Players To Watch: Kansas City Chiefs vs. San Diego Chargers

The Kansas City Chiefs will try to turn things around following an awful first two games of the season when they take on the Chargers in San Diego on Sunday.

Things look bleak in Kansas City after being outscored 89-10 and playing even worse than that scoring discrepancy would indicate.  Suddenly the trip to the playoffs last season seems like it was a lifetime ago and Todd Haley is under fire from the fans as well as the local and national media.

San Diego is just one game better than the Chiefs, but their one loss came last week in a 35-21 shootout with Tom Brady and the New England Patriots.  Staring a struggling Kansas City defense in the face will be one of the NFL’s most potent air attacks led by Philip Rivers, who nearly threw for 400 yards against the Pats.

Though it’s unlikely that GM Scott Pioli would let go of Haley so early in the season, another big loss would officially kill any hopes the Chiefs have of competing in the AFC West.  Can the team step up their game with their head coach on the hot seat or will they continue to roll over?

Here are the three players from each team you should keep your eyes on.

Chiefs

Offense: Matt Cassel

The only quarterback worse than Cassel this season has been Luke McCown for the Jacksonville Jaguars and he was named the starter right before the season started and will be replaced this week by rookie Blaine Gabbert.  Cassel, on the other hand, should have no reason to be as bad as he has been the first two weeks of the season.

Losing TE Tony Moeaki in preseason was a big blow, but would having one of his favorite receivers out there stop Cassel from throwing totally uncatchable passes?  Or give the quarterback the confidence to throw any passes beyond five yards down the field?

Kansas City is a running team and that can’t change even though they will be without star RB Jamaal Charles for the rest of the season.  But no matter who they use in place of Charles, it won’t matter if Cassel continues to be an embarrassment.

Much like the players on the other side of the ball trying to make up for losing S Eric Berry, Cassel doesn’t need to be all-world, just average.  That shouldn’t be too much to ask from your starting QB.

Defense: Tamba Hali

Hali hasn’t been nearly as bad as many of his teammates, but he hasn’t been a dominant force either.  The Lions gratuitous holding was a big reason he never found his way to the quarterback last week, but that’s something all the great ones have to deal with.

The only way Rivers and the Chargers offense can be stopped from ripping up the secondary is if Hali finds his way into the backfield on a regular basis.

It would be nice if he had some help, but at this point that’s probably too much to ask for, especially with defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel dealing with limited blitz packages thanks to the trouble at the safety position.

Special Teams: Ryan Succop

Punter Dustin Colquitt has been bad early on, but if the Chiefs hadn’t been blown out in each of their first two games, more people would be talking about the disappointing Succop.

Other than turnovers, nothing kills a team’s confidence than settling for a field goal — a downer in itself for an offense — and then having the kicker miss badly and give the opposing team good field position in the process.

After an impressive rookie season in which he made over 86 percent of his field goals, Succop only made 77 percent last season and is 1-for-3 in 2011.  When you lose by 34 and 45 points, respectively, it’s hard to harp on missing out on three in each game, but very simply Succop needs to be better.

Chargers

Offense: Randy McMichael

Just because Antonio Gates is expected to miss the game due to injury, that doesn’t mean the Chiefs can ignore the Chargers tight end.  McMichael is a veteran that will gladly shred the Kansas City secondary if given the chance.

Last season against a Chiefs defense that had Berry around, McMichael caught four passes for 54 yards, including catches of 20 and 14 yards.  Not mind blowing numbers, but not some bum that will just stick around on the line as an extra blocker.

Defense: Donald Butler

He’s not a familiar name yet, but the second-year linebacker has been impressive in his first two games in the league.  Butler was poised to kick off his rookie season last year in the middle of the Chargers defense before an achilles injury sent him to injured reserve in the preseason.

Last week against the Patriots, Butler was the only defender to sack Tom Brady along with fellow-LB Shaun Phillips.  He’s averaging seven tackles in two games and will be a major concern for Cassel and the Chiefs offense.

Special Teams: Richard Goodman

After spending most of 2010 on the Chargers practice squad, Goodman now finds himself as the primary kick returner.  He’s yet to take a kick longer than 27 yards, but four of his five have gone more than 20, third best in the league.

Thanks to an offense that has only scored twice this season, the Chiefs coverage unit hasn’t had many chances to cover kicks.  If they manage to get on the board against the Chargers, it will be Goodman setting up the field position.

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