Source: USA Today
Buying or selling on the Chargers?
Heading into Monday night's game at Kansas City, the Chargers are in first place.
But does it feel like it?
Not really, after the Chargers squandered an 11-point lead in losing to the New York Jets last Sunday.
The Chargers look toward wrestling with the Chiefs, but the loss raised a couple of disturbing questions, and just maybe they'll be answered at Arrowhead Stadium.
—Do the Chargers have the killer instinct to put away a team?
—Can the Chargers win on the road, something they didn't do often last season (3-5) and have followed up by losing two of three there this year?
That Monday's matchup is moving the NFL needle is an upset in itself. The last time these teams met, the Chargers prevailed and skipped away with a 2-1 mark and the Chiefs were off to the cellar at 0-3.
The Chargers, today, remain proud of their 4-2 mark. But the Chiefs at 3-3 enter with as much confidence with all three wins coming since falling to the Chargers. Kansas City climbed off the mat, showing it won't surrender its AFC West crown easily.
"We'e played them," coach Norv Turner said, "and they are an outstanding defensive group."
The Chiefs proved it in shutting out the Raiders, 28-0, and now here comes a Chargers offense last seen stumbling about near the New Jersey swamps, held scoreless in the second half.
Philip Rivers, (seven touchdowns, nine interceptions) continues to be sloppy with the football — his two fourth-quarter interceptions aided the Jets' comeback. The Chargers hope this week he flips his fortunes, because they know so much of their dreams are riding on his right arm.
Those selling sunshine at Chargers Park point to Rivers' woes and then to the Chargers' record: 4-2. If the Chargers can accomplish that with a shaky Rivers, just think of their upside if he gets on track, goes the thinking.
"My main goal is to help us win games," Rivers said. "That is my main thing to do, is to lead and win football games. We've won four and now we're going to try and win five."
What's troubling to those not peddling sunshine, is the Chargers' inconsistency. They can go from zero-to-60 quickly, but in the other direction.
Rivers isn't anywhere near seeking a panic button as a target. Whether he could hit the target is another matter.
"Nothing drastic needs to change," said Rivers, who has completed 65 percent of his passes for 1,715 yards. "Just play better and put a game together, a complete game together. We still haven't put one together and we are 4-2."
While those four games were against wobbly teams at the time, so be it. The Chargers head to Kansas City, back playing in their division, and ready to rinse that taste of a bitter New York trip from their mouth.
"There is an urgency because this is a division game," Rivers said. "This is really a big-time deal."
SERIES HISTORY: 103rd regular-season meeting. Chiefs lead series, 51-50-1. The Chargers are going for the season sweep after defeating the visiting Chiefs, 20-17. That game was as close as the score indicates as a winless Chiefs team nearly pulled off the upset. These two original AFL teams, the Chargers in Los Angeles; the Chiefs in Dallas, have played but once in the postseason. The Chargers prevailed in a 1992 Wild Card game, 17-0. The Chargers lost last year in Kansas City on a Monday night in opening the season and that helped set up the Chiefs' improbable run toward the AFC West title.
—CB Antoine Cason is under the microscope to bounce back. He allowed all three of the touchdown passes to Plaxico Burress and has been put on notice. Rookie Marcus Gilchrist is pushing for his job and getting some work with the first team.
"I made mistakes, but I'll clean those things up and they won't happen again," Cason said. "I'm harder on myself than anyone. (I did some things) that just can't happen if I'm going to be out there."
Cason has been down this road before, losing his nickel role to Steve Gregory in 2009. He rebounded from that to become a starter last year and record a team-high four interceptions.
—SS Eric Weddle leads the Chargers with three interceptions and he should have at least one more. Now that Weddle is older and among the richest safeties in the game, he's increased his leadership role as well. Weddle said he was in CB Antoine Cason's corner after Cason allowed all three touchdowns to Jets WR Plaxico Burress last week.
"It's a long season, we are all going to get beat sooner or later," he said. "The guys believe in him, and we love him. I'm sure he will come back and have a great game."
