Chiefs vs. Chargers: Five Things to Watch

The Chiefs travel to take on the Chargers in a key divisional matchup

The Kansas City Chiefs (4-5) will face the San Diego Chargers (2-7) on Sunday afternoon in a key AFC West divisional matchup with two teams currently heading in opposite directions.

The Chiefs are winners of three straight and look to keep that momentum going, while the Chargers have frustratingly dropped five straight by a combined 25 points, with each game decided within one possession.

Here are five things to watch during the game on Sunday:

1. Limiting the impact of Rivers-to-Woodhead

Their offense isn't a secret. The Chargers are about throwing the football.

With 12-year veteran quarterback Philip Rivers, who has attempted more passes (390) this season than any other quarterback in the league, leading the way, the Chargers have averaged 414 yards per game offensively, which ranks No. 4 in the NFL.

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QB Philip Rivers

On Sunday, Rivers finds himself just 312 yards shy of becoming the 17th quarterback in NFL history to throw for at least 40,000 yards. He's 13-6 against the Chiefs in his career, completing 63 percent of his passes with 29 touchdowns and 20 interceptions in those 19 games.

"He's going to give it to you," Chiefs coach Andy Reid said of Rivers. "He's going to present you a lot of different looks, and so you've got to be sharp in your preparation.

"He's playing at a very high level right now."

This season hasn't necessarily gone to plan for Rivers and company because of injuries to his top two receivers in Keenan Allen (kidney) and Malcom Floyd (shoulder), among numerous other key injuries to offensive players.

Before they left with injuries, Allen and Floyd combined for 88 receptions for 1,134 yards with 7 touchdowns. They account for almost half (15 of 33) of the 20-plus-yards plays this season. Their absence takes away a huge part of the big-play ability for the Chargers offense, although Rivers has proven to be able to make plays with a variety of players around him.

He's developed a nice relationship with running back Danny Woodhead, who is a dynamic threat catching the ball out of the backfield for the Chargers offense.

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RB Danny Woodhead

Woodhead has 45 receptions for 521 yards and 3 touchdowns this season.

"Woodhead is one of the most unique guys in our league," Chiefs defensive coordinator Bob Sutton said. "I think the chemistry and trust they have, a lot of times he's a second thought, but [Rivers] knows exactly where [Woodhead] is at, and he's confident he'll be there and I think that's what really makes it a challenge."

Sutton has experience with Woodhead from their time together with the New York Jets back in 2009. He also faced him for the three years when Woodhead was in the same division with the New England Patriots (2010-12), and Sutton was with the Jets (2000-12).

"He's just a really talented, hard guy to match for linebackers or defensive backs—it doesn't matter," Sutton explained. "He's very quick and he understands what he's doing from a schematic standpoint and how to work the defender."

The Chiefs will obviously need to be aware of how the Chargers are lining up offensively to try and find a matchup they would favor with Woodhead in coverage.

It's the chess match coaches play throughout the game.

2. Win the turnover battle, win the game

The Chiefs success over the past three games can be traced back to one key statistic—turnover ratio.

During this winning streak, the Chiefs have forced 10 turnovers and haven't given it away once. That's the kind of ratio that puts you in a position to win a lot of football games.

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The 5-interception performance against the Denver Broncos last week didn't hurt, but the recent ball hawking play from the Chiefs defense can largely be attributed to the work they've put in through the week leading up to the game.

"They spend a lot of time together," Reid said of the defense. "They meet with the coaches, then they go meet as a group and they make sure that they've got all the lingo down and know where they need to be, and that's an important thing.

"We're asking them to do a few things from a defensive standpoint, so you've got to spend that extra bit of time and this group is willing to do that."

The Chargers have given the ball away 14 times this season, while the Chiefs have turned it over just 8 times.

Alex Smith is currently on a streak of 228 consecutive passes without an interception, which is not only 6 shy of a franchise record but also the best mark of any quarterback in the NFL this season.

3. Eliminate any kind of hope, momentum

During the Chiefs three-game winning streak, the team has outscored opponents 52-6 in the first half.

If they can find that kind of early success again on Sunday, particularly in facing a Chargers team looking for any kind of momentum after losing five straight, the pressure will all fall on the Chargers offense and Rivers in particular, who will be working to gain continuity with several receivers without a ton of experience with him.

Plus, an early lead also allows the Chiefs to pin their ears back and get after Rivers, which they did pretty well in their two games last season, sacking him a total of 9 times.


LAST TIME THEY MET

Photos from the Chiefs Week 17 matchup against the Chargers


4. Can Charcandrick West do it again?

West has at least 120 yards from scrimmage and a touchdown rushing in three straight games, which also happen to all be victories for the Chiefs.

That's not a coincidence.

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"Each week we try to find a few more things to add to his repertoire of plays," Chiefs offensive coordinator Doug Pederson said of West. "He's smart, he's a hard worker. (Running backs coach) Eric Bieniemy does a great job with him, obviously, getting him prepared.

"The more he can handle the load, the more you're going to see him in there. I think each week he's just increasingly gotten more work each game."

West has as many total touchdowns this season (4) as he had total offensive snaps played in his career prior to this year.

He's been one of the best stories of the season, but if the Chiefs are going to continue working their way towards the AFC playoff picture, West will have to continue making a big impact for the Chiefs offense.  

5. Can Jeremy Maclin get involved in passing game?

Depending upon how you look at it, Kansas City's three-game winning streak hasn't been dependent upon any one individual player, which is a good thing.

Coming into the season, the Chiefs brought over Jeremy Maclin in free agency to be the team's top receiver.

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Over the past two games—both wins, Maclin has just 6 receptions for 52 yards with 1 touchdown.

"What we're seeing is their best corner match Jeremy, which teams do," Chiefs offensive coordinator Doug Pederson explained. "San Diego's going to do the same thing with [Jason Verrett]. They're going to match him over there with Jeremy and that's a challenge for him.

"It doesn't mean you eliminate part of your offense, but it also means other guys are getting open. It's one of those things where you start spreading the ball around a little bit and it helps your offense and Jeremy generally becomes a big part of those situations. It's not that we're not trying to get him the ball. Sometimes coverage dictates where you end up going."

Maclin has made a difference in other ways, particularly with his ability to block on the outside, which has been the key in several of the big running plays for the Chiefs over the past few games.

"His whole career he's done a good job that way," Pederson said. "He's got great vision—he can see the field and know when to anticipate blocks like that."

Maclin has made it clear from day one that he doesn't care about individual numbers. He's about wins.

In order for the Chiefs to win on Sunday against a depleted, yet still potent, Chargers offense, Maclin and company will once again need to make plays to help move the ball—regardless if what they do ends up in a box score or not. The only stat that matters is getting back to .500.

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