The Chargers face off against the Chiefs this Sunday afternoon in a bout where the outcome could end up meaning a whole lot more to the visitors than the home team.
If the Chiefs lose, they’re still comfortably in the lead of the AFC West, especially if the Raiders also come out of this weekend with a loss. If the Chargers lose, they’ll fall to 2-4 ahead of a mixed stretch of difficulty throughout the rest of their schedule. But heck, even if it was softer schedule the rest of the way, a team with more than simply playoff aspirations never wants to see themselves hit 2-4 at any point.
The Chargers need this win. Badly. Not only would a win help get them back to .500 before an easy two-game stretch against the Bears and Jets, but it’d help repair their, and Brandon Staley’s, current reputation in the national spotlight.
I don’t know about all of you, but I would personally like to stop having to listen to people talk about the same repeated tropes about the Chargers on a weekly basis. If there was ever a prime opportunity to silence the critics, this is it.
With that said, here’s my three keys to victory for the Chargers in their matchup with the Chiefs.
1.) Drastically cut down on penalties that give automatic first downs
The Chargers defense looked like a much better unit coming out of their Week Five bye. Outside of a flukey 60-yard catch-and-run by Dallas running back Tony Pollard where the Chargers just decided to not hold on to the guy until he was down, the Bolts held the Cowboys in check for most of the night. They didn’t let Mike McCarthy establish the run and weren’t burned a ton through the air by anyone not named CeeDee Lamb.
By the end of the game, the Chargers had allowed the Cowboys to convert on just five of their 13 third downs. However, it was when they needed a stop the most that the defense began to unravel. On a third-and-18 deep inside Cowboys territory, the Chargers were called for two instances of defensive holding after stopping their offense short of the sticks. That would have led to great field position and a chance to take the lead back in the fourth quarter. The Cowboys would later convert on third-and-6 and third-and-9 later in the drive.
So while they had a decent percentage as a whole when it came to stopping third downs, the quality of third downs they gave up were astronomical. There’s just no place for these penalties going forward if the Chargers want any chance of sticking with the Chiefs.
2.) Keep the pressure coming off the edge
Patrick Mahomes is throwing for a lot of yards, but he’s been a bit more loose with the football in recent weeks. One interception in each of his last two games is very unlike him. To keep this negative momentum rilling, the Chargers will need to keep their productive pass rushers going for another week. They brought down Dak Prescott five times on Monday night. Two weeks ago, Khalil Mack had six sacks against the Raiders.If there’s one way to force Mahomes into some less-than-ideal throws, it’s going to be getting into his face early and often. With another week of rest, there’s a chance Joey Bosa can get closer to handling a full workload. If not, rookie edge rusher Tuli Tuipulotu will be relied upon heavily for another week.
3.) Protecting Justin Herbert
This is incredibly obvious, right? You’d think so, but the Chargers offensive line hasn’t done that well of a job over their past two games, and that includes former All-Pro Rashawn Slater. After allowing 26 pressures in all of his accolade-filled rookie season, he’s allowed 10 pressures in just the past two weeks alone. Granted, those games have come against Maxx Crosby of the Raiders and the fierce overall pass rush of the Cowboys, but you’d still expect your elite left tackle to perform a bit better against the best competition.
Against the Cowboys specifically, most of Slater’s pressures allowed were NOT against Micah Parsons. Most of his work was done against right tackle Trey Pipkins. So it was DeMarcus Lawrence and Dante Fowler that got the best of him far too often.The Chiefs have an attacking front seven with some A+ athleticism. Chris Jones is an All-World level player and former edge rusher Frank Clark is in town as of me writing this for a physical. If he rejoins his former team, the entire front line of the Chargers will have to play well above their recent outings to come away with a win on the road in very hostile territory.