—TE Randy McMichael said the players need to play better and not blame the coaches for their shortcomings.
"This is our fault; nothing to do with the play-calling," he said of the Chargers' recent loss. "We took our foot off the gas pedal and we lost because of it."
—One obvious area the Chargers need to improve in is penalties. They are coming off a season-high 13 penalties for 95 yards, including four that gave New York first downs. They were flagged for six offside calls and three pass interference infractions, among other mistakes.
"Going into this game, we knew this group of officials threw more penalties than any other group in the league," QB Philip Rivers said. "It's not necessarily one team or another, but they threw a bunch of flags and didn't let us down."
Strange, the Chargers had not one penalty enforced in the previous game.
—Much was made about Jets coach Rex Ryan's comments leading up to the Chargers game, when he said he would have won a couple of rings had he coached San Diego. Knowing how some coaches can be, did Chargers coach Norv Turner say anything spicy to Ryan after the loss?
"I just said, 'Congratulations' to him," Turner said. "They have a very good football team."
—Monday marks the Chargers' third straight road game, with a bye week thrown in. This is the longest stretch the Chargers have gone without home games since 2003 when they played three road games, had a neutral site game in Arizona because of wild fires in San Diego and then went to Chicago. The Chargers' next game at home, Nov. 6, is against the world champion Packers.
—ILB Donald Butler, a first-year starter, is fired up about playing in the marquee game.
"It's a dream," said Butler, whose rookie year was wiped out by injury. "It's Monday Night Football."
BY THE NUMBERS: 11 — Number of turnovers by QB Philip Rivers this season, just six fewer than his figure from all of 2010.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "I've been through a lot, so to feel this way after a game is certainly an upgrade. I'm not 100 percent, but I don't think I feel any different than any other NFL player. I'm banged up and I'm sore, but it's kind of exciting to get back to the norm of feeling sore without feeling like I have to take a whole week off." — TE Antonio Gates, being upbeat about the future after playing in a game and not suffering any setbacks from his chronic foot injury.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
The Chargers are hoping they don' have to get the passing game untracked behind a backup left tackle.
Pro Bowler Marcus McNeill is optimistic about being able to play Monday, but the Chargers' moves say they'll be tentative with that forecast.
Brandyn Dombrowski is running with the first team with McNeill not working on Wednesday.
Domnbrowski played well when McNeill couldn't finish Sunday and gained valuable experience last year. Dombrowski filled in for McNeill, starting the first five games, when McNeill was in a contract dispute.
McNeill could very well start Monday, but how long he could play wouldn't be determined until after he takes a hit.
The Chargers also elevated rookie T Steve Schilling, a sixth-round pick, off the practice squad as insurance.
—OLB Larry English was placed on IR after breaking his troublesome foot in the game against the Jets. English, a former first-round pick, has had two operations on that foot. This year he had no starts and two sacks, which is tied for second on the team. He finished last year on IR as well.
—CB Marcus Gilchrist will see significant playing time, if not start, on Monday. The rookie in his one start, when replacing an injured Quentin Jammer, played well and collected his first NFL interception.
—OLB Antwan Barnes should see increased field time with OLB Larry English going on IR. Barnes has proved to be an effective pass rusher, and his two sacks are tied for second on the team.
—OLB Darryl Gamble, an undrafted free agent who was a longshot to make the team and has been inactive for most the season, will also see increased reps with injured OLB Larry English being out.
—WR Patrick Crayton made his first mistake as a punt-returner this year when fielding a punt on his own 6-yard-line Sunday. Crayton knows he should have let it go for a touchback instead of the Chargers having to battle field-position issues.
—DL Tommie Harris is playing more but still not making an impact on the stat sheet. The veteran Harris has two tackles in two games.
—RB Jordan Todman, one of the team' sixth-round picks, was able to get through a couple of days without being claimed and was signed to the practice squad on Wednesday. The Chargers cut Todman just before the Jets' game and quickly added him back.
