Why the Kansas City Chiefs Will Beat the San Diego Chargers in Week 1
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The title may sound a bit strange after the Chiefs' horrid 2009 campaign.
But this is a new season, with new teams, and a new mentality.
The Chiefs head into their Monday Night football season opener against a San Diego team that has been the cream of the crop in the AFC West ever since the drafting of Philip Rivers in 2004.
With the Chiefs 2010 offseason work, it was addition by subtraction in some areas on the team, and adding playmakers at positions that were once left untouched.
The red and gold put together a draft class full of unlimited potential, and star playmakers that will be talked about on a consistent basis just three years from now. The drafting of the extremely versatile safety Eric Berry was step one in changing the face of the Chiefs. Berry replaces a slow, old, Mike Brown that was beat like a drum during the 2009 season.
On the other side on the ball, Kansas City made a shocker pick by selecting elusive playmaker Dexter McCluster in the second round. He calls himself "the O.W.," meaning offensive weapon. He can be used as a slot receiver, working with his reliable hands. He will be lined up in the backfield handling carries and speeding past most would-be tacklers on the first level of the defense.
This is just the beginning of the new changes taking place in Kansas City.
They got better or stayed the same at every single position on the roster. Not a single position downgraded this offseason, including the offensive line.
As football minds know, the game is won and lost in the trenches. The Chiefs allowed 45 sacks in 2009, and the team paid little attention to upgrading at any of the offensive line positions.
With that said, Pioli and Co. still went out and added veteran center Casey Wiegmann back to the roster to bolster the line and improve upon the new zone blocking scheme that the Chiefs are implementing. Not only that, but they let a solid right guard walk, Wade Smith. With the departure of Smith the Chiefs looked again at signing an undersized, home town player in Ryan Lilja.
Lilja has enjoyed plenty of success blocking for all-pro Peyton Manning over the last 5 years.
At right tackle, Barry Richardson has outplayed his competitor Ryan O'Callahan for the job, and has looked good both run blocking, and protecting quarterback Matt Cassel.
These things aren't necessarily the reason that Kansas City will win against the Chargers as the Chiefs open the "new" Arrowhead Stadium.
San Diego has some key pieces that will be missing in action, and they are going to have a difficult time beating a talented Chiefs secondary.
At the Bolts expense, they will be not only without Pro Bowl wide receiver Vincent Jackson. But they will also be missing All-Pro left tackle Marcus McNeil.
Bad news for San Diego, as they need to find a way to keep their star quarterback Philip Rivers on his feet. Tamba Hali is arguably the best outside linebacker in the AFC West. He never comes off the field, and managed to lead the Chiefs in sacks last year at 8.5. And that was just his first year in the 3-4 system.
Although he could improve, he is solid against the run, and that will be a key factor in stopping rookie running back Ryan Mathews and the Olathe, KS, local Darren Sproles.
But for Tamba to get into the backfield and cause havoc, young and underachieving defensive ends Glenn Dorsey and Tyson Jackson will need to bring their "A" game, and take up blockers to allow the linebackers to flow into the backfield.
Glenn Dorsey will do just fine taking on the Chargers left tackle, but on the other side, Tyson Jackson was seen getting beat by second and even third string lineman in training camp and preseason. And no, that's not a testament to the Chiefs' offensive line depth.
Defensively for the Chargers, the Chiefs are going to find mismatches using Dexter McCluster all over the field, spreading him out, bringing him in tight, and also the backfield.
Tell me, what will San Diego do when the Chiefs bring McCluster, electrifying halfback Jamaal Charles, and hard-nosed veteran Thomas Jones onto the field at the same time?
No linebacker can run toe-to-toe with McCluster or Charles. And if the Chiefs use play-action with Thomas Jones and hit either back, the defense is going to have a fit trying to lasso all of these backs that bring something different to the table.
The ice breaker? The play of quarterback Matt Cassel is what completely depends on this game. After receiving a monster contract in 2009, Cassel was a disappointment. But in the interest of fairness, Cassel was dealt a rough hand.
Coming into the season, Cassel's main targets were Dwayne Bowe, Devard Darling, and tight end Sean Ryan.
Bowe was unfocused and troubled all season in 2009. Darling never stepped foot on the Chiefs gridiron in a real game. Sean Ryan was easily the worst starting tight end in the NFL last year before he was released.
Again, it partially goes back to "addition by subtraction" in some areas.
As the season was underway, the Chiefs picked up receivers Chris Chambers, a former Charger, and Bobby Wade.
Chambers went on to become the Chiefs most reliable target, and Wade went on to trash talk with the coach and drop everything thrown his way.
The difference is, Cassel actually has playmakers now.
This game for Kansas City will go a long ways toward showing exactly what kind of team the Chiefs have, and how much they have improved since the beginning, and end of last season when they destroyed the Broncos in Denver by a score of 44-24.
Special teams is rarely thought about when breaking down a matchup, and almost always the deciding factor between two competitive teams.
Chiefs rookie kick returner/punt returner Javier Arenas is known as the best punt returner in college football history, and the Chiefs faithful have seen why during the preseason. He has busted loose on multiple occasions, and returned a kickoff 99 yards for a touchdown against Atlanta, but was called back after a holding penalty.
Arenas is going to bring a spark to the special teams, and great field position throughout the game. His contributions could easily be what separates these teams. The Chiefs have an ace to counter the Chargers speedster Darren Sproles.
So maybe it's a far fetched thought that the measly Chiefs could beat the powerhouse of the AFC West in Week 1. I mean, the Chargers are well known for starting cold and finishing hot.
But with so many things looking in the Chiefs' favor, the possibility is not nearly as far away as it appears to the rest of the football world.
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