This should be an interesting AFC West matchup in Kansas City, where the Chiefs are looking to get back on track after suffering their first loss of the season in the first of their two games against the Chargers, who are coming in carrying a three-game losing streak of their own. At 9-1, a loss won’t cripple their playoff chances, but it would be a significant blow in their battle for home field advantage and a first round bye.
Conversely, San Diego is at 4-6 and probably has to win out to have any chance at a playoff appearance. It doesn’t help that their quarterback finished with his two worst-graded games of the season in the past two weeks. In a divisional matchup they’ll certainly have no shortage of motivation, so this should be an entertaining and competitive game. Here are some areas to keep an eye on.
Chiefs Run Game
Although the San Diego run defense is among the middle of the pack in total rushing yards allowed per game, on a per-carry basis opponents are averaging 4.8 yards, the third-worst figure in the league. Therefore look for Kansas City to attack that weakness, despite a rushing attack that’s been far from spectacular thus far. Outside of right guard Jon Asamoah, the Chiefs have graded negatively in run blocking across the board up front, and even he ranks 22nd among guards in that category. They aren’t exactly facing the ’85 Bears front, though, given all three of San Diego’s primary defensive linemen – Corey Liuget, Kendall Reyes, and Cam Thomas – have also graded negatively in the run game.
The Chargers appear to be most susceptible to runs off guard, surrendering close to six YPC through the B-gaps. And in terms of personnel, they typically see a drop off in nickel and dime sub packages. It’s especially noticeable in dime (albeit in a limited sample size), where the average jumps to 8.4 YPC from 4.9 when five defensive backs are on the field. Fortunately, Kansas City doesn’t necessarily have the offense to force heavy nickel and dime to exploit that, having used ‘11’ personnel less often than the league average. Rather they favor more tight end and fullback groupings – they’ve used ‘22’ more than double the league average rate – which takes advantage of their lone bright spot in run blocking, FB Anthony Sherman.
It will be interesting to watch how the Chiefs defend Danny Woodhead out of the backfield. Woodhead comes in as our second-highest graded running back in the passing game, behind only Darren Sproles. At six pass targets per game, he’s been the intended receiver on roughly 18% of Phillip Rivers’ aimed passes, a figure that comes in just less than TE Antonio Gates. What makes this a good matchup is that all three of KC’s main linebacker group, Justin Houston, Tamba Hali, and Derrick Johnson have all graded very well in coverage (though clearly Houston and Hali drop back less often). Tackling has been a minor issue, with only three inside linebackers having missed more times than Johnson, and Houston leads all 3-4 OLBs there. Conversely, Woodhead has forced 14 misses as a receiver and only three players (any position) have a higher total.
San Diego’s usage of Woodhead isn’t quite as diverse as someone such as Sproles in New Orleans, but it’s not that far off. About 25% of his routes have been run from the slot or out wide. Most of his work is done on pivots, flares, and out routes, while screens have accounted for 13% of his 61 targets. The Chiefs have allowed 7.0 YPA on screen passes and 6.8 YPA against other halfback routes.
Obligatory ‘Blocking Justin Houston’ Section
With King Dunlap missing both Wednesday and Thursday practices, it appears that Jeromy Clary will be asked to step in at right tackle again. And while he’s struggled mightily run blocking (-15.4), pass protection hasn’t been that much of an issue. Though, as we mentioned in our Refocused article, what pressure he did give up last week against Miami came at very inopportune times. Unfortunately, he faces a difficult challenge this week in Justin Houston, who spends most of his time rushing from the offensive right side. Houston doesn’t need much praise at this point; his +30.9 overall grade and 74 combined pressures give an adequate picture of how well he’s played this season, not to mention that he’s coming off of a monster game in Denver. Clary will have to be wary of more than just an outside speed rush, given that 15.8% of Houston’s pressure has come via bull rush.
We’ll see whether the Chargers try to work in some chips to help out their tackle, but when Houston does get into the backfield it will be on Rivers to continue to play well. His 71.3% Accuracy Percentage under pressure leads all quarterbacks and he’s graded positively on those plays as well, which has been a significant factor in the QB’s turnaround this season (though it hasn’t necessarily translated into wins).
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