Source: USA Today
The Chargers greet the winless Chiefs on Sunday at Qualcomm Stadium and all is right in the world.
Or is it?
Look the Chargers should clobber the Chiefs, a team that is reeling with so many key injuries and a vibe that is dreadful for this early in the season.
The Chargers, on the other hand, are coming off a game in which they believe they had a shot at winning. That's to be argued as any team, especially one playing at New England, doesn't deserve to prevail when turning the ball over four times and allowing more than 500 yards.
"I'm excited about where this team can go," coach Norv Turner said, in trying to soften the blow of a stinging defeat.
We don't doubt Turner sees the potential of this team — like the year before, the year before that, and so on.
But at some point, maybe, the Chargers have to prove they are worthy of their hype. And a win on Sunday against the reeling Chiefs doesn't do that.
That, in some ways, makes it a dangerous game.
The old adage of not letting a team beat you twice comes into play this weekend. If the Chargers' thoughts are fixed in Foxborough, then the Chiefs could give them a game.
The Chargers are saying all the right things in leading up to this ho-hum matchup. They swear they'll be focused against a lesser opponent.
But we heard the same things last year before they lost to, among other lower-shelf rivals, Seahawks, Rams and Bengals.
The Chargers have to be careful Sunday in playing a winless opponent.
Kansas City is desperate. Everyone, everywhere is saying how the Chiefs season is lost and just might the Chargers buy into that?
Again, looking at rosters and injury report, the Chargers win this game by two touchdowns. But among the reasons the Chargers have been stuck in the muck for the last seasons — one playoff win over that span — is they often stumble against teams like Sunday's.
The Chiefs, if nothing else, are bolstered by knowing they beat the Chargers last year and ended their four-year run of AFC West titles. That probably isn't enough to overcome everything else working against them the Chiefs. Then again, did you pick the woeful Bengals last Christmas when the Chargers couldn't afford to lose — and they did just that?
Working in the Chargers' favor is that Sunday does bring with it the fading Chiefs. The Chargers will be fueled in knowing they aren't the AFC West kings anymore, and it's those guys in the red helmets who did them in.
So that should be enough to get the Chargers' attention. If nothing else, they just need to peek at the slate of games following their outing with the Dolphins, after playing the Chiefs: at the Jets and Chiefs and home versus the Packers and Raiders.
Then the schedule doesn't let up.
That's why there much is riding on a game in which many people think has already been played. Just give the Chargers the victory, grab a shovel and keep burying the 2011 Chiefs.
But the NFL told us, in just two weeks, that what you thought was a sure bet is anything but. The Chargers need to be careful and act like they are playing the 2010 version of the Chiefs who ripped the AFC West away from them instead of the one being ripped to shreds from nearly every NFL pundit.
SERIES HISTORY: 102nd regular-season meeting. Chiefs lead series, 51-49-1. The Chiefs broke a six-game losing skid when beating the Chargers last year to open the season. But they haven't won in San Diego since 2007; the Chargers crushed them 31-0 in the second game of their series in 2010 at Qualcomm Stadium in a game an injured Matt Cassel didn't play, the Chargers got a dose of revenge — although it wasn't enough to claim the AFC West title. In their playoff matchup of 1992, the Chiefs were shut out in the wild card game, 17-0, with Marion Butts driving in a memorable, career-long, 54-yard through the rain for the game's big play.
—With WR Malcom Floyd (groin) possibly out this week, QB Philip Rivers could be throwing to the likes of Bryan Walters and Richard Goodman. It reminds many of last year, when injuries forced Rivers to complete passes to 17 different receivers. "That's been a part of every season we've had, and that's probably part of every team at some point," Rivers said. "You just keep going."
—TE Antonio Gates has been a part of many disappointing Chargers losses. That's why he's leading the charge to get the Chargers to put Sunday's game behind them. "We understand the importance of moving on," he said. "You learn from it and have a chance to watch film, but we're not going to blink."
Gates will be sat down on occasion during the week, and Wednesday was one of those days. Gates continues to monitor his foot injury and if he's sore, coach Norv Turner has no qualms about sitting him. He's expected to play Sunday.
—The Chiefs might consider going to a no-huddle on Sunday. No doubt they wouldn't run it like the Patriots, but the Chargers were exposed with getting calls in tardy and looking out of sorts before and during the quick snaps. "It's always tough when a team goes no-huddle," CB Antoine Cason said.
—The Chargers had ball-security issues last year and here we are just two games into the season and they have racked up five turnovers — four coming on interceptions.
—WR Vincent Jackson had a career-high 10 catches for 172 yards and two touchdowns but it got lost a bit in Mike Tolbert's fumble in the fourth quarter. Jackson was among those telling Tolbert to hang tough. "This is a team," Jackson said. "This definitely doesn't fall on one man's shoulders. This is a team game."
