The new-look Kansas City Chiefs (0-2) take their healthy ACL's to San Diego this week to face the San Diego Chargers (1-1) in a divisional matchup that just a few weeks ago looked like a key game to watch for the divisional crown, but now now looks more like a desperation game for the Chiefs to show some kind of life early in this season.
The Chiefs are coming off back-to-back blowout losses to the Buffalo Bills (41-7) and Detroit Lions (48-3). The Chargers are just coming off a road-loss to the New England Patriots (35-21) last week after beating the Minnesota Vikings (24-17) to open up the season.
The Chiefs had just three players listed on Thursday's injury report, which included Wallace Gilberry (limited participant), Jonathan Baldwin (limited participant) and Tamba Hali (full participant). Baldwin is still recovering from a thumb injury from a few weeks ago while Hali is dealing with an ankle injury. Gilberry is dealing with some kind of neck injury according to the report.
The Chargers had quite a few more key players that were not practicing on Thursday. According to Kevin Acee of the San Diego Union Tribune, wide receiver Vincent Jackson (unknown), wide receiver Malcom Floyd (groin), tight end Antonio Gates (foot), defensive end Corey Liuget (ankle), safety Bob Sanders, (knee) and running back Mike Tolbert (calf) were all not practicing on Thursday. Only Floyd was questionable as to whether he would be able to play on Sunday.
The Chiefs have obviously been decimated by injuries thus far this season with season-ending ACL-tears to tight end Tony Moeaki, safety Eric Berry and running back Jamaal Charles. Despite the Chiefs relying heavily on Jamaal Charles to produce for this offense, the Chiefs have arguably the best running back depth in the entire NFL with Thomas Jones, Le'Ron McClain and Dexter McCluster. These three guys are quality backs in their own right and while the loss of Charles is significant, it's not like the cupboard is bare for the Chiefs. So far on just 12 carries this year, McCluster has gained 93 total yards for a 7.8 yards per carry average.
While the Chiefs running game will still be the focal point of their offense there is no question that the loss of Charles and Moeaki will undoubtedly put the target square on Matt Cassel's back. That hasn't been a good thing yet for the Chiefs, who have managed just 10 points in the first two games of the season. Cassel must play well and protect the football if the Chiefs are going to compete this weekend in San Diego. With four interceptions and just one touchdown so far this season it seems as if Cassel needs to find success sooner rather than later if the Chiefs are going to compete for anything this season.
The Chargers have one position that they really don't have to worry about all that much. And it just so happens to be the most important position on a football team. Quarterback. That's because they employ one of the best in the game in Phillip Rivers. While his pro-bowl level of play the last few years hasn't yet netted him any postseason success, the Chargers will always be competing and relevant as long as #17 is out there on the field. In just two games so far this season Rivers has thrown for over 700 yards and is completing over 70% of his passes. That's not good news for a Chiefs defense that has allowed eight touchdown passes to just one interception through the first two games.
The Chiefs must contain tight end Antonio Gates along with Mike Tolbert and Ryan Matthews in the passing game. Rivers likes to throw to his tight end and backs out of the backfield. Tolbert is tied for first on the team through the first two games with 18 targets, while Matthews isn't far behind with 14. The Chiefs are also going to have to mix up there pressure if they are going to stop San Diego from moving the ball consistently. Different looks and different blitzes can help mask a defensive secondary that is missing it's leader and playmaker in Eric Berry.
Offensively the Chiefs are going to need some big plays from their playmakers if they're going to have a chance in this game. San Diego is going to put some points on the board and the Chiefs only chance is to have players like Dwayne Bowe and Dexter McCluster make some plays to spark a so-far anemic Chiefs offense this season. It might be asking too much of an offense that's only scored one touchdown this season to consistently put long drives together to score on an above-average Chargers defense. The Chiefs need big plays and quick scores.
Look for players like Justin Houston and Tamba Hali to be heavily counted-on to provide pressure on Rivers for the Chiefs defense. Rivers is just too good of a football player to be shutdown for an entire game, but if the Chiefs can get him to make a couple of mistakes it could prove successful as long as they are able to then take advantage. This could be a good game if the Chiefs play more at the 2010 level, and less at the 2011 level. But going by what we've seen so far this season, that may only be wishful thinking. We're only two games into the season and there's a lot of football left to be played. Let's just hope that's a good thing if you like watching successful Kansas City Chiefs football.