Three Key Matchups: Chargers Vs Chiefs

Week 14
Los Angeles Chargers Tight End Hunter Henry. Photo Credit: Ryan Dyrud | LAFB Network

Three Key Matchups: Chargers Vs. Chiefs

An ugly win is still a win. After a struggle against the Bengals in Week 1, the Chargers came out on top 16-13. Now they will host the defending Super Bowl Champion Kansas City Chiefs. This is a game Chargers fans had circled on their calendars, as it will serve as their opening game at SoFi stadium. 

The Chiefs bring their own set of unique challenges to the table, and if the Chargers play as they did last Sunday, it’s going to be a long day. The defense played great on Sunday, but the offense took its lumps. They are one of the many teams installing a new system with a new starting quarterback around the league, and the lack of points and poor execution was to be expected. 

Tyrod Taylor said in this week’s press conference that the offense noticed a few things they can clean up going forward and expect them to do so. Chargers fans are frustrated, but over time, the offense should improve. 

However, it’s going to take a lot more offense to keep up with Patrick Mahomes and the high octane Chiefs. The Chargers defense played well against the Chiefs last season, even in Mexico City, when the offense constantly set them up for failure.

Winning on Sunday comes down to two factors. First is winning the turnover battle. Since Anthony Lynn has been the Head Coach of the Chargers, they have lost the turnover battle 17-2 against Kansas City. No that is not a typo. If the Chargers are going to win on Sunday, they cannot give the Chiefs extra possessions.

Secondly, the offense needs to sustain drives and put points on the board, and preferably not field goals. The Chargers had three drives into Bengals territory that came up empty. Two were failed fourth and short conversions and the other a missed field goal. That cannot happen this week.

Three Key Matchups For The Chargers On Sunday

  1. Travis Kelce vs. Chargers safeties

Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce is one of the best players at his position in the history of the sport. He’s an elite player and a huge matchup problem.

In the past few faceoffs, the Chargers have actually done a fantastic job against him. But that’s because Derwin James has been around. Without James in the lineup last season, Kelce had seven catches for 92 touchdowns and a score. With him in the lineup, James and company held him to three catches for 24 yards. That right there is the James effect. Sadly, the football gods robbed us of seeing that epic showdown, and James won’t be on the field on Sunday. 

The Chargers will continue to rotate Desmond King, Rayshawn Jenkins, and Nasir Adderley at the two safety spots until someone truly emerges. Jenkins has the edge in overall playing time, as he was one of three defenders to log all of the team’s defensive snaps. He lined up as the deep safety 44 times, in the box as the strong safety 15 times, and in the slot for coverage nine times. King logged 41 snaps on Sunday, 30 of which were inside the box, six at free safety, and five in the slot. Adderley was on the field for 27 defensive snaps, 25 of which were at free safety, he took one rep each in the slot and in the box.

Each of these three can bring a piece of what James does to the table. Jenkins brings the athleticism, King brings the tackling, and Adderley brings the cover skills. The latter being the most important one when going up against Kelce. Expect King to get the start again at strong safety, but Adderley should be lining up more often than not against Kelce. Adderley is the better athlete and has the edge in size and length. King has never really been that great in coverage, even in his All-Pro year he really struggled in that area. So the Chargers mixed it up against Cincinnati in Week 1, and they’ll likely do that again this week against the Chiefs and Kelce. 

Keep an eye out for how involved Kelce is early. If the Chargers are to win, they absolutely have to keep Kelce under 60 yards. 

     2. Chiefs Interior Offensive Line vs. Chargers Interior Defensive Line

Last week it was about the Bengals interior defensive line and the Chargers interior offensive line. This week it’s flipped. This game will feature quite a battle on the edges as Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram go up against Mitchell Schwartz and Eric Fisher. Schwartz and Bosa are each at the top tier of their positions while Fisher and Schwartz are both in that middle tier, so it should be an amazing matchup there. 

The interior matchup will be the key because the battle on the edges should end up being a wash. Bosa had a monster game in Week 1, and Ingram had that key interception, but not expecting much production out of them against the Chiefs tackles. Not only are Schwartz and Fisher both really good, Andy Reid knows that they have to slow down the Chargers pass rush. That means more double teams and chip blocks this week for the Chargers edge rushers.

