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Chiefs vs. Chargers: Five Things to Watch

Posted Dec 16, 2017

Here are the storylines to follow Saturday night

The Kansas City Chiefs (7-6) and Los Angeles Chargers (7-6) meet Saturday night in the first regular-season primetime game in the history of Arrowhead Stadium.

And outside of what’s undoubtedly going to be a crazy atmosphere for football brought by the Chiefs Kingdom faithful, who have an entire day to tailgate and don’t have to go to work on Monday, there’s just so much to love about this game.

It’s a red-hot Philip Rivers and company coming to town with the AFC West on the line. The winner takes control of the division.

The Chargers have won four-straight coming into this one, while the Chiefs have got the better of them in seven-straight contests dating back to December of 2013. Furthermore, the Chiefs have won nine of their last 10 over divisional opponents in the friendly confines of Arrowhead Stadium.

The Chiefs won the first matchup over the Chargers, 24-10, back in Week 3 in Los Angeles.

But that game, along with the last seven that the Chiefs have won in this series, doesn’t have any effect on the outcome of Saturday night’s de facto AFC West title game.

Here are five things to watch during Chiefs-Chargers on Saturday:

1. Can Chiefs Kingdom and the Sea of Red get Arrowhead Stadium shaking?

The weather is going to be fantastic for mid-December in Kansas City and all signs point to a fantastic game on the horizon. And to add even more intrigue—the Chiefs are going red-on-red.

Led by outside linebacker Justin Houston and some of the other veteran leaders, the Chiefs’ players decided that all red everything is what they wanted to wear.

“Honestly, I think we started the color rush thing a few years ago, just one color and get the crowd into it,” Houston explained. “It’s about if you feel good and dress good—you play good. That’s the mindset. We love the way that all red looks.”

So, the question becomes can the Sea of Red once again remind everyone why Arrowhead carries the mystique that it does?

“I think it’s going to be a great atmosphere,” Houston added. “It’s a Saturday night game determining our situation for the playoffs. I don’t think it could get any better than this situation right here. The fans will help us get this dub (win)—this 12th man is big in part and keeping [Philip] Rivers uncomfortable, so we need as many people as we can there.”

Houston isn’t the only one who finds comfort in playing a game of this caliber in front of Chiefs Kingdom.

“Hell, yeah,” quarterback Alex Smith confidently stated. “Yeah, this is about as big as it gets for a regular-season game. Division opponent, tied for first, only a few games left. The ramifications are huge. It doesn’t get any bigger than this.”

The parking lot gates are set to open at 2:30. The noise begins when the Chargers get the ball.

2. Can the running game success continue?

For the first time since Week 5 against the Houston Texans, Chiefs’ rookie running back Kareem Hunt ran for at least 100 yards last week against the Oakland Raiders. He finished with 25 carries for 116 yards and a touchdown, and he also became just the second rookie in franchise history to rush for at least 1,000 yards in his first season (Joe Delaney, 1,121, 1981).

Much of Hunt’s success can be attributed to the guys up front, who paved the way for the majority of those yards in the second half when the Chiefs had a lead and it was obvious they were going to run the ball—a sign of true domination up front. They were inserting their will.

Chiefs’ coach Andy Reid spoke this week about the guys up front and whether their recent success and development are more about attitude or improvement in their technique.

“I think it’s a combination,” Reid noted. “I think you’ve got to bring a certain attitude to the table. I think we’ve done a good job. The guys are battling.”

The Chargers come into this game ranked near the bottom of the league in run defense—allowing more than 120 yards rushing per game. They are 2-5 this year when allowing 111 yards rushing or more.

In the first meeting between these two teams, Hunt ran it 17 times for 172 yards and a touchdown, and a performance like that would obviously go a long way in the Chiefs picking up this key win Saturday night.

3. Can the Chiefs contain Keenan Allen without giving up big plays to his teammates?

There may not be a receiver in the NFL who is hotter right now than the Chargers’ Keenan Allen, who has been targeted 49 times with 39 receptions for 547 yards and four touchdowns over the last four games.

He’s been the catalyst for their offense.

“[Allen] has always been a tough guy to cover,” Chiefs’ defensive coordinator Bob Sutton said earlier this week. “He’s highly competitive and tough-minded, and he goes in to make the tough catches. Anytime you have a dynamic player like that, that is performing consistently—one, it forces a lot of attention from everybody, and then two, certainly from their standpoint, opens up other players.”

Last week against the Washington Redskins, the Chargers were able to find the end zone twice on plays in which the defensive focus was on Allen.

Tight end Hunter Henry caught a touchdown across the middle after the safety vacated that area to focus on Allen, while Tyrell Williams’ 75-yard touchdown a bit later in that game was only possible because of the three guys covering in Allen’s area.

For the Chiefs, the return of Marcus Peters at left cornerback, combined with the play of the group last week against the Raiders, should have the group feeling confident going up against one of the best in the league in Rivers, who was picked off three times in their meeting earlier this season.

The hard part is once again trying to contain Allen without giving him so much focus that the other guys are in situations to consistently make plays. It’s going to take everyone.

4. Can the Chiefs’ pass rush affect Philip Rivers?

At 36 years old, Rivers is playing some of the best football of his career right now.

Over his last four games, Rivers is completing 69 percent of his passes for an average of 337 yards per game with eight touchdowns and no interceptions.

In his career, which spans 193 regular-season games, Rivers has never gone five straight games without an interception. That streak is on the line Saturday night.

“He’s time-tested,” Reid explained of Rivers. “He’s been doing it a long time and at a very high level. He’s got Allen, who is healthy, and that’s his guy and he’s playing at a high level. So, he’s in tune with the offense and things are clicking for him.”

As is the case with all quarterbacks, the best way to slow them down is with pressure.

Last week against the Raiders, the Chiefs’ front seven found some success getting after Derek Carr and only having to rush four in order to get there.

It’ll be a challenge this week against a Chargers’ offensive line that’s only allowed 15 sacks of Rivers all year, which is the fewest in the league for any starting quarterback.

Rivers—a pocket passer—is best affected by interior pressure and getting him to move laterally in the pocket, which lends itself to guys like Chris Jones and company to try and make the difference Saturday night. Jones was a beast last week, finishing with four quarterback hurries.

5. Can the Chiefs keep Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram from wreaking havoc?

“They’re, as a tandem right now, playing in my opinion probably the best in the league as far as bookend guys.”

That’s Chiefs’ offensive coordinator Matt Nagy talking about the Chargers’ Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram, who have combined for more than 20 sacks this season and rank as the No. 1 (Bosa) and No. 3 (Ingram) graded edge rushers in the league, according to Pro Football Focus.

“When you have two guys playing in the style that they play, a lot of spin moves and a lot of games, they create lanes by doing that, then on top of that they’re just full of energy,” Nagy added.

“They’re great with their combinations and twist games,” Reid also noted. “They’re going to give you four good quarters of aggressive football.”

The Chargers will put both of those guys on the right side of the offensive line on third down in obvious passing situations and create all kinds of protection issues.

In the first meeting against the Chargers, one of Ingram’s three sacks that day came on a little twist with Bosa off the right side of the Chiefs’ offensive line. It was the same move they ran on a key third down against the Redskins last week.

It’s something to watch on Saturday night, particularly when throwing the ball is imminent.

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