Monday Night Matchup: Keys to Victory in Chiefs Vs. Chargers Week 1 Finale
Some NFL fans around the country, particularly those on the east coast, may choose to skip Monday night's late game between division foes Kansas City and San Diego. After all, the Chargers have won their last four games against the Chiefs and most experts have already penciled them in to win a fifth consecutive AFC West title.
So the outcome of the Week 1 finale in Kansas City is a foregone conclusion, right? Not so fast.
If you are one of those that decides to skip the NFL's last game of the week, which doesn't even kickoff until 9:15 pm CDT, you are going to miss what should be one hell of a football game.
The Chiefs and their standing room only crowd will be breaking in the New Arrowhead Stadium, fresh off a $400 million face lift that has the city buzzing with excitement. The late start will also allow the best tailgating fans in the NFL to get fully primed before the game.
And when the fans get to their seats, the Chiefs have planned what is being touted as a pregame experience that will "blow your mind." A once in a lifetime celebration of Chiefs football, past, present, and future.
So when the dust settles on the pregame celebrations, and the Arrowhead faithful have been delivered into a raucous Monday night frenzy that would make a rabid dog jealous, what should we expect on the field?
Here are the five key matchups that will decide what Chiefs fans are hoping is the landmark event for their resurgence, and an end to a Chargers-dominated AFC West.
Chargers QB Philip Rivers Vs. Arrowhead Noise
The last time Philip Rivers came to Arrowhead Stadium and faced a crowd as loud as what is anticipated Monday night, he completed just 50 percent of his passes and threw two interceptions and no touchdown passes in a 30-16 loss to the Chiefs.
In that game, back in Week 4 of the 2007 season, a Chiefs defense led by defensive end Jared Allen harassed Rivers all day long. History shows that when Chiefs fans have a defense that can rush the passer, Arrowhead crowds have been known to generate noise in the 120 decibel range.
And when the Chiefs have a good defense and they're on Monday Night Football, the noise is off the charts. Romeo Crennel will be supplying an improving defense on Monday night, and the fans will do the rest.
Arrowhead Stadium comes alive like no other stadium in the NFL on Monday nights. In the 12 games played there since 1991, the Chiefs have an 8-4 record with an average margin of victory of just over 10 points.
This Monday night, Chiefs fans will be recalling past glory of Monday nights past, and will be ready to give Rivers an experience unlike even that game back in 2007.
As for Rivers, he knows it's coming, as evidenced by his comments in a press conference leading up to the game.
If the Chiefs are to take advantage of the noise generated by their fans, they will have to generate a pass rush led by linebacker Tamba Hali and Demorrio Williams, who led the team with three sacks during the preseason.
Defensive Coordinator Romeo Crennel will take advantage of the noise and mix up his blitz packages, making for a long night for Rivers.
Advantage: Arrowhead Noise
Chargers TE Antonio Gates Vs. Chiefs S Eric Berry
Many fans wondered what in the world the Chiefs were doing when they selected safety Eric Berry with the fifth overall pick in this year's NFL Draft, that is until they remembered that the Chiefs face Antonio Gates two times each season.
A favorite target of quarterback Philip Rivers, Gates has put up solid numbers against the Chiefs in each of the games where the Chargers have won. He is averaging seven catches and nearly 80 yards per game in their last four victories against the Chiefs.
The Chiefs will attempt to do something with acclaimed rookie Eric Berry that they haven't ever really been able to do against Gates, and that's shut him down.
Berry's athleticism and speed mean that he shouldn't have a problem covering Gates, but the 260-pound size of the All-Pro tight end could take its toll on Berry.
Chargers RB Ryan Mathews Vs. Chiefs Front Seven
Kansas City had one of the league's worst rush defenses, and the Chargers had one of the league's worst rush offenses last season.
But while the Chiefs made no changes to its front seven on defense, the Chargers let go of an aging former superstar in LaDainian Tomlinson and replaced him by drafting rookie Ryan Mathews. In just a few preseason games, Mathews has already reminded many of Tomlinson in is younger days, and coach Norv Turner will certainly call his number early and often against the Chiefs.
Chiefs defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel appears to have made strides with the Chiefs defense through training camp and the preseason, but it will be interesting to see if they've improved enough to shut down Mathews.
Advantage: Ryan Mathews
Chargers WR Malcolm Floyd Vs. Chiefs CB Brandon Flowers
A year ago, when the Chargers visited Arrowhead Stadium, receiver Vincent Jackson had his best game of the season against the Chiefs.
This season, Jackson won't be in Kansas City for the Monday night opener, and Malcolm Floyd must try to take over Jackson's role as the No. 1 target for Philip Rivers. In his two games against the Chiefs last year, he caught five balls for 94 yards and a touchdown.
Lining up across from Floyd will be the Chiefs' best cornerback in Brandon Flowers. Flowers has performed as advertised through the preseason, and so long as his teammates can generate some pressure on Rivers, Flowers should be able to keep Floyd in check.
Chiefs Return Man Javier Arenas Vs. Chargers Special Teams
The San Diego kick and punt coverage units will have their work cut out for them when they face one of the NCAA's best ever in Chiefs rookie return man Javier Arenas.
Arenas owns the SEC record for punt returns for touchdowns in a career with seven.
This preseason, Arenas has been a difference maker for the Chiefs on returns, including one that he returned for a touchdown that was called back on a penalty no where near him on the play. In total, he's averaged over 10 yards per return on punts and just under 30 yards per return on kickoffs.
Coverage units are generally more vulnerable to big returns early in the year when teams are breaking in younger players. Throw in the fact that the game will be on national television for the whole football world to see, and the environment sets up perfectly for a big night from Arenas.
Advantage: Javier Arenas
Final Score Prediction
Monday night could very well be the coming out party for three Chiefs rookies: Javier Arenas, Eric Berry, and Dexter McCluster.
The Chargers will have their hands full with a noisy Arrowhead crowd, and if they struggle running the ball with Mathews, it could be a long night for Philip Rivers. The Chiefs should be able to generate more offense then they did in either of the games against the Chargers last year, with Thomas Jones and Jamaal Charles likely to see 30 carries between them.
I look for the Chiefs rookies, particularly Arenas and Berry, to be the difference Monday night. If Berry can hold Gates somewhat in check, and Arenas provides a short field for the Chiefs offense, Charles and Jones will do the rest.