The Kansas City Chiefs travel to face the Los Angeles Chargers at SoFi Stadium for “Sunday Night Football” in Week 11 of the 2022 NFL season. It’s the second time these two AFC West rivals will meet on the gridiron this season.
Chiefs Wire: The Chargers haven’t scored more than 23 points since Week 5. Are their offensive struggles all about the absences of Keenan Allen and Mike Williams or is there more to it?
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Chargers Wire: I wouldn’t say it’s all about the absences of Allen and Williams, but that’s certainly a huge part of it. Without those two on the field, offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi has asked the likes of Josh Palmer, DeAndre Carter, and Michael Bandy to do exactly what Allen and Williams do, and they’ve proven they can’t. Justin Herbert’s injury has played a role, too, as have injuries along the offensive line. Many people want to point the finger at Lombardi, who’s been able to plan either a good run game or a good pass one but never both in the same contest. At the fundamental level, it’s Lombardi’s job to scheme up the talent he has, and instead, he’s asked his replacements to be just as good as the starters. Getting Allen and Williams back on Sunday will be huge.
Chiefs Wire: Similarly, Los Angeles hasn’t been great at defending the run this season. Is that a personnel issue with injuries along the defensive line or is there something else at play?
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Chargers Wire: It’s a bit of both — losing Austin Johnson, Otito Ogbonnia, and Christian Covington certainly doesn’t help, but the Chargers’ run defense was also underperforming before they were injured. Brandon Staley’s defensive scheme asks a lot of its defensive tackles because it was forged on the Aaron Donald Rams, and nobody on the other side of town even comes close to a Donald-level talent. Combine that with linebackers whose eyes have been inconsistent and tackling issues down the field, and you’ve got a struggling run defense.
Chiefs Wire: Justin Herbert has been sacked the fewest times in the NFL this season. Do you feel like the Chargers have finally fixed their offensive line issues?
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Chargers Wire: Trey Pipkins has been solid at right tackle, and I’m firmly in the camp that he deserves an extension. We’ve seen the alternatives when Pipkins misses time, as he did this season with a sprained MCL, and it’s hardly inspiring. Jamaree Salyer is a future starter on this team and has made that clear through his performance as Rashawn Slater’s replacement at left tackle. But I don’t think the sack numbers have to do with the line as much as they do with Herbert’s unique ability to maneuver the pocket and get rid of the ball. The third-year signal caller’s internal clock is never late, and even if pressure is bearing down on him, he can flip it out and avoid a negative play.
Chiefs Wire: Do you get the sense that this is a big game for the Chargers given the state of the AFC West and the AFC playoff picture?
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Chargers Wire: Absolutely. Los Angeles will still have a few opportunities to assert themselves in the AFC, namely against Tennessee and Miami down the line in games that could be hugely important for seeding. But falling to 5-5 with a loss would put the Chargers behind the 8 ball with little to no momentum to speak of and a sense that they’re not in that first tier of championship contenders after losing to Kansas City and San Francisco. I do think that regardless of the outcome this week, LA will be in the mix at the end, if only because all four AFC East teams are currently in the playoffs, with the Chargers and Bengals the next teams on the bubble.
Chiefs Wire: What’s your prediction for the game? Do the Chargers win or do their hopes to win the AFC West die on Sunday night?
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Chargers Wire: Brandon Staley has coached the Chargers to one-possession games in every matchup with Kansas City since being hired, and his defensive game plan against the 49ers was his best of the season. If he can build on that to find a way to stop this Chiefs offense missing Mecole Hardman and JuJu Smith-Schuster, all that’s left is for the offense to get the engine revved up again. With Keenan Allen, Mike Williams, and Trey Pipkins (presumably) returning this week, we’ll finally see what this offense will look like. Allen and Williams have only been on the field together for 7% of LA’s offensive snaps this season. I’ll say Chargers 23, Chiefs 20 in a close, hard-fought game.