Chiefs vs. Chargers: Sketching out a Game Plan for San Diego

Christopher HansenNFL AnalystOctober 31, 2012

KANSAS CITY, MO - SEPTEMBER 30:  Linebacker Shaun Phillips #95 of the San Diego Chargers hits quarterback Matt Cassel #7 of the Kansas City Chiefs causing a fumble during the second quarter on September 30, 2012 at Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City, Missouri.  (Photo by Peter Aiken/Getty Images)
Peter Aiken/Getty Images

The San Diego Chargers beat the Kansas City Chiefs easily in Week 4 thanks to six turnovers. The Chargers scored 24 points off of those turnovers, including 10 on two possessions immediately following a touchdown on the game-opening drive. By the middle of the second quarter the Chargers had a 20-0 lead and by the end of the half a 27-6 lead.

The Chargers never had to contend with a heavy dose of Jamaal Charles because the Chiefs were playing from behind for the entire game. Playing from behind has been a common problem for the Chiefs, who have not led for a single second this season.

The Chiefs have lost six games, and every game had a similar theme. Score early, stack the box against Jamaal Charles and pressure Matt Cassel to make mistakes. It’s worked for every team, and it will work for the Chargers.

There is risk involved playing the Chiefs, because they have players capable of doing damage. If the Chiefs score first, the Chargers will be in uncharted territory where Charles is capable of taking over the game. A strong running game makes things more manageable for Cassel, who has proved he can get the ball to Dwayne Bowe. There is potential for things to snowball on the Chargers if they don’t execute early.


Score Early

Scoring first is important, but against a team that likes to run it’s even more important. The Chiefs have only been able to come back from early deficits once, and that was largely thanks to a horrid defense in New Orleans.

The Chiefs haven’t realized that putting the ball in the hands of their quarterback, regardless of score, is a bad option. Get a lead, force the Chiefs to throw and that will likely result in a bigger lead after the Chiefs turn the ball over.

Rivers should target Eric Berry in coverage and try to get the ball to Antonio Gates and Malcom Floyd. Rivers had only four incomplete passes against the Chiefs in Week 4, and he was content taking the shorter pass completions. The worst thing Rivers can do is force passes deep that result in turnovers.

The Chargers should win, but they can’t be giving the Chiefs additional opportunities to figure things out.


Stack the Box

Put eight men in the box and force Cassel to throw, even in passing situations. Charles is capable of putting a team on his back if the defense doesn’t protect the edge and load the box.

The Chargers were successful at slowing down Charles in Week 4, and outside of an amazing play in which he turned a four-yard loss into a 37-yard touchdown, he would have been held to 3.1 yards per carry.

San Diego boasts one of the best run defenses in the NFL, and they should be able to slow Charles down again and force Cassel to go to the air to beat them, which he hasn’t been able to do this season.


Pressure Cassel

The Chiefs are minus-18 in turnover margin, which is the worst in the NFL by seven turnovers. The Chiefs have lost 12 fumbles and thrown 13 interceptions, and no team has been worse in either category.

A big part of the problem is at quarterback where Cassel has thrown 10 interceptions and lost six fumbles alone. Take away half of Cassel’s interceptions and five of the fumbles and the Chiefs are just minus-three in turnover margin. Take away Brady Quinn’s three interceptions and the Chiefs are even in turnover margin.

Perhaps there is no more important key to beating the Chiefs than pressuring Cassel to make a mistake. Cassel has turned the ball over no fewer than two times in every game he’s played this season. Natural pressure works and so does the blitz.

Sending an extra rusher makes Cassel panic and he makes poor decisions. The Chargers sent five guys on a play that was designed to look like six players were rushing, and then Eric Weddle picked Cassel off.

A good pass-rusher like Shaun Phillips coming off the edge can cause all kinds of problems for an offensive line, but in Cassel’s case a sack is the least of his worries. Hit Cassel while he has the ball and he’ll fumble about half the time.