The Kansas City Chiefs will try to build on the momentum of their victory over the New Orleans Saints when they take on the San Diego Chargers Sunday afternoon at Arrowhead Stadium. Things looked bleak before the Chiefs comeback against the Saints, but now they will have a chance to pull into first place tie in the AFC West with a victory.
San Diego got off to a fast start this season, cruising to a 2-0 start, but stumbled last week with an embarrassing loss at home to the Atlanta Falcons. Now heading on the road, they will get a chance to show how serious they are about being a force in the division.
If the Chiefs team that showed up in the second half last week gets to work out of the gate Sunday, there’s little the Chargers will be able to do in front of a raucous Arrowhead crowd. However, if it’s the squad that was blown out by the Falcons, Buffalo Bills and on that course in New Orleans, the heat will get turned back up on Kansas City head coach Romeo Crennel and GM Scott Pioli.
The folks in Las Vegas aren’t sure what to make of this matchup between division rivals. While the Chiefs continue to be an underdog (as they were the first three weeks of the season) the opening line of three points has come down to two. Some books have the game with just a one point spread.
Here are the three players from each team to keep an eye on in this early season battle for first place.
Offense: Jamaal Charles
Can Charles do it again?
Okay, no one is expecting the Chiefs running back to tear off another 33 carry, 233-yard effort, but the offense will need to continue leaning on him if they are going to pull even in the division.
The problem Crennel runs into, especially with backup Peyton Hillis likely out of commission with an ankle injury, is wearing Charles down. Along with his six catches, the 39 touches for Charles are 12 more than he has ever had in a game.
If Hillis were healthy the Chiefs could go away from Charles when his legs started to get weak. But right now Shaun Draughn is sitting next on the depth chart, not exactly the kind of guy that is going to steal carries from Charles in a tight spot.
Defense: Tamba Hali
When the Chiefs defense started to knock Saints QB Drew Brees around, it wasn’t the AFC’s best pass rusher that was making the most noise. Instead, it was second-year linebacker Justin Houston having his name called the most. Houston finished with four tackles, three sacks and a safety as the Chiefs charged back against the Saints.
Now that the spotlight has shifted over to Houston, there’s no time better than now for Hali to re-emerge. The linebacker has yet to record a sack after averaging over 13 the last two seasons.
Special Teams: Dustin Colquitt
Just like Houston overshadowed Hali last week, it was Chiefs kicker Ryan Succop doing his best to upstage Colquitt against the Saints. Even though Colquitt hasn’t been great in 2012, he did turn in — with the help of his coverage unit — a beautiful punt that pinned New Orleans at the one yard line. That punt is what setup a Drew Brees safety.
Succop ended up setting a Chiefs franchise record with six field goals, so all Colquitt will have to do against the Chargers is drop three or four punts inside the five to match up with his fellow special teamer.
Your move, Dusty!
Offense: Malcom Floyd
The Chiefs defense had an impressive second half last Sunday, but there are still plenty of question marks in the secondary. Brandon Flowers and the rest of the defensive backs were improved but were also very lucky, getting plenty of drops out of the Saints receivers.
Floyd is San Diego’s leading receiver, including a 6 catch, 109 yard effort in a 38-10 victory over the Tennessee Titans. He has yet to turn in a catch longer than 28 yards, but has averaged 17.5 yards per reception.
The 31-year-old was plenty comfortable against the Chiefs defense in his previous visit to Arrowhead, the thrilling 23-20 Kansas City victory on Halloween last season.
Defense: Donald Butler
Most of the Chargers may have failed to show last week when the Falcons came calling, but Butler wasn’t one of them. The linebacker turned in 12 tackles and has 23 through his first three games.
With Charles looking to do more damage around each corner, it will be Butler looking to make sure he doesn’t get to make any corners or safeties silly with that bonus gear built into his system.
As a rookie last season, Butler averaged 8.5 tackles in his first two games against the Chiefs. Now that he has to chase Charles around for the first time in his career, it will be interesting to see if he can keep up all day.
Special Teams: Mike Scifres
Not only will Colquitt need to steal the special teams spotlight on his own team from Succop, but he might feel a little punter-envy with Scifres in the building.
The Chargers punter currently owns the third-best average in the league with 51.5 yards, compared to just 47.3 for Colquitt (24th).