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Chargers vs. Chiefs Preview: Chargers on defense

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Before I get started, let's revisit my preview of the Chargers offense vs. the Chiefs defense for a moment:

Week 1 game previews are pretty much guesswork. I think last year I predicted a 30 point victory over the Raiders heading into week 1, only to see Philip Rivers drag the team to a close victory and the team barely escape Oakland alive. So take the below preview for what it's worth: analyzing matchups based upon the beginning of preseason games and a 2009 season in which both teams were very different.

Got it? Now, onto the speculation.

Stopping the run

Calm down, Charger fans. Going from one of the league's worst run defenses to one of the league's best is not unheard of. In fact, it happens to a couple of teams every season it seems. Take a look at these transformations from 2008 to 2009.

Packers: 26th to 2nd
Falcons: 28th to 8th
Chargers: 11th to 24th

So the Chargers were good in 2008, and then in 2009 when Jamal Williams went down in week 1, Jacques Cesaire missed all of the preseason and defensive linemen seemed to drop like flies for the first few weeks of the season, things went south. With a (hopefully) healthy line and a couple of beasts playing NT (Antonio Garay and Cam Thomas), the Bolts could conceivably jump back to "average" with their run defense which is really all the offense needs to win games.

The Chiefs were one of the better running teams in 2009, ending up as 8th best in the league for the season after a poor start with Larry Johnson. In 8 games as the starter, Jamaal Charles had four 100+ yd games and 7 TDs and looked very much like one of the league's top running backs along the way. If you want a parallel to that, think about when Larry Johnson did almost the exact same thing in 2005 and then dominated the NFL as the league's 2nd best rusher the following year (trailing LT during his record-breaking season). This could happen again, and adding rookie Darren Sproles-clone Dexter McCluster to their running game only makes them more dangerous on the ground.

Optimism or not, this is a big, big strength for the Chiefs.

Advantage: Chiefs

 

Stopping the pass

I pointed this out a couple of weeks ago, but it's still fun to look at. Here's Matt Cassel's career line against the San Diego Chargers:

Cassel: 53/98 (54.1%), 493 yards, 2 TDs, 6 INTs

The most wistful version of me is hoping Shawne Merriman sits, Larry English starts and gets a sack or two. I literally have no real memories of Larry from last year, and that picture above of him scaring the bejesus out of Eli Manning doesn't seem like it happened (and I was at that game!). So, with that in mind, I'm going to pretend that Larry is a rookie this year and this is his first year. Go get 'em, rook!

I've been saying the same thing about Matt Cassel since last offseason. When you compare how often he got sacked behind the Pats line to how often Tom Brady got sacked, it became fairly evident that Matt liked to hold onto the ball a little too long. Chiefs fans didn't want to believe me, and they probably still don't even though their line gave up a whopping 45 sacks last year (compared to 37 the year before). That's fine. The point that I'm trying to make here is that a great pass-rush against the Chiefs would be awesome, but it's not absolutely necessary.

So once the ball leaves Matt's hands...there's bound to be trouble, right? Not so much. In one game against the Chargers last season, #1 WR Dwayne Bowe managed 2 catches for 11 yards (1 TD) going up against Quentin Jammer. Chris Chambers had more success, catching 7 passes for 70 yards and 1 TD filling in for Bowe in the second Chargers/Chiefs game. However, I don't see that happening again and here's why:

I think Antoine Cason is a better CB than Antonio Cromartie. I think he's a more complete player, someone that will go up and fight for the ball as well as tackle in run support. Darrelle Revis has shown that the days of being a shutdown "cover corner" are just about over. If you can't jump up and fight for the ball, you are just going to be mediocre. There's a lot more detail to this theory, but many people have noticed that Chris Chambers is a good WR when you can get him open in space and not very good when guys are banging into him and fighting for the ball. I think the Chiefs will still find ways to get him open, but it will be a little tougher than what they had to do to get Cro to give up on the play. That's just my opinion, though.

Advantage: Chargers/History