How the Chiefs Can Fly High at SoFi
From Week 3 to now, a lot has changed. Let’s dive into the keys to a Chiefs victory on Thursday Night.
ChiefsFocus @ChiefsFocus Charles Robinson @CRob5769
The beginning of the Chiefs week 3 matchup with the Chargers was like waking up from a nightmare where your house was on fire to see that your house is actually on fire. Fresh off of the Clyde Edwards-Helaire fumble and a 1 point loss to the Ravens, the Chiefs opened this contest by providing the entire Kingdom with a very sinking feeling.
First possession – 10 plays, down to the Chargers 20, Mahomes pass goes off of Marcus Kemp’s hands for a pick
Second possession – 5 plays, down to the Chargers 22, Mahomes 8 yard pass to Tyreek Hill fumbled
Third possession – 6 plays, down to the Chargers 36, 7 yard rush by Clyde Edwards-Helaire fumbled
Just like that the Chiefs had spotted the Chargers 14 points, and even though KC would regain the lead twice (17 to 14 and 24 to 21), an atrocious start giving the ball away on 3 consecutive drives in enemy territory to open the game proved too much to ultimately overcome, as the Chiefs lost their first back to back games since weeks 5 and 6 of the 2019 season. The good news, however, is that all nightmares (and house fires) eventually end. KC has worked its way back to break even in turnover margin as of last week’s shellacking of the Raiders, and have hit an even bigger reset button on their season in the past 6 weeks, now tied with the Patriots and Titans for the best record in the AFC. Everyone reading and writing this is a huge fan of that, but the Chargers are not far behind this pace. At 8-5 and second place in the AFC West, LA has as much if not more incentive to win this game than the Chiefs. If KC can leave California with a win, they will have a 2 game division lead with 3 to play. If LA wins at home and goes 2-0 vs. the Chiefs on the season, they will hold first place and the tie breaker on the Chiefs. To say this one is huge doesn’t do the magnitude justice. Let’s take a look at a few of the key matchups going into Thursday’s de facto AFC West championship game.
Chiefs Offensive Line vs. Chargers Pass Rush
The first time these two squared off, Patrick Mahomes was pressured 14 times. In those 14 attempts, Mahomes went 1 for 14 for 6 yards and 2 interceptions. I’ll have to check with Ryan Clark and Chris Sims on this, but I don’t think that’s very good. To say that the Chiefs offensive line needs to protect Mahomes in this game is an understatement. To say that if they do that the Chiefs should walk away with a win, conversely, is not an overstatement. The Chargers only totaled 2 sacks on Mahomes in the week 3 matchup (1 by Kyzir White and 0.5 each by Drue Tranquill and Joey Bosa), but hit the Chiefs QB 7 times and knocked him down 4. Joey Bosa was particularly a menace, pressuring Mahomes 5 times. Let’s look at the “then” and “now” of the Chiefs offensive line.
- The entire unit was playing their third game together
- Creed Humphrey, Trey Smith, and Lucas Niang were playing their third games ever in the NFL
- Orlando Brown was starting his first season as a full time left tackle
- Joe Thuney was an animal and played incredibly well
- Creed Humphrey has developed into the best center in the NFL
- Trey Smith is the 12th ranked rookie in the NFL on both sides of the ball – reminder we drafted him in the 6th round (shoutout Brett Veach)
- Orlando Brown has become a stalwart at left tackle over the past 6 weeks
- Joe Thuney is an animal and plays football incredibly well (#9 guard in all of football)
I fully expect this offensive line to be able to do what they want against the Chargers in the running game, as the Chiefs rushed the ball 30 times for 186 yards (6.2 yards per carry) against the league’s 31st ranked run defense in week 3. The coaches will need to set up the run first to develop confidence for the big 5 up front to succeed in the passing game as well. Running the football is also the best antidote for an aggressive pass rush, so establishing the run early and often, utilizing the play action passing game, and mixing up formations will be key to offensive success Thursday night.
Keep an eye on the right tackle spot as well – Andrew Wylie has looked suspect the past couple of games, so getting Lucas Niang back in would be a huge boost for KC, even with his relative lack of experience.
Chiefs Defense vs. Chargers Passing Attack
It is no secret that the Chargers are loaded with offensive weapons. In week 3, the Chargers “Big 3” of Mike Williams, Keenan Allen, and Austin Ekeler combined for 279 scrimmage yards (79% of the Chargers offensive yardage output) and all 4 LA touchdowns. The Chiefs secondary was quite a weak point in this game, with Herbert going a combined 11 for 11 for 139 yards against the trio of Rashad Fenton, L’Jarius Sneed, and Tyrann Mathieu, and dicing Mike Hughes for 2 TD on the day. To make matters worse for the secondary, the defensive front got plenty of pressure on Herbert (13 QB pressures), but only Mike Danna got home to sack the Chargers signal caller. Poor coverage combined with no real threat to the QB generally means that you’re going to get carved. But let’s not forget who missed this game for the Chiefs. Charvarius Ward was out with a quad injury, and Frank Clark was out with a bad hamstring.
