AFC West

Chiefs Battle Chargers for AFC West Crown

The Kansas City Chiefs will look to lock up a sixth straight AFC title on Thursday night. When the Chiefs battle the Los Angeles Chargers this week, it will be a rematch of the game the Chargers won 30-24 in Kansas City in week 3. The Chargers won the early season game in large part due to forcing 4 turnovers against the Chiefs. Justin Herbert was also a major factor in the Chargers’ win against the Chiefs. The young star quarterback threw for 4 touchdowns, 0 interceptions, and 281 yards in Kansas City.

Photo by Nate Taylor/The Athletic

In order to flip the script, the Chiefs will look to continue their recent turnover trend. Over the last five games, Kansas City has a plus 11 turnover margin against their opponents. A lot of the credit for this has to be placed on the Chiefs’ defense. Defensive Coordinator Steve Spagnuolo has employed a much more aggressive game plan over the past few weeks. A defense that was dismissed and called one of the worst in the NFL through the first half of the season has become a strength for the Chiefs. The Chiefs will face one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL on Thursday. Last weekend Herbert became the first quarterback in NFL history to have 30 or more touchdowns in each of his first two seasons.

COVID-19 Update

Both the Chargers and the Chiefs are dealing with COVID-19 Protocols as the week progresses. On Monday the NFL placed a season high 37 players on the COVID list. The Chargers were without star wide receiver Keenan Allen for the Giants game last Sunday. Yesterday it was announced that Allen was activated off the COVID reserve list making him available for Thursday’s game. Earlier this week the Chargers also announced that rookie left tackle Rashawn Slater tested positive for COVID 19.

The Chiefs were also hit by the COVID bug early this week. Josh Gordon and Chris Jones were both placed on the COVID reserve list. When asked about their availability for the game on Thursday, Andy Reid said that he would not rule out the possibility for them playing. What this means is that both Gordon and Jones are vaccinated against COVID-19. Jones’ availability is especially key for the Chiefs. He has been one of the main reasons for the resurgence of the Chiefs’ defense over the second half of the season.

What to Watch For From Los Angeles’ Offense

The Chargers offense has played very well in the past few weeks. In three of the past four weeks, the Chargers have scored at least 37 points. When the Chargers lost to the Broncos in Week 12, their only loss in their past four games, they only managed to rush for 72 yards. Look for the Chargers to try and utilize a balanced attack against the Chiefs on Thursday. The Chargers rank in the top 5 in passing yards per game, but rank 21st in rushing yards per game. While the Chargers were able to get by with only 77 rushing yards against the Chiefs in week 3, look for Chargers’ offensive coordinator to try for a more balanced attack on Thursday.

What to Watch for From Los Angeles’ Defense

On defense, the Chargers play very well against the pass, and poorly against the run. The Chargers rank fourth in the NFL allowing only 207.3 yards per game through the air. A lot of this success can be accredited to an improved secondary for the Chargers. In 2020 the Chargers added cornerback Chris Harris Jr. from division rival to help boost their secondary. While Harris Jr. brings a veteran presence, rookie Asante Samuel Jr. has brought energy to the secondary. Son of legendary two time Super Bowl Champion cornerback Asante Samuel, Samuel Jr. has shown quickly he possesses a lot of his father’s talents. Samuel Jr. was able to pick off Patrick Mahomes in the red zone during the first half of the early season matchup against the Chiefs.

Despite great players like Joey Bosa, Asante Samuel Jr., and Chris Harris Jr., the undisputed leader of this Chargers defense is Derwin James. Derwin James plays a role similar to that of Tyrann Mathieu of the Chiefs. James plays all over the field and has a knack for making big plays. Unlike their great pass defense, the run defense for the Chargers has struggled against the run. They rank second to last in the NFL allowing 140.7 yards per game on the ground.

AP Photo Credit/Butch Dill

What to Watch for From Kansas City’s Offense

In an effort to flip the outcome of the week 3 matchup with the Chargers, expect the Chiefs to protect the football better. The Chiefs’ offense has had multiple turnovers only once since November 1st. Also expect the Chiefs to try and bring a balanced attack against the Chargers. Although in a losing effort, the Chiefs were able to rush the ball for 186 yards against the Chargers in week 3. This included a 100 yard performance from running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire. Also look for the Chiefs to continue and try to utilize different targets in the pass game. In the week 3 game against the Chargers, 10 different receivers caught a pass for Patrick Mahomes. While the two deep safety look that the Chiefs have encountered does make it more difficult for Travis Kelce and Tyreek Hill to get involved, other receivers have found targets this way.

What to Watch for From Kansas City’s Defense

Despite a lackluster performance from the offense in week 3, the defense was able to make some big stops. One of the most notable of these statistics from the first matchup was their third down defense. The Chargers were just 4/11 on third down in week 3. This performance from the defense helped keep the Chiefs in the game. While there were bright spots in the previous matchup for the Chiefs, creating turnovers was not one of them. Look for the Chiefs defense to continue their opportunistic ways on Thursday. The Kansas City Chiefs are 6-0 this season in games where they win the turnover margin. One more key to victory on Thursday night for the Chiefs’ defense will be their pass rush. Earlier this season against the Chargers, Mike Danna had the lone sack against the Chargers. In order for the Chiefs to continue their great defensive play expect more pressure from the Chiefs’ front four.

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