Ever since the Chargers’ week one debacle against the Chiefs, the fan base, and most likely the players as well, have had this day circled in red. Being a divisional match-up, it’s incredibly important, but it has some extra layers to it due to how the first game unfolded.
If you guys don’t recall with crystal-clear preciseness, let me remind you of the key moments where you probably slunk your head into your hands, breathed heavy sighs, and probably ordered that extra round of shots because “you just knew that this was going to be a long game.”
Before two full minutes were able to tick off of the game clock, the Chargers went three-and-out and had to punt. But in unique Chargers-fashion, the incredibly dangerous Tyreek Hill did what he does best and took the ensuing punt 91 yards back the other way to give the Chiefs a hasty 7-0 lead on the Chargers.
On their following drive, the Bolts were able to close the gap with a field goal to make it 7-3. Just five players later, however, Patrick Mahomes hit Hill in stride on a slant route that he took 58 yards to the house. The Chiefs’ lead was pushed to 14-3 as you ordered that third shot of Jager Bomb to ease the pain.
Although the Chargers would find a way to make it 14-12 halfway through the second quarter, they would never get within 10 points again as the Chiefs barrage unfolded throughout the second half, aided by a muffed punt by former, and now cut, punt returner, J.J. Jones.
That game ended up being a 38-28 victory for the Chiefs. It was frustrating from start to finish. But make no mistake, things are a bit different this time around. Joey Bosa is back, the Chargers have a new kicker and punter, and Desmond King finally has a stranglehold on the team’s punt return duties.
Will these changes have a sizable impact on tonight’s game? I believe so. There are a few more variables that are sure to help shape the final score in this one, as well, but let’s just leave that for the meat of the article, shall we?
So here we go. Chargers v. Chiefs. One final push for the top spot in the AFC West.
It’s on tonight. Here’s what I’ll be watching closely.
1.) Which team’s offense will be burdened the most without their top two running backs?
The biggest theme leading up to tonight’s match-up is that both teams have a chance to take the field without the top two running backs on their respective teams.
The availability of Melvin Gordon has been tossed around a lot this week and, according to the star back, he will be a true game-time decision. In his recent talks with the media, he said he will be pushing the coaches to let him play but it’ll obviously come down to the coaches.
The Chargers will also be without Austin Ekeler who sustained a neck injury against the Bengals and recently came down with concussion symptoms earlier this week. In their place, rookies Justin Jackson and Detrez Newsome will be left to carry the load in their wake. Jackson has proven efficient in his limited sample-size (18 touches for 116 total yards last two games) while Newsome showed enough potential to land on the final 53-man roster following the preseason.
The Chiefs no longer employ Kareem Hunt and his back-up, Spencer Ware, is listed as doubtful heading into tonight. That leaves the Chiefs with Damien Williams as their starter, a notable back-up during his days in Miami.
It will be interesting how much either team relies on the ground game in this one, especially with the level of quarterback play that will be present.
2.) Which streak will continue: Rivers’ hotstreak or his cringe-worthy play at Arrowhead?
It’s no secret that Rivers has been playing some of the best ball of his entire career. It actually wasn’t until this past Sunday that, for the first time all season, Rivers failed to throw for multiple touchdowns in a game. It’s unfortunate, however, that his sizzling play might find itself cooling off once things kickoff in KC.
Phillip Rivers' last 4 games at Arrowhead— Heath Cummings (@heathcummingssr) December 11, 2018
20/34 291 yds 0 TD 2 INT
24/43 263 yds 0 TD 1 INT
25/36 243 yds 1 TD 0 INT
20/36 227 yds 1 TD 3 INT
Rivers’ last four trips to Arrowhead are #bad, to say the least. In fact, Rivers hasn’t thrown for over 300 yards or multiple touchdowns since the end of 2013 when Rivers threw a walk-off touchdown to secure their last victory in Kansas City.
The weather in the Midwest will also play a key role in tonight’s match-up as their is a chance the field will be pretty sloppy due to recent rainfall. The temperature should fall into the mid to high-thirties which, again, does not bode well for number 17 as told by James Koh of NextGenStats.
Philip Rivers has played 3 games the last 5 years in 38 degree or colder weather. It uh, has not gone well. Per game stats:— James Koh (@JamesDKoh) December 12, 2018
263 yards passing
It's supposed to be 37 degrees in Arrowhead on Thursday. GULP.https://t.co/pDYInvsW9I
At the end of the day, one of these things has got to give. Is it time for Rivers to shake the trend? Will he continue to fall flat when his team needs him?
I. CAN’T. WAIT.
3.) Pressure on Mahomes is a MUST
Ever since Joey Bosa made his return this season, fellow pass rusher Melvin Ingram has taken a step back in production. In fact, the last time Ingram recorded a sack was against the Oakland Raiders just over a month ago. That also happened to be the first game back for the big bear. Ever since, Bosa has four sacks to Ingram’s zero. While a couple other players have recorded a sack or two along the way, Ingram is getting paid to get after the quarterback and he has failed to have much of an impact in that facet over the last four weeks.
If there was ever a good time for Ingram to shake this funk, it is this game. Unfortunately for him, he will be lined up across from right tackle Mitchell Schwartz who is currently the highest graded tackle in the NFL according to pass-blocking efficiency.
Mitchell Schwartz has the best Pass Blocking Efficiency in the NFL among qualifying tackles at 98.6. Help send him to the #ProBowl with a retweet!#ProBowlVote— PFF KC Chiefs (@PFF_Chiefs) December 7, 2018
Bosa should have an easier time getting to Mahomes on the other end of the line since he gets to go up against Eric Fisher, the former first-overall pick in the draft, who currently grades out as the 28th-ranked offensive tackle (70.0) by Pro Football Focus.
It would also be a big help if Gus Bradley could get back to finding innovative ways to create pressures even with Bosa back in the lineup. Derwin James and Desmond King are both phenomenal blitzer for defensive backs and I believe those talents should be exploited in the right moments. I honestly believe their versatility could be a deciding-factor in this game and I hope Bradley agrees.