Fast forward 12 weeks and Austin Ekeler enters this game with a banged up ankle and Keenan Allen was on the COVID reserve list for last week’s win against the Giants. This isn’t the worst part for the Chargers. Rookie Rashawn Slater, who has been spectacular for LA all season, will miss Thursday’s game after being placed on the COVID reserve list himself on Monday. This means that the Chargers will face the Chiefs revamped defense front with backups at right tackle, left tackle, and right guard. One has to think that the presence of Frank Clark will impact the Chiefs pass rush greatly, and Ward will assist with the coverage issues the Chiefs experienced in week 3. There is an obvious elephant in the room here, but I’ll get to that a little bit later. If the Chiefs are able to get home on Herbert more than one time, the way this secondary has played recently – Hughes and Fenton are in the top 5 of PFF’s cornerback rankings currently, Charvarius Ward is allowing the lowest completion percentage against in the entire league, Tyrann Mathieu leads the team in interceptions and Juan Thornhill is playing lights out football and is a much better fit than what Spags was trying to do with Sorensen early in the season – this could be a very long night for Justin Herbert and the Chargers offense.
Keep an eye out for updates on Chris Jones status after being placed in COVID protocol yesterday. The big man will be crucial in interrupting Herbert’s schedule and progressions with his long arms, and is leading the team in sacks as well.
Chiefs Second Level Defenders vs. Chargers Ground Game and Short Passing Game
The Chargers aren’t rocking with LaDanian Tomlinson and Antonio Gates by any means, but Austin Ekeler, Jared Cook, and Donald Parham are no slouches, and Keenan Allen and Mike Williams are huge bodies who can beat you over the middle and over the top. Third down defense is going to be crucial for the Chiefs in this game, and the Chargers are exceptional at turning a little into a lot, particularly on third down. Between Justin Herbert’s ability to run, Austin Ekeler’s pass catching ability, and the threat of the tight ends and receivers over the middle of the field, it will be pertinent that the Chiefs suffocate these guys in third down scenarios. Nick Bolton had seen limited playing time when these teams met the first time, but have blossomed into one of the best young linebackers in the league and will be the centerpiece of the Chiefs defensive hopes of getting these guys off of the field on third down. The Chargers come into this game averaging 3rd and 7.1 yards on all third downs this year, but are 5th in the NFL in third down success rate offensively (45.2%). The Chiefs are currently 12th overall in 3rd down defense (allowing opposing offenses a 38.4% success rate), but in the past 3 games are 6th allowing only 32.5% opponent success. This comes against teams like Dallas (second) and Las Vegas (tenth) who rank in the top 10 offensively in the NFL. Bolton, along with Anthony Hitchens, Mathieu, Thornhill, and Dan Sorensen will play crucial roles in ensuring these battles go KC’s way.
Keep an eye on Nick Bolton’s impact on the Chiefs tackling before the sticks. Missed tackles plagued the Chiefs early in the season, but Bolton has emerged as a tackling machine, leading the team with 88 this year.
The Melvin Ingram Effect
No one who has watched the Chiefs since the trade deadline can mention the defensive resurgence without mentioning Melvin Ingram. He has brought an element of physicality and toughness to this defensive front that has juiced up the pass rush and brought back the true attitude of this unit. But, had things gone differently last summer, we would be preparing to play against him. Melvin Ingram wanted a contract extension with the Chargers. When they extended Joey Bosa ahead of the 2020 campaign, Ingram made it known that he wanted an extension and he wanted to be a Charger. The organization had different plans, allowing Pittsburgh to sign him in the 2021 offseason, where he had a cup of coffee before being traded to the Chiefs for a 6th round draft pick (lol) before the trade deadline. So, you could say this game means a lot to him. I’d expect Ingram to come out on fire in this game, and not let in until the clock hits 0:00.
Keep an eye on Trey Pipkins, who Ingram is likely to be matched up against on Thursday night. The only articles I could really find on this guy were his player profile page, and an article from the LA Times outlined how surprising it was that he made the team out of training camp. Not a great sign for poor Pip.
There was a lot more to this blog featuring focal points on Willie Gay and L’Jarius Sneed, who were just ruled out of Thursday’s game. That will be tough for the defense to overcome, but so was turning the season around as they have thus far. I also could have written an entire blog about how the Chiefs need to not turn the ball over and can win the game, but we’ll get to that on the official game preview. These matchups will be key to the team’s success against LA, and could be the determining factor in the Chiefs winning the AFC West for a division record 6th consecutive year.