Chargers’ reasons for optimism vs. Chiefs

The Chargers face off with the Chiefs in primetime for the second time this season, this time on Sunday Night Football for the second week in a row.

Los Angeles is coming off a loss to the 49ers, while Kansas City is fresh off a 27-17 win against the Jaguars.

Here are four reasons to be optimistic that LA will split the season series.

Justin Herbert’s talent elevation

I wrote this week that Herbert’s improving health has done wonders for this offense, and I expect that to only continue on Sunday night. The San Francisco game was the most often Herbert’s receivers were finding open space down the field all season, partially because the 49ers were so keyed in on the short passing game that had been a staple of Joe Lombardi’s offense before the bye when Herbert’s ribs limited his ability to push the ball downfield. The result last week was a strong performance from the face of the franchise despite playing without his top two targets and several other key contributors.

Return of key targets

Speaking of Herbert’s top two targets, Keenan Allen and Mike Williams returned to practice on Wednesday, a good sign that at least one of them will be available on Sunday. Williams in particular, seemed to be in good spirits, smiling and laughing through a “maybe” when asked if he’ll play on Sunday. Allen said he “hope[s]” to play as well. The Chargers haven’t played a game with both players at full strength all season, primarily because Allen hasn’t been 100% since injuring his hamstring in Week 1. While he played in Week 7 against Seattle, he was on a pitch count. If both players return and LA gets right tackle Trey Pipkins back with the way Herbert’s trajectory has been, an explosive day from the offense against the 22nd-best pass defense by DVOA is not out of the question.

Run game tendencies

The Chargers are undeniably thin on the defensive line – Breiden Fehoko is likely in line to start next to Sebastian Joseph-Day and Morgan Fox after being signed from the practice squad last Wednesday. Joe Gaziano, freshly signed from the practice squad, and Tyeler Davison, who’s been on the team for less than a week, will likely be asked to play big roles. Luckily for them, though, the Chiefs don’t seem to want to run the ball much. Kansas City averages 23.7 rushing attempts per game so far in 2022, 25th in the league by volume. It’s not like it isn’t working for them, either: they’re middle of the road in per carry numbers. Against LA in Week 2, Clyde Edwards-Helaire averaged 9.3 yards per carry but only received eight opportunities. This offense (rightfully) runs through Patrick Mahomes, even if the matchup dictates that running the ball will be more effective. For the Chargers, who have defended the pass astronomically better than the run this season, that tendency plays into their hands. Sort of. It’s still Patrick Mahomes.

Turnover equality

The Chargers and Chiefs have thrown interceptions in two-thirds of their games this season: Herbert has six, and Mahomes has seven. What’s interesting about this is how both quarterbacks are throwing said interceptions. For the most part, Herbert throws picks when defenders recognize his near-robotic progression timeline and break on the ball as it’s delivered. In other words, it’s defenses turning his greatest strength into a weakness: Herbert moves through progressions like few quarterbacks his age do but sometimes comes off a read too early and forces a throw to a tertiary player because his internal clock screams that he needs to be throwing the ball somewhere. Similarly, defenses have turned Mahomes’ biggest strength into a weakness this season to force his interceptions. The Chiefs QB is at his best when extending plays and creating out of structure. Still, with his mind melded with Tyreek Hill no longer a factor, those same plays are increasingly turning into turnovers as they bounce off receivers’ hands or fly by unsuspecting targets’ heads. So, for both defenses, it’s a bit of a catch-22. You have to let the superstar QB on the other side get into their preferred situations and trust you can execute. In some ways, that puts them on level playing fields, and that’s a very rare thing to say when you’re on the team playing against Patrick Mahomes.

Story originally appeared on Chargers Wire