—WR Vincent Jackson (hamstring) was able to practice Wednesday, a really good sign.
—LT Marcus McNeill (neck) didn't practice and will be monitored through the week. The extra day increases his chances of being available.
—TE Antonio Gates (foot) was able to participate on Wednesday. Unless there are setbacks, he plays Monday.
—LG Kris Dielman (concussion) wasn't able to practice and his status remains unclear for the Chiefs.
—RB Mike Tolbert (hamstring) didn't practice but will at least attempt to go Monday. Tolbert is a big contributor on special teams as well.
—OLB Shaun Phillips (foot) didn't work and he could be questionable for Monday, but it's likely he goes.
—WR Malcom Floyd (hip) didn't practice and his availability will be determined late in the week. Even if he plays, he often has trouble finishing games.
—DE Luis Castillo (leg) remains out for another estimated four weeks.
GAME PLAN: OK, we get it: Philip Rivers' game is off a tad.
So instead of fighting what should be a loud crowd and a revved pass rush, the Chargers should lean on the running game as much as they can.
Ryan Mathews and Mike Tolbert have proven they can carry the load. Although, both sometimes have trouble finishing games.
But let those two do the heavy lifting, and that includes using swing passes in the flat as extended handoffs.
The Chargers' run offense is seventh in the AFC, spitting out an average of 118 yards a game. The Chiefs are struggling stopping the run, ranked 25th in the NFL in surrendering 125 yards a game.
We realize for the Chargers to go anywhere this year, they need a spot-on Rivers. But this might not be the spot to ask him to do it: at a rowdy Arrowhead Stadium, at night, with someone at his blind side (left tackle Marcus McNeill) not being 100 percent.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH: Chargers pass defense, which features a shaky Antoine Cason and changing secondary vs. a Chiefs receiving game with Dwayne Bowe out wide — Cason is coming off a terrible game and could be replaced by Marcus Gilchrist, but the Chiefs were aware of Cason's shortcomings before Plaxico Burress burned him for three touchdowns.
In the team's earlier game, Cason was targeted eight times and the result was six completions for 79 yards and two touchdowns. Matt Cassel was able to get to the Chargers secondary in the second half of that game and should enter this game with the confidence he can move the ball against it in critical situations. Bowe had a touchdown in his last game against the Chargers and has four on the year, with 29 receptions and a team-high 496 yards. He has three 100-yard games this season.
Chargers pass rush, which could be thin, against a Chiefs passing attack, led by QB Matt Cassel, looking to rebound — The Chargers are without OLB Larry English (IR; foot), and OLB Shaun Phillips is still hobbling after sustaining a foot injury in the loss to the Jets.
Before those injuries, the Chargers failed to supply consistent pressure on quarterbacks. They have but 10 sacks, with all but one coming from the linebackers. Cassel was hot until last week when he threw two interceptions.
Still, in the last four games, he has seven touchdowns against three interceptions while compiling a 96 rating. The Chargers have to figure how to get to Cassel, something they didn't do much of in the earlier matchup, sacking him but once. This despite the fact the Chargers knew Cassel was throwing in trying to bring his team back in the second half.
Chargers running game, behind Ryan Mathews and Mike Tolbert, vs. Chiefs run defense, which is coming off a shut out of the Raiders but bruised a bit — The Chargers got away from their run a bit last week, somewhat of a surprise considering they had an 11-point halftime lead. In Mathews and Tolbert, the Chargers can pound the Chiefs with two different running styles, and both have been playing well. The Chiefs gave up 155 rushing yards in their win over the Raiders.
But they were stout when they needed to be in running their streak to six straight scoreless quarters. It seems like the Chargers' best bet would be to attack this part of the Chiefs defense. This is especially true considering how OLB Tamba Hali, who has four sacks, always plays well against the Chargers and is coming off a game in which he had a career-high seven quarterback pressures.
The Chiefs are missing injured S Eric Berry's run support and the Chargers might be able to exploit this area. If so, they must account for ILB Derrick Johnson as he is coming off a team-high 16 tackles last week.