San Diego Chargers: 5 Things to Look for in Week 4 vs. Kansas City
In fact, the game was a carbon copy of their last big chance to make a “statement” in September. Against the Patriots in Week 2 of last season, the Chargers similarly fell apart. There were key red zone fumbles, foolish interceptions and a defense featuring soft coverage and no pass rush.
So while it was only one game, the feeling that these were the “same old Bolts” came rushing back. They now return to Kansas City, site of their biggest pratfall of 2011.
After letting the Jets off the hook, the Chargers desperately needed a win in Arrowhead. You know what happened next.
Living in the Past
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In fact, the parallels extend to the Chiefs as well. Kansas City started slow last year and Rivers’ fumbled snap ignited them for a while.
In 2010, the Chargers couldn’t overcome a Dexter McCluster 94-yard kick return for a touchdown and a killer fumble from Ryan Mathews.
But you’re not here for a history lesson. Will the Chargers make last week look like a “stubbed toe,” or will they fall into another losing streak?
Both teams they’ve beaten thus far appear to be getting better. But they weren’t all that impressive when the Bolts met them. So how good are the Chargers?
A win at Arrowhead would help answer some of the questions. Let’s look at the keys:
1. Will Philip Rivers Have Time to Redeem Himself?
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Even before the fumbled snap, Rivers had troubles in KC last year. The Chiefs’ cornerbacks were smothering all his targets and Tamba Hali made the now-retired Marcus McNeill look like a rookie.
Of course, that was the first appearance of former Jared Gaither in a Charger uniform. Is there a chance that Gaither might play against the team that released him? It’s possible, although more likely he’ll finally suit up the next week in New Orleans.
Even if Mike Harris is back protecting Rivers’ blind side, the Chargers have to find a way to protect him.
We know what happens when Rivers is under that kind of pressure.
2. Will the Back Breaking Picks Ever Cease?
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Rivers’ first interception was on a third down on his own end of the field. On the run and off his back foot, he hurled the ball in the direction of a blanketed Antonio Gates.
While Rivers admits it was a horrible decision, will he learn from it?
Even the best quarterback will suffer under duress, but the best quarterbacks don’t throw that pass. At least his second interception was an attempt to get the ball across the middle of the field.
Some help from Robert Meachem and Eddie Royal would be welcomed, but Rivers simply has to make better decisions with the football.
3. How Short Is the Leash on Ryan Mathews?
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How I hope we don’t have to find out. Norv Turner and AJ Smith claim that his “exposure” in certain situations will suffer if he doesn’t stop fumbling in the red zone.
Jackie Battle, who scored a big touchdown for Kansas City against the Bolts in the aforementioned Halloween meltdown of a year ago, has never fumbled the ball. Might he be the short-term solution?
I say short-term because you really can’t have a featured back who’s not trusted to carry the ball on the goal-line. Mike Tolbert became a “touchdown vulture” largely because of Mathews’ fumbling problems.
The Chargers need a real ground game and that won’t happen with a neutered Mathews. However, all the talent in the world doesn’t matter if you can’t hold onto the ball.
4. Will There Be Any Improvement on Defense?
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John Pagano’s group looked an awful lot like Greg Manusky’s in Foxboro last season. There was no heat on the quarterback whatsoever and Antoine Cason was acres away from his man. I think many Boltheads would rather see him get burned trying to make a play than just letting all the action happen in front of him.’
The same goes for the pass rush. It’s one thing if guys can’t beat the man in front of them. But it appeared that the defense was just letting themselves be dismantled by the Falcons.
Atlanta talked about the Chargers giving them the looks they were hoping for after the game. There didn’t appear to be any attempt to disguise the defense at all.
Perhaps that was because there was nothing to disguise.
5. Can Norv-Led Team Stop the Bleeding?
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Dan McLellan of CBS wrote a piece this week reminding his readers that Norv’s teams have difficultly steadying themselves once things start falling apart on Sundays.
This has also been true for entire games. Last season, the Chargers’ six-game losing streak sank their season. It’s been two years since they won in Kansas City.
The last time they did so was in 2009, when they emerged out of their bye week with a 2-3 record. They had just lost to Denver on a Monday night and the Broncos were 6-0 as a result.
The Chargers destroyed the Chiefs and won their next 11 games. While it was for naught due to another January meltdown, they need to stop the bleeding with a win this week.