How the Kansas City Chiefs Can Avoid a Letdown Against the Chargers

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How the Kansas City Chiefs Can Avoid a Letdown Against the Chargers
Justin Edmonds/Getty Images
Alex Smith should air it out on Sunday.

A trap game is when a good team plays a lesser opponent the week before a big game. The other type of trap game is playing a lesser opponent after a big game (usually a win but not always).  

For the Kansas City Chiefs, this week’s game against the San Diego Chargers is important because it’s a rare double trap game. Not only is it the game prior to playing the Denver Broncos in Kansas City, it’s the week after losing in Denver.

Everyone from coaches to players exerted a lot of energy on the first game against the Broncos, and it would be easy to overlook the Chargers. It’s possible the Chiefs have already subconsciously set their sights on the Broncos next week.

Easing up even a little bit would be a disaster for the Chiefs. The talent in the NFL is so good that underestimating a team can be the difference between a win and a loss. As we know, one win can make all the difference come playoff time.

Avoiding a letdown isn’t easy, and it starts with practice and preparation throughout the week. Of course, all that preparation throughout the week just equips players with the ability to execute on Sundays. It's called a good game plan. 

The reality of the situation for the Chiefs is that this week’s game is less important to them than it is the Chargers. If the Chargers lose, their hopes of making the playoffs are slim. Desperate teams are very dangerous teams to play at a pivotal point in the season—especially when they are also a team within the division.

 

Blow it Up

Just because the Chargers are technically in the playoff race doesn’t mean they have a very good team. The Chargers can’t stop anyone on defense this season, which opens the door for the Chiefs’ struggling offense.

There’s no better way to avoid a letdown than to jump on the Chargers early. The Chargers have normally crumbled like a cookie in close games, and their offensive line will struggle if it has to throw it every play.

By producing against the Chargers through the air, the Chiefs can set the stage next week against the Broncos. Instead of looking past the Chargers, perhaps the Chiefs need to look at the game as an opportunity to make a statement. 

San Diego’s offensive line has held up despite multiple injuries this season, but that could change if the Chiefs can get an early lead. Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers has to get the ball out of his hands quickly because he has very little mobility.

Doug Pensinger/Getty Images
Dwayne Bowe needs to have a big games against the Chargers.

Chargers head coach Mike McCoy has implemented concepts he used last season as the offensive coordinator for Peyton Manning and the Broncos. You will certainly see the similarities on Sunday that include having Rivers get rid of the ball within 2.5 seconds to avoid the pass rush. 

The changes the Chargers made to the offense in the offseason may be the reason they have won any games this season. The defense doesn't deserve any credit and has cost the Chargers more than a couple games.

Opposing running backs are averaging 4.8 yards per carry and opposing quarterbacks 8.5 yards per pass attempt. Both statistics are the second-worst in football.

The Chargers have also forced just seven turnovers—worst in the league. To put that in perspective, Tennessee Titans cornerback Alterraun Verner has seven turnovers by himself.

There is absolutely no reason Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith needs to be conservative against the Chargers. Less conservative play-calling should mean more offensive output for the Chiefs.

Saying it should yield better numbers doesn't mean it will, but the Chiefs at least need to be the offensive aggressor. The Chiefs need to make a statement to the NFL that the game against the Broncos was just one game in Denver and not a sign of things to come.

With Smith at quarterback, the Chiefs are averaging a league-worst 6.0 yards per pass attempt. A lot of it is due to the conservative nature of the offense, but not all of it. San Diego’s cornerbacks have routinely been burned deep. If the Chiefs don’t go vertical, they are giving the advantage they have back to the defense. 

The Chargers have been good at keeping opponents out of the end zone despite having a bottom-ranked defense in yards. So far, the Chargers have allowed just 22.2 points per game, which is actually 11th in the NFL.

Chargers D vs. Chiefs O
Statistic Tea, Value NFL Rank NFL Rank Value Team
PPG Chargers 22.2 11 17 23.2 Chiefs
Yard Per Carry Chargers 4.8 31 13 4.3 Chiefs
Yard Per Pass Attempt Chargers 8.5 31 32 6.0 Chiefs

pro-football-reference.com

If the Chiefs stick with a conservative game plan on offense, the Chargers will be able to come out on the road as the aggressors. Falling behind is something that we’re not sure the Chiefs have the capability to overcome, so it’s imperative for them to get off to a good start and not let the Chargers get the upper hand.

The team that scores the first touchdown probably wins the game.  

Running back Jamaal Charles should be able to run all over the Chargers, and that should give the Chiefs the confidence to call more risky pass plays. Knowing Charles is going to get an extra yard or two on each carry means that the Chiefs will still have manageable third-down situations. Even if they can’t connect on a lot of deeper passes, the offense can keep the chains moving. 

Smith definitely threw the ball with more authority to the intermediate and deep part of the field last week. The Chiefs were coming off the bye week, and it was probably a point of emphasis. That makes sense because the Broncos and Chargers are the perfect teams to attack through the air. 

Other than safety Eric Weddle, the Chargers are almost completely void of talent in the secondary. The cornerbacks Derek Cox, Shareece Wright, Richard Marshall and Johnny Patrick are particularly suspect, and the Chiefs need to attack them early and often.

If the Chiefs are conservative, they open up the possibility that the Chargers could beat them. Simple as that. This is the NFL, and these two teams will probably play a lot closer than the stats would tell you.

 

Manning Lite

Although the Chargers have all kinds of problems on defense, they can still score. You might say that Philip Rivers is now a lite version of Peyton Manning.

Rivers has weapons who can hurt the Chiefs like tight end Antonio Gates, running back Danny Woodhead, tight end Ladarius Green, running back Ryan Mathews and rookie wide receiver Keenan Allen.

Kansas City’s defense has shown some signs of obvious weakness the last few weeks that the Chargers will try to expose. The biggest weakness has been the short passes, which is exactly what the Chargers will favor with a banged-up offensive line.

Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports
Philip Rivers could give the Chiefs some trouble if they don't score early.

The Chargers have offensive talent, but they also have a banged-up offensive line and an immobile quarterback under center. Sounds familiar because it should—the Broncos are like the luxury version of the same team with a much better defense.

Woodhead, Green and Gates present all kinds of matchup problems for the Chiefs just like Wes Welker, Julius Thomas and Demaryius Thomas did last week. If the Chargers play anything close to their capability, they should still be able to score a fair amount of points against a defense that will be without defensive end Mike DeVito.

Defensive end Tyson Jackson was also listed as questionable for the Chiefs, which means nose tackle Dontari Poe may now see more time at defense end with Kyle Love playing in the middle.

The Chiefs can’t afford to continue to use a recipe that includes a conservative offense with a great defense to win games if they want to beat teams that have competent offenses.  Offenses like the one in Denver and the one they are about to face from San Diego will score a decent amount of points; the only question will be if the Chiefs have more when the clock runs out.

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