A pair of AFC West rivals square off in this Week 4 matchup. The Chargers head east to take on the Chiefs at Arrowhead stadium, one of the toughest places to play in the NFL. After a rough 0-2 start, Kansas City bounced back in Week 3 with a comeback victory in New Orleans. The Chargers, on the other hand, started off strong with two consecutive wins before a blowout loss at home.
Philip Rivers is coming off his worst performance of 2012 (-3.3). The two interceptions thrown in the loss raise concern for the veteran quarterback coming off a 20-pick season. Whether or not Rivers (and the rest of the offense) continues to be a turnover machine will go a long way in determining the success of the Bolts. As for the Chiefs, they will look to establish a dominating run game, just as they did with Jamaal Charles and his 233 yard-performance against the Saints. It is early in the season, but this is an important game for both teams. In a wide-open division, one game can make the difference by season’s end.
Leaky Left Side
The biggest weakness for the Chargers so far has been the offensive line, particularly the two starters on the left side. Left Guard Tyronne Green (-6.0) is currently the lowest rated player at his position. He has allowed seven hurries in pass protection and has struggled even more as a run blocker. He certainly isn’t making anybody forget the recently retired Kris Dielman. Forced into action with the injury to Jared Gaither, undrafted rookie Michael Harris has struggled as well. He has allowed an astounding 16 QB hurries in the past two games, and is proving that he is not ready to be an NFL starter. Rivers has been under pressure for 50 of his 110 drop-backs in 2012, which is bad news going up against a talented pass-rush duo.
Justin Houston (+7.4) had a breakout performance last week (three sacks and seven total pressures) and has been on a tear dating back to last season. His counterpart, Tamba Hali has not been as impressive so far, but a matchup against an undrafted rookie could be just what he needs to get going. Hali has played 98 of his 114 snaps on the right side of the defense, so there will be plenty of opportunities to go head-to-head with Harris. San Diego will need to give extra help to the offensive line to keep these two out of the backfield.
Charles in Charge
Coming of a torn ACL in 2011, Jamaal Charles’ (+1.9) role as a workhorse back was in serious doubt entering this season. Last week, he silenced his critics with a 33-carry, 233 rushing-yard performance. He currently sits atop our rankings for Average Yards after Contact with 3.75. With an inconsistent quarterback in Matt Cassel, and a struggling defense, look for the Chiefs to lean heavily on Charles to carry the load.
Charles will try to make a few big plays against an improved Chargers defensive front. Last year’s first-round pick Corey Liuget (+3.5 Run Defense) had a disappointing rookie year, but has improved so far in this young season. Newcomer Aubrayo Franklin (+2.9 Run Defense) has been a great addition to the middle of the Chargers’ defense. They will also look for help from youngster Donald Butler, who leads the team with 11 stops. San Diego has shut down Darren McFadden and Chris Johnson, but they face probably their biggest test with Charles.
The Return of Mathews
Ryan Mathews (+1.1) made his season debut in Week 2, but only managed 44 yards on 10 carries. He also had a costly fumble inside the Falcons’ 5-yard line that spoiled a chance to take the lead. However, if the Chargers want to get their offense back on track, they may have to look to Mathews to carry the rock. His importance to the offense can be stated in a few ways. The lack of quality depth behind him means he will have to stay on the field on all downs. He could also help take some pressure off the passing game as they have had a hard time protecting Rivers. In limited snaps, Mathews had an impressive 106.7 elusive rating against Atlanta, further proof the Chargers need to get the ball in his hands.
The Chiefs’ defense will look to keep Mathews at bay with a solid 3-4 unit that has not been great against the run. The Chiefs selected Dontari Poe (-2.5) with the No. 11 pick in the draft to solidify their defensive line, but he has yet to make a positive impact. Defensive ends Glenn Dorsey and Tyson Jackson have been strong against the run, and Derrick Johnson (+0.9) is looking to build off a great 2011 campaign. All of the attention will be on Rivers and the Charger passing game, but if the Chiefs can keep the ground game in check it will allow them to attack the QB on second or third down.
Follow Kevin on Twitter: @PFF_Kevin