Getting To Know The Kansas City Chiefs – Part Two
The Los Angeles Chargers currently sit in fifth place in the AFC after blowing out the New York Giants on Sunday 37-21. The scoreboard showed a closer result than what actually happened on the field after the Giants got a garbage-time touchdown against the Chargers’ backup defensive players. In doing so, the Chargers were able to win back-to-back games for the first time since they strung three consecutive wins together earlier this season – one of which came in Week three in Kansas City against the Chiefs.
Since this is obviously the second time the Chargers will be playing the Chiefs, I’ll be making a few alterations to this article and updating a few others from the last one.
2020 Season In Review
The dreaded Super Bowl Hangover appeared to be a very real thing for the Chiefs early on this season. The offense was turning the ball over at a very high rate, and the defense couldn’t stop anybody with a pulse. Through seven weeks, they were sitting at 3-4 and the best defensive effort to that point was holding the Titans to 27 points in a blowout loss. They nearly lost to the Giants the next week, and subsequently traded for former Chargers legend Melvin Ingram.
Since that point, they have had some breaks go their way, like playing against the Packers without Aaron Rodgers, but the defense has made some serious strides over the last few weeks and has held all five teams they’ve faced with Ingram to 14 points or less. For the first time in the Andy Reid era, the Chiefs defense has been the driving force behind their success, in this case, a six-game win streak.
Offensively, the Chiefs are still putting up a ton of yards. They are fourth in the league in yards per game, according to ESPN. They are the most efficient offense in the league on a per-drive basis (just ahead of the Chargers) as well, according to Football Outsiders. The turnovers have started to come back to the norm, but they are still struggling to put up points like they used to – at least against teams not named the Raiders. According to Mike Clay, the Chiefs have put up 89 points in two games against Gus Bradley’s unit (good riddance), but are only averaging 23.8 points per game in all 11 other games. That would put them at 16th best in the league on a per-game basis, just ahead of the New Orleans Saints. As Clay points out, the increased emphasis on the two-high safety looks, similar to the ones that the Chargers employ, has been the key to slowing the Chiefs down.
How the Chargers’ defense plays and adjusts to the Chiefs’ offense will be a key trend to look out for. They’ve been playing the run much better recently and getting after the passer at a higher level since the bye week. Andrew Wylie has been starting at right tackle for them recently and has allowed the 8th most pressures since week eight despite only starting in only five games.
Key Additions And Departures
Last time around, I wrote about the offensive line arms race that took place in the AFC West this past offseason. That was of course spearheaded by these two teams. The Chargers of course signed Corey Linsley, Matt Feiler, and Oday Aboushi, then drafted Rashawn Slater and Brenden Jaimes. The Chiefs signed Joe Thuney, Kyle Long, and Austin Blythe, traded for Orlando Brown, then drafted Creed Humphrey and Trey Smith. Both teams completely remade their respective units and that appears to have paid dividends for each.
Slater and Humphrey in particular have been everything fans from each team ever could have imagined, and should be in the Offensive Rookie of the Year conversations. Slater had the worst two-game stretch of his young career against the Broncos and Bengals, allowing three pressures in each game (take a minute and think about how far this team has come at that position where six pressures in back to back games is considered bad). He followed that up by playing a fantastic game against the Giants on Sunday and only allowed one pressure. He’s also displayed an elite level of strength and mobility as a run blocker and was absolutely dominant in that regard against the Giants. The pairing of him and Feiler will be fun to watch for the next few years.
Humphrey has only allowed 10 pressures so far this season for the Chiefs and is consistently burying defenders in the run game. He’s proving to be a versatile blocker in both aspects of the game, and that should be a surprise to no one considering how great of a prospect he was coming out of Oklahoma.
Unfortunately, we likely won’t see these two on the same field on Thursday night as Slater recently tested positive for Covid-19 (along with 36 other NFL players). He is vaccinated so there is a slight chance that he can play but it’s a long shot given that the game will be played on Thursday night.
Joe Lombardi and offensive line coach Frank Smith are going to have to be at their best in designing this week’s protection plan without Slater. With him, you have the luxury of being able to send double teams, chips, and slides to Storm Norton’s side while Slater stays on an island. Now, you won’t have that luxury as Trey Pipkins seems to be the only choice on the roster to replace the star rookie. With a surging Frank Clark and a highly motivated Ingram, that positive Covid-19 test could not have come at a worse time for the Chargers.
I said before the season that the Chiefs should be expected to be Super Bowl contenders until proven otherwise. When they were sitting at 3-4, everybody dubbed them as dead in the water. I always felt like that was premature, and here they sit in contention for the top seed in the AFC six weeks later.
This iteration of the Chiefs is different. The defense is carrying more of its’ weight after trading for Ingram and adding legitimate playmakers at linebacker through the draft over the last two seasons in Willie Gay and Nick Bolton. The offense has struggled to be as consistently explosive and has taken their lumps as they learn to be more efficient. Make no mistake about it, though, this is a very dangerous Chiefs team and they are absolutely contenders.
After the Thursday night matchup this week, the Chiefs will close out the season against the Steelers, at the Bengals, and at the Broncos.
History Against The Chargers
This is a monumental moment for the Chargers under Brandon Staley’s tenure. The history of this rivalry has generally been one-sided, the Chargers dominated the 2000’s, while the Chiefs have mostly dominated the 2010’s under Reid. I am writing this on the three-year anniversary of the 2018 Thursday Night matchup that the Chargers won on a walk-off Mike Williams two-point conversion. Up until that point, the Chargers had lost nine straight games at the hands of Reid and company.
I strongly doubt that this rivalry will continue to be one-sided while Justin Herbert and Patrick Mahomes are around and playing at a high level. This has all the makings to become the Tom Brady vs Peyton Manning of our generation, and the first two matchups have definitely held their weight.
The stakes could not be any higher. Whoever wins, will most likely win the AFC West crown and will have a strong chance at securing a first-round bye. The fact that we get to see two of the best-performing quarterbacks on primetime only adds to that.
Despite losing Slater for this matchup, the Chargers should get Keenan Allen, Derwin James, and possibly even Asante Samuel Jr. back. All of that will help, especially James, who’s been the best safety in the league this season. This will be a dog fight for the Chargers, especially without Slater. If he were playing in this game, I think I would be picking the Chargers pretty confidently, to be honest. Without it, I am less confident but Herbert has put up some huge games on the biggest stages and because of that, I think the Chargers will be up for the task and sweep the Chiefs for the first time since 2013.
Final Prediction: Chargers 24 – Chiefs 23