That will leave the Chargers defensive tackles in some one-on-one situations. Constant interior pressure is always the best way to slow down an elite quarterback. It’s something teams are realizing and it’s why guys like Aaron Donald, Grady Jarrett, and Chris Jones are playing on the inside instead of on the outside. It’s why the Chargers drafted Jerry Tillery and why they signed Linval Joseph. Those two, along with Justin Jones, need to earn their pay this week.

Tillery had a fantastic game on Sunday, and really set the tone for the defensive line. This past week was pretty easily the best game of his career. His offseason focus was getting into NFL shape and he looks great. He looked much stronger on Sunday, but also much quicker. It also appears he’s learned a thing or two from Bosa, in the technique department. In the tweet below, watch as both of them beat their man with great hand fighting. Tillery gets the sack, but Bosa forces Joe Burrow right into Tillery’s hands. 

If Tillery can play as he did on Sunday on a consistent basis, the Chargers defense will be much better for it.

On the flip side, Jones was the one who was getting all the preseason hype. He also slimmed down quite a bit and appears to be in much better physical condition. While it didn’t show up in the stat sheet like Tillery, he played pretty well last week. Expect both of these young players to continue to show signs of positive growth going forward. 

The big difference between this Chargers defense and years past is Joseph. Brandon Mebane is a solid leader, but he was strictly a run-stuffing defensive tackle. He offered next to nothing as a pass rusher and frankly didn’t exactly offer much playmaking ability.

Joseph is a different story, and he really is the “X-Factor” on this team. The long time Viking made his presence felt on Sunday. He was a force in the running game, eating up double teams all game long. He also had three tackles and three pressures. He is not being talked about enough for his efforts this past week. 

If you add in Damion Square, the Chargers got eight total pressures from their defensive tackles in the win over the Bengals. At a minimum, that number needs to stay the same this week against the Chiefs. I’m particularly excited to watch Joseph go up against the Chiefs left guard, Kelechi Osemele. Keep your eyes out on that battle.

   3. Tyrann Mathieu vs. Hunter Henry

Hunter Henry came out swinging in 2020. The Chargers tight end finished with 5 catches for 73 yards on Sunday and showed a nice rapport with Taylor throughout the game. The Chargers even dialed up a nice screen pass for him early on in the first half.

Taylor has a history of favoring his tight ends, it is the safety valve for the quarterback position after all. Charles Clay caught 50 passes for over 500 yards each of the three years he was in Buffalo with Taylor. Henry is a much better player and would expect to see many more performances like that going forward. 

The issue with Henry has never been production, it’s always been health. If he can manage to stay healthy, he could surpass the career-high 652 yards he set last season. One of the more surprising things from Sunday’s performance is how the Chargers avoided the middle of the field, especially in Henry’s case. Most of his catches were towards the sideline.

Maybe the Chargers coaching staff saw something in the Bengals defense, but they need Henry to work the middle of the field so Keenan Allen and Mike Williams have room to work on the outside. Too many of those deep passes left Williams out to dry because of that. 

On the opposite side, Tyrann Mathieu is one of the most unique defensive players in the NFL. He lines up all over the field for the Chiefs and does everything well. In the season opener against the Houston Texans, he lined up at the line of scrimmage as a pass rusher nine times, at free safety 10 times, in the box as a strong safety 19 times, and in the slot in pass coverage 21 times. The dude simply does it all, and he is the most important defensive player for the Chiefs because of his versatility. 

The Chiefs are likely playing Sunday’s games without both of their usual starting cornerbacks, with Bashaud Breeland being suspended for the first month of the season, and Charvarius Ward breaking his hand last week. So Mathieu’s play is even more important than before. They love to move him around and it’s possible they could want to stick him outside more often he should be matched up the majority of the time with Henry.

Mathieu has a strong history of shutting down opposing tight ends, and that would go a long way for a Chiefs victory on Sunday. If they do potentially move him to the outside, Henry should feast. If Henry can get over 60 yards again this week, the Chargers will be able to keep it close. If not, they could be in trouble. 

The Chargers are 8.5-point underdogs hosting the reigning Super Bowl Champions on Sunday. The Chiefs are so good, and already seem to be clicking on all cylinders. The Chargers offense is a work in progress, as are most of the offenses in the league right now.

Any talk of them potentially benching Taylor in favor of Justin Herbert is EXTREMELY premature. Remember that the Chargers are basically overhauling their offense, and didn’t have any offseason to do so. Be patient Chargers fans, brighter offensive days are ahead. Promise.