem Hunt) and wound up winning by a touchdown after a garbage-time Eagles TD. How they attack the Chargers could determine the victor. Watch the Chiefs play calling early and see if it progresses, or remains aggressive, into the second half.
Prediction: Will Hunt slow down? Probably, but not this week. Against a defense that allowed 100 yards to Jay Ajayi, I think Hunt comes close to that mark and scores three times. Chiefs 28, Chargers 19
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