San Diego Chargers Vs Kansas City Chiefs: 10 Things For Bolts Fans to Watch
The San Diego Chargers hit the big stage for the first time Monday night against division rival Kansas City.
Despite having good individual preseason performances, a 1-3 preseason record has compounded a lot of doubt left over from a disappointing 2009 season.
Chargers fans are still reeling from last January's 17-14 loss to the New York Jets. Three missed field goals. Two interceptions. All in all, it was quite an ugly showing.
The San Diego Chargers have a lot to prove on Monday night, and they look poised to show everyone who they really are: Super Bowl contenders.
Without further delay, here are 10 things for Bolts fans to watch during Monday night's game.
1. Ryan Mathews
Despite a fantastic preseason, there are still some San Diego fans out there who are wondering whether AJ Smith gave up too much to grab the former Fresno State Bulldog in April's draft, and I don't blame them.
In the preseason, Mathews looked like the man. However, that was that was the preseason.
On Monday night, Mathews goes up against a divisional foe in their stadium in a game that will be broadcast nationally. Pressure does interesting things to football players, especially roookies.
That having been said, expect Ryan Mathews to have a great game. He is going up against a team that was particularly ineffective at stopping the run in 2009, and doesn't seem like they have done much to change that.
It isn't unreasonable to expect 100+ yards from Mathews on Monday, as well as some very flashy plays from the rookie.
2. Brandyn Dombrowski
Left tackle has been a big question mark since Marcus McNeill confirmed that he was holding out for a new deal a few months ago.
However, Brandyn Dombrowski had a great preseason, and should stand up well to a lack-luster Kansas City pass rush.
Dombrowski is still developing as a solid pass blocker, so expect a few slip ups, but also consider this to be a great learning experience for Dombrowski.
All in all, Bolts fans should feel secure in the current left tackle situation, but should nonetheless keep an eye on the new starter on Monday.
3. The Defensive Tackles
When Jamal Williams was lost for the season in the opener against the Oakland Raiders last season, the San Diego Chargers' rushing defense broke down.
The 3-4 defense requires a solid defensive tackle to anchor the defensive line, and it will be interesting to watch who emerges as the man for the job.
Rookie Cam Thomas seems to be that man right now, as he had a great preseason and seems to have overcome his apparent conditioning problems. However, he will likely play behind Antonio Garay and Ogemdi Nwagbuo in a rotation that will most likely give them all equal time.
That having been said, don't be surprised to see Nwagbuo or Garay get extra playing time. Both proved very capable last season, and the San Diego Chargers will need everything they have to stop breakout running back Jamal Charles.
4. Ron Rivera's Defense
This year should be an interesting one for the San Diego Chargers' defense.
Ron Rivera has had plenty of time to adjust to the 3-4 defense and implement his exotic schemes, and he finally has the tools to take full advantage of those sets.
Considering that the Chargers retained 29 players on defense for the active roster, expect to see many of those players active and out on the field on Monday night.
To counter-act the lack of pass rush in 2009, expect to see Rivera bring pressure on Matt Cassel from every position, including nickel backs and safeties.
Also, pay attention to how Rivera decides to deal with breakout running back Jamal Charles. Kansas City will likely look to run him inside, outside, and on pitch plays. He may have some big plays, but it seems likely that Rivera has figured out how to use the resources at his disposal to stop the rushing attack.
5. Nate Kaeding
Nate Kaeding has had a rough couple of months.
It began with missing three field goals during the Chargers' close loss to the New York Jets in the playoffs last season.
He undoubtedly followed that with a serious amount of psychotherapy, which wasn't helped by San Diego fans at all this offseason.
Kaeding has been booed at every possible occasion, and seems now more than ever to be in questionable mental condition.
The Chargers shouldn't have too much trouble putting the ball in the end zone, but Kaeding will undoubtedly get the call at least once. It will be important to see how he handles the pressure in 2010. If he has a rough game, the Chargers could start looking for another player like Nick Novak to bring in as insurance.
6. Antoine Cason
Cason's road to his starting role has been a rough one. He came into San Diego as a highly touted ball-hawk, but slipped down so far as to lose his spot as the nickel cornerback last season.
With a revamped attitude, Cason enters 2010 looking to prove the Chargers, as well as the rest of San Diego, that he was the right choice.
Cason made some good plays in the preseason, but he also had plenty of miscues. It seems that this is why the Chargers brought in veteran Fred Bennett.
Should the Chargers' pass rush improve, Cason could be in a position to solidify his position on this team on Monday night. However, if he fails to perform, expect him to rotate out with Fred Bennett.
7. The Pass Rush
The San Diego Chargers put up a less than impressive 35 sacks in 2009, of which only four were contributed by Pro Bowl linebacker Shawne Merriman. Something has to change.
Considering that the Chargers chose to retain 29 players on defense, it looks like Ron Rivera wants to side with strength in numbers rather than relying on his star players.
That having been said, there are a few players who should be leading the charge on the pass rush Monday night.
Expect a big night from Jyles Tucker, who could get the starting nod should Shawne Merriman be unable to play.
Tucker is fast, agile, and strong, and should light up a weak Kansas City offensive line.
Paul Oliver is another player to watch. While he is a capable backup safety, his primary use should be as a blitzing defensive back. He does a great job of recognizing holes opening up on the offensive line and shooting those gaps. He could very well have another sack-fumble this game.
8. Away Game Syndrome
The San Diego Chargers did not seem to have much trouble playing against hostile crowds last year, losing only one of three games on the road last year.
That having been said, things can change. Playing in an unfamiliar stadium always poses a threat to teams, especially when they lose early ground. Visiting teams can get down on themselves very quickly in enemy territory, and the excessive crowd noise can make it hard to recover from that.
Kansas City boasts a very loyal fan base, and the renovated venue and Monday night time slot should make Arrowhead Stadium a very hostile place to play. How the Chargers react to this pressure should be quite a statement for how they will fare in the rest of their away games this season.
9. The Slow Start
The Norv Turner regime in San Diego has been marked by seasons that begin very slow.
In 2009, the Chargers began the season 2-3.
In 2008, the Chargers began the season 3-2 (4-4 before the bye).
In 2007, the Chargers began the season 2-2.
This year has to be the year that that trend stops.
Every year the beginning of the season tests the mental endurance of the San Diego Chargers' players and fans.
This year, the Chargers must come out in their first game and make a statement. They have to handle Kansas City in a way that lets everyone know that they are ready for the rest of the 15 games left on their 2010 schedule.
10. The Outlook of The AFC West
The AFC West has changed a lot this offseason, with many people calling the Oakland Raiders and the Kansas City Chiefs two of the most improved teams in football this year.
The Chargers, however, are still considered to be the top of the division by a long shot.
They will prove or disprove that marker on Monday depending upon how they stack up against the Chiefs.
If the San Diego Chargers can head into Kansas City and take care of business like they are expected to, the greater AFC West picture should become much sharper. However, if San Diego struggles against their divisional rivals, the AFC West could be in the hands of a different team come Week 17.