—Everyone recalls that Monday night onslaught last year when the Chiefs beat the Chargers by scoring 21 points in the first two quarters. But since that first half, the Chargers have blanked the Chiefs for four consecutive quarters.
—Sunday's game is in jeopardy of being blacked out on local TV. And many thousands of tickets remain for the following home game against the Dolphins.
BY THE NUMBERS: Minus-5 - The Chargers' turnover ratio after eight quarters. Four of them are Philip Rivers interceptions.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "It's a big concern and it's directly related to one thing. We've got to do a better job of taking care of the ball and we've got to find a way to create turnovers." - Coach Norv Turner on his team scoring but 14 first-half points in two games.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
Ryan Mathews could see his role grow this week with the Chargers still scratching their heads over Mike Tolbert's critical fumble in the loss at New England.
The Chargers have wanted Mathews, their first-round pick in 2010, to take over the featured-back role at some point. But Tolbert's play has been decent, which pushed Mathews touches back.
But Mathews could have an increased opportunity this week — to a degree. He is winning over the coaches with his pass protection and ball-security issues. But if either of those raise their heads, Mathews will be back splitting the touches.
If he responds well to more touches early on Sunday, it could mean fewer for Tolbert.
—WR Patrick Crayton is expected to play this week after missing the first two games with an ankle injury. With Malcom Floyd likely being out, Crayton's availability is crucial.
—WR Bryan Walters could still handle the punt-return duties if the Chargers don't want to put too much on Patrick Crayton's plate. Walters hasn't produced much on the returns (6-yard average); then again he hasn't fumbled.
—ILB Donald Butler is making the mistakes associated with someone in his first year of starting. But to be fair he is making progress as well and is coming off his first career sack.
—TE Antonio Gates is healthy, although him recording zero catches in the last game could be cause for alarm. But Gates was double-teamed most the day in New England, which took the reads away from him.
—K Nick Novak would have liked to get a field-goal attempt in New England to get over that hurdle as the Chargers' new kicker. But all he was asked to do was kick three extra-points, and on that account, he was perfect. Novak has replaced injured Pro Bowl kicker Nate Kaeding.
— ILB Jonas Mouton (shoulder) didn't practice and won't play Sunday.
— DE Luis Castillo (leg) is out until the season's latter stages.
— TE Antonio Gates (foot) was held out of practice — he should be fine. This could be a season-long ritual.
— WR Malcom Floyd (groin) wasn't able to work on Wednesday and will be looked at later in the week. There's a chance he is down on Sunday.
— DE Corey Liuget (ankle) didn't practice on Wednesday but his injury isn't thought to be serious.
— SS Bob Sanders (knee) didn't practice on Wednesday but this is thought to be more of a veteran rest day. He should be OK this weekend.
GAME PLAN: The Chargers can smell blood in the water with the Chiefs scrambling with so many early season injuries. They know if they can jump on the Chiefs quickly, Kansas City will likely not put up much of a fight. And with S Eric Berry being among the wounded, the Chargers could attack through the air — something they do best — and try to build a big lead on Kansas City. The Chiefs aren't built to rally — especially with Jamaal Charles out. Look for the Chargers to be aggressive early, grab a lead and dare the Chiefs to come back.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH: Chargers pass protection, in particular LT Marcus McNeill vs. the Chiefs' pass rush led by LB Tamba Hali. McNeill will see Hali often as he tries to protect Philip Rivers' blind side. But Hali will be moving all over the place, and the Chargers know that all too well. Hali is often a thorn in the Chargers side, and the pass-protection, while solid the majority of the time, has shown some leaks. Rivers has been careless protecting the ball as well, and has to meet the challenge of avoiding Hali if McNeill and Co., have any breakdowns.
Chargers secondary, which was abused by the Patriots' Tom Brady vs. a Chiefs passing attack which is of the pop-gun variety. Make no mistake the back end of the Chargers defense was licking its wounds after Brady put three touchdowns and 423 yards on it last Sunday. Safeties Bob Sanders and Eric Weddle had bad days — but really, it was widespread in the secondary as calls came in late and there was just too much space being given once the receivers did catch the ball. We know Tom Brady and Matt Cassel is no Tom Brady. Cassel has been struggling like the rest of his team and now with no Charles to lean on, he might have to go to the air more often. He has some nice targets in Dwayne Bowe and he might just catch the Chargers' secondary doubting itself. Then again, that secondary is bent on not having two straight bad games.
Chargers special teams, which has given up one touchdown return vs. the Chiefs special teams, which includes shifty returner Dexter McCluster. The Chargers promised this part of their game was cleaned up — then Percy Harvin went for 103 yards in the opener for a score. The Patriots didn't do much in the return game Sunday, but the Chargers will have a stern test in holding back McCluster. He returned a punt in last year's opener against the Chargers for a touchdown and certainly has the skill set to do it again. The Chargers swear they have cleaned up what ailed them — they must prove it against a top-notch returner like McCluster.