After playing them in the season-openernladt year, it’s weird finally facing the Chiefs just before the team’s week 12 bye. Nothing has really gone the way fans probably expected after a 12-4 season and the team’s first playoff victory since 2013. Everyone is hurt and whatever can go wrong has certainly gone wrong at one point or another.
But even after all of that, the Chiefs are still 6-4 and seem very much mortal following their most-recent loss to the Tennessee Titans.
The recipe for a victory seems to be a strong running game and an equally strong run defense. The Titans ran all over the Chiefs with Derrick Henry galloping for over 188 yards and multiple touchdowns. Damien Williams was kept in check for the most part and the Titans escaped with a win following blocked field goal as time expired.
At best, team’s aren’t dominating Kansas City, but they’re starting to figure out how to stick around long enough to fight for it at the end. Is this the blueprint the Chargers will follow? I’m not entirely sure, but it’s definitely a solid starting place.
With that being said, here are the three story-lines I’ll be watching closely on Monday night against the Chiefs.
1). After missing last year’s win in Kansas City, can Keenan Allen and Melvin Gordon make an impact this time around?
When the Chargers beat the Chiefs at Arrowhead for the first time in five years, they somehow managed to do it without the help of two of their top play-makers. Gordon was still nursing a leg injury and Allen was knocked out of the game after a diving attempt at a touchdown grab.
In his place, Mike Williams caught a trio of touchdowns while running back Justin Jackson scored a touchdown on the ground.
After starting the season on a hot streak that saw him record 400+ receiving yards and three scores through the first three games of 2019, Allen has since failed to reach the end zone or record 100+ yards in a game. On the other hand, Gordon is coming off his first 100+ yard rushing performance of the season and by-far his best game since his return from his holdout.
When it comes down to it, I think the easiest way for the Chargers to beat the Chiefs on Monday will be to keep their offense on track, ahead of the chains, and gobble up as many points as possible. Even if they come away with three, playing keep-away from Mahomes should be a priority.
2). Can the Chargers’ defense limit tight end Travis Kelce without safety Derwin James?
In James first NFL appearance, he showed everyone just how impactful he can be when he helped limit the Chiefs’ stud tight end to just a single catch for six yards. In the team’s week 15 contest, James kept him out of the end zone and halted the big pass-catcher on a clutch third-down stop late in the game. Kelce finished the game with seven catches for 61 yards.
Unfortunately for the Bolts, James, and fellow defensive standout Adrian Phillips, are still sitting on IR. Without those two, the Chargers will likely use some combination of safeties Jaylen Watkins and Roderic Teamer, as well as linebackers Thomas Davis and Drue Tranquill, to help cover number 87.
Kelce has caught 56 passes for a team-leading 741 yards and three touchdowns on the year. While he may not be getting in the end zone at his usual rate, he is still Patrick Mahomes’ most consistent weapon to move the chains.
Aside from the obvious game-breaking that Tyreek Hill brings to the table, stopping Kelce should be priority number one.
3). Philip Rivers must refrain from throwing the Bolts into an early first quarter deficit
Rivers currently sits with 14 touchdown passes on the year but his 10 interceptions lands him third in the NFL in that category. After posting a 7-2 TD/INT ratio through week four, Rivers has gone 7-8 since, including three in his most recent game against the Oakland Raiders on Thursday night.
In last year’s week 15 match-up, the Chargers somehow managed to overcome two early interceptions from Rivers and came away with a 29-28 victory on the back of Mike Williams’ historic performance where he caught three touchdowns, including the game-winning two-point conversion.
With Williams having yet found the end zone this season, a repeat-performance is highly unlikely, meaning Rivers will have to play his cleanest game of the season if the Chargers hope to leave Mexico City with their first divisional win of the season.