The Chargers don’t just need to be better on Sunday than they were against the Bengals, they have to transcend to a whole new level prior to taking the field at SoFi Stadium to face the Kansas City Chiefs.
Well, maybe just the offense, because the defense played themselves a very energetic game as they got after Joe Burrow early and often. But how are they going to do that? What else do the Chargers need to do to give themselves the best chance possible to come out on top this Sunday?
If you read on, I’ll do my best to shed some light on the matter.
Chargers need to marry the run with the play action
When I went back and watched the Chiefs’ game against the Texans, the biggest thing I came away with was their linebackers’ propensity to bite on the run more often than not. This allowed Watson to complete his fair share of catches over the middle while the offense, in general, capitalized on moving defenders off of their spot with the play fake.
The Chiefs also like to be aggressive with pressure on early downs, something that goes opposite the normal NFL philosophy when it comes to blitzing. I noticed their linebackers, which is going to be their weak spot on defense, liked to stay three to four yards away from the line of scrimmage as opposed to the normal five. This also helped suck them in on play-action passes as they were already slightly committed to the run prior to the snap.
I think the Chargers must find a way to keep their run game and play action attack run smoothly between each other. That means carrying out fakes by Tyrod and keeping everything looking exactly the same on a play-by-play basis. I think the addition of guard Trai Turner will help a lot in the run game overall, but some nuance to their offense in this area could go a long way in gaining the edge over Kansas City.
Make Mahomes grind out drives
Like cornerback Casey Hayward said to the media on Thursday, he called the Chiefs “big-play hunters” and that the defense must first-and-foremost be on top of those splash plays.
As far as last year went, the Chargers were about as “on top of it” any team in the league. Only three times did Mahomes fail to throw for over 200 yards in 2019, and two of those games were against the Bolts.
So if Mahomes didn’t pass for a million yards, how did the Chargers not come closer to winning those games? Well, the immense amount of turnovers in their first matchup in Mexico City didn’t help. Philip Rivers threw four — yes, four — interceptions that day, and the Bolts still someone only lost by a single score, 24-17. The Chiefs also ran for 132 yards, with Mahomes leading the team with 59.
In their second matchup, Rivers threw another two picks and the Chiefs ran for a combined 162 yards, including a 84-yard score by running back Damien Williams.
Now that Tyrod Taylor is the team’s starting quarterback, the turnovers will certainly plummet, but just how much better is this defense? Can they hold the Chiefs rushing attack to under, say, 120 yards? That might be good enough after the team averaged 146.0 yards between their two 2019 contests, especially if they aren’t giving the ball away at a rapid rate.
Unfortunately, I’m probably getting too far ahead of myself as the offense still needs to score multiple touchdowns against their defense, and the idea of that after they barely managed one against the Bengals doesn’t fill me with much confidence.
Replicate the turnover differential from Week 1
The Chargers came away from their win over the Bengals +2 in the turnover department, which is always a plus. The team ended the 2019 in last place of that category, so starting out in the positive from the jump is a big deal for the Bolts.
If you’re Anthony Lynn, those turnovers made the difference in a close 16-13 game and you’re going to keep preaching the importance of taking the ball away more than you give it.
All of last year, Mahomes only threw five interceptions. Two of those came against the Chargers, with the defense picking him off once in each of their matchups in 2019. Aside from intercepting Mahomes, the front seven is going to need to make someone cough it up on the ground. A fresh-legged Denzel Perryman did an excellent job of putting his helmet on the ball and forcing a fumble from Joe Mixon in week one and they may be looking to the veteran once again in week two to wreak havoc inside the box. Clyde Edwards-Helaire is a shifty and elusive back, but Perryman still has a knack for squaring up opposing ball-carriers in the hole. We gotta hope the defensive line can consistently funnel ball-carriers into their second-level defenders.
I’ll just end it with this: big-time players make big-time plays. If the Chargers defense wants to be seen as elite, they need to show they can play at an elite level.