Chargers vs. Chiefs: Drawing Up a Game Plan for Kansas City

Christopher Hansen@ChrisHansenNFLNFL AnalystSeptember 28, 2012

NEW ORLEANS, LA - SEPTEMBER 23:  Jamaal Charles #25 of the Kansas City Chiefs takes a hand off from Matt Cassel #7 during a game against the New Orleans Saints at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome on September 23, 2012 in New Orleans, Louisiana.  (Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images)
Stacy Revere/Getty Images

The Kansas City Chiefs are trying to hit the reset button on the season and can accomplish that with a win over the San Diego Chargers on Sunday. The Chiefs played 10 quarters of bad football, but everything changed when Jamaal Charles ran 91 yards for a touchdown against the New Orleans Saints last week.

It was like a flip switched after Charles’ run, and the Kansas City Chiefs morphed into the team many people believed they would be coming into the season. In Week 4, the Chiefs desperately need the team that came back from 18 points last week to show up against the 2-1 Chargers.  

A Chiefs win would mean three teams at 2-2 atop the AFC West with 12 games to play, which essentially washes away Kansas City’s poor start.

One of the biggest issues with the Chiefs was subpar performances from the stars. That must change if the Chiefs are going to beat the Chargers.


Attack San Diego’s Offensive Tackles

There is little doubt that the Chargers will attack through the air. Not only are the Chargers a passing team, but the Chiefs have allowed eight touchdown passes through the air this season.

Philip Rivers is a good quarterback, but he’s an average one when you don’t give him time to go through all of this progressions. Rivers will force passes into coverage when he’s under duress, and the Chiefs need to make sure he feels the heat.

Thankfully, the Chargers have a pair of offensive tackles that aren’t good pass-blockers. Veteran right tackle Jeromey Clary and undrafted rookie left tackle Mike Harris are both poor pass-blocking tackles, and the Chiefs should be able to apply pressure with Tamba Hali and Justin Houston.

The one wrench in the plan could be if left tackle Jared Gaither plays. He’s a game-time decision after missing most of training camp and the first three games with a back injury, according the Tom Krasovic of the U-T San Diego.

In either case, the Chiefs need to be ready and able to put the pressure on Rivers to force him to make mistakes. It would be a good game for ball-hawking safety Eric Berry to return to form and collect an interception or two. Berry hasn’t yet played like he did two years ago before suffering a season-ending ACL tear.

If the Chiefs can pressure Rivers early and force one or two turnovers, they will be in a very good position to win the game.


Get Charles into Open Space

One thing the Chiefs learned last week was just how much of a difference an effective running game makes on the entire offense. Charles keyed the comeback with 33 rushes for 233 yards. Take away the 91-yard run by Charles and he still averaged a very respectable 4.4 yards per carry.

Charles was particularly deadly when he got around the edge of the defense, and the Chiefs will have to get him there again. Good blocking execution by the Chiefs made a big difference last week, but the Chargers are a more difficult team to run against. The Chiefs need to continue to feed Charles until he gets going even if he starts slowly.

The Chiefs shouldn’t hesitate to use Charles as a decoy early in the game as well. The Chargers will be focused on stopping Charles, which is the perfect opportunity for a play-action pass deep.

One big play can change the game, and the Chiefs should try to blow it open early. The easiest way to do that is by taking advantage of the additional attention the Chargers will pay to Charles.


Find Tony Moeaki

Moeaki is going get more opportunities with Kevin Boss declared out and wide receivers Dwayne Bowe, Dexter McCluster and Steve Breaston questionable, according to the official injury report.

The Chargers allowed Tony Gonzalez to collect nine receptions for 91 yards and one touchdown in Week 3. Moeaki is not yet on Gonzalez’s level, but he’s at least at the level of Raiders tight end Brandon Myers, who had five catches for 65 yards in Week 1.

The Chargers don’t have a lot of depth in the secondary and usually resort to letting linebacker Donald Butler drop into coverage. Butler hasn’t been good in coverage, and the Chiefs should try to take advantage of him if the Chargers don’t also commit a safety to covering Moeaki.

The Chargers had to put safety Atari Bigby in coverage on Gonzalez, and he still managed to get open. If the Chiefs can force the Chargers to bring a safety up to cover Moeaki, they might have more opportunities in the deep passing game on the outside with one safety over the top.

In many ways, the Chiefs treat Matt Cassel like a young quarterback; they rarely trust him throwing the ball. The Chiefs prefer to run and be conservative, but at some point they are going to need Cassel to win a game with his arm.

Having a productive tight end in the passing game is like a security blanket that prevents forced throws into coverage, and that’s something Cassel is prone to doing. The Chiefs would be wise to start developing the Cassel to Moeaki connection, and a big game against the Chargers would be a good start.