The Kansas City Chiefs are facing the Los Angeles Chargers in prime time for the second time this season. This time they’ll face off on “Sunday Night Football” at SoFi Stadium in Week 11, with the AFC West division potentially hanging the balance.
Los Angeles is looking to even the score after Kansas City won the first matchup between these two squads. It’ll be easier said than done, though. The Chiefs haven’t lost a game to the Chargers on the road during the Patrick Mahomes era. You have to go all the way back to a meaningless Week 17 game in 2013 where Chase Daniel and backups played to find K.C.’s last road loss to the Chargers.
Here are five of the things we’ll be looking at throughout the course of the game:
Road to victory through the running game and/or screen game?
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If there was ever a game for the Chiefs to get the running game going, this will be the one. The Chargers have allowed 5.4 yards per carry, 1,321 yards rushing and 11 rushing touchdowns this season. A week ago, they made a concerted effort to get rookie RB Isiah Pacheco going with career-highs of 16 carries and 82 rushing yards. It could be a week where they lean on the rookie again, but it’s also worth noting that Clyde Edwards-Helaire had his best game of the season against Los Angeles back in Week 2.
The run game hasn’t exactly been the Chiefs’ strength this season and we shouldn’t expect them to stray too far from the passing game. Another thing to keep an eye on is the screen game, which Andy Reid has always viewed as an extension of the running game. This could be a week where Reid dials up one of those classic Alex Smith-type game plans with the screen passing game to receivers, tight ends and running backs.
Another challenge for the pass rush
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For the second consecutive week, the Chiefs’ pass rush is facing a big challenge. The Chargers have allowed just 13 sacks on quarterback Justin Herbert all season. That might say a bit more about Herbert’s escapability than anything else as they’ve allowed 76 total pressures this season, which is right around the league average.
If there is one area that Kansas City might be able to take advantage of, it’s backup left tackle Jamaree Salyer. He’s done a good job filling in for the injured Rashawn Slater, but he hasn’t faced the Chiefs yet. Last week, against a Jaguars team that had allowed the second-fewest sacks in the NFL, Kansas City managed five sacks, and without Frank Clark at that. Don’t be shocked if the Chiefs try to use a spy and late blitz at times to help pressure and contain Herbert.
Chargers gambling on fourth down
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We know that Chargers HC Brandon Staley is going to be aggressive in fourth-down situations, but we also know that history hasn’t been kind to him when he’s gambled on fourth down against the Chiefs. There is a lot riding on this game for Los Angeles with a difference between a win or a loss likely determining whether they’ll compete for the AFC West division or a wild-card spot in the playoffs. With that in mind, I expect Staley to go for it on fourth down a few times on Sunday night.
Kansas City is ranked 28th in the NFL this season, allowing 12 successful fourth-down conversions on 19 attempts. For the mathematically challenged, that means they’re allowing fourth downs 63% of the time. Expect that the Chiefs practiced extra for these situations this week and that a timely stop on fourth down could be the big difference in this game for Kansas City.
Benchmark game for young secondary
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As much talk as there was about the AFC West building their teams to beat the Chiefs this offseason, there was little talk about Kansas City’s secondary rebuild and how it was structured to thwart teams like the Los Angeles Chargers. Fans didn’t get to see much of that in action in Week 2, with Trent McDuffie on injured reserve and fourth-round CB Joshua Williams still getting up to speed.
This week, we’ll get L’Jarius Sneed, McDuffie and a platoon of Williams and Jaylen Watson matching up against WRs like Keenan Allen, Mike Williams, DeAndre Carter and Josh Palmer. I’m particularly looking forward to the instances where McDuffie is matched up with Allen and Joshua Williams is matched up with Mike Williams. That should prove to be a valuable litmus test for the group of players destined to be the future of this secondary.
Who steps up in the receiving game this week?
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Patrick Mahomes has made it clear a number of times this season that it can be anyone’s week in the Chiefs’ offense. Given his league-leading 10 receivers with touchdown receptions this season, I suspect that he’s onto something. With Mecole Hardman and JuJu Smith-Schuster absent this week, that will very much so be put to the test.
There seems to be some expectation that Kadarius Toney will continue building on the impressive performances he’s had through two games in Kansas City this season. All eyes will be on rookie Skyy Moore, who could have a big opportunity for a breakout opportunity this week. This could also be a week that Noah Gray and Jody Fortson see some action in the passing game as the Chargers have allowed the 12th-most passing yards to tight ends this season despite allowing the third-fewest receptions to the position.