The Kansas City Chiefs will look to make the improbable climb from 0-3 to 4-3 and slide into a first place tie atop the AFC West when they take on the San Diego Chargers on Monday Night Football.
After losing Tony Moeaki, Eric Berry and Jamaal Charles in three consecutive weeks, the Chiefs initially looked like a team ready to roll over and give it a go again in 2012. But then as they started to adjust to life without their young stars, things started to turn around in the second half of their Week 3 loss to the Chargers in San Diego and have gone well since.
The first-place Chargers are fresh off a 27-21 loss to the New York Jets and will need to avenge last season’s defeat at the hands of the Chiefs on Monday Night Football if they are going to hold onto their lead in the division.
Though they are leading the division, the Chargers have had injury issues of their own and haven’t exactly been world beaters. San Diego has lost to the only two teams they have played that currently have a record over .500 (New England Patriots, Jets) and beat the Chiefs, Vikings, Dolphins and Broncos by a total of just 25 points.
LB Larry English has already been placed on injured reserve for the Chargers while DE Luis Castillo, G Kris Dielman and LB Shaun Phillips have all been ruled “out” for the showdown on national TV against the Chiefs.
Here are three players from each team to keep your eyes on.
Offense: Dwayne Bowe
The Chargers have had trouble stopping the run the last two weeks — 162 yards in each game — but when these two teams first met this season, the Chiefs were only able to come up with big plays when they opened up the passing game and got Bowe and Steve Breaston involved. With first-round pick Jonathan Baldwin likely playing in his second career game, look for him to help the two veterans exploit the Chargers battered secondary.
“The Bowe Show” has been effective when used. In the season-opening loss to the Bills he only caught two passes for 17 yards, but since has put together three 100-yard games with at least four catches every week.
Defense: Tamba Hali
The Chargers are in first place, but that’s despite QB Philip Rivers’ constant struggles. In five games he has thrown seven interceptions and taken 14 sacks, including two of each against the Chiefs in Week 3. Hali was responsible for one of those sacks and his pressure force Rivers into plenty of bad throws.
Double teams or a chip from a tight end were thrown at the Chiefs linebacker all game long, but he still nearly knocked Rivers out of the game. With the offensive line trying to cope with the loss of Dielman, there should be even more opportunities for Hali.
Last week against the Jets, first-round bust Aaron Maybin took Rivers down for just the third sack of his career. Look for Hali to put together his best game of the season Monday night.
Special Teams: Javier Arenas
He hasn’t taken a kick to the house yet this season, but Arenas has never been closer to breaking one than he was against the Chargers in Week 3.
Arenas jump started the Chiefs offense with a 37 yard punt return that led to their first points of the game. The cornerback also returned three kicks for 87 yards, including a 35-yarder that he was thisclose to springing for at least 15 more yards.
Last year’s matchup on Monday Night Football was turned by a return touchdown courtesy of Dexter McCluster, but with Arenas handling returns almost exclusively, he will be the one trying to turn in the big play at Arrowhead.
Offense: Ryan Mathews
Coming off a weak showing against the Jets — 13 carries, 39 yards — Mathews will look to repeat his performance from Week 3 when he had 98 yards on 21 carries including two touchdowns. He also caught four passes for 51 yards, good for a 12.8 yard average.
With RB Mike Tolbert — after averaging over five yards a carry against New York — dealing with a hamstring injury that is likely to keep him out Monday night, Mathews will need to shoulder the load. Especially considering the issues that Rivers has had this season, the Chargers will need to get their running game going if they want to put up points and Mathews is the key.
Defense: Marcus Gilchrist
When word started to spread that the Chargers would start a rookie at corner this week, there’s no doubt that Todd Haley and offensive coordinator Bill Muir simply smiled. When you have playmakers like Bowe and Breaston, one of them will get to try their hand against the rookie out of Clemson.
Special Teams: Richard Goodman
The player Gilchrist is replacing in the starting lineup — Antoine Cason — could be a guy to watch during punt returns, but Goodman needs to be contained on kickoffs. Just because he isn’t a game breaker — no return longer than 31 yards — against the Jets Goodman continued a strong season, taking six kicks for 139 yards and a healthy 23.2 yard average.
11 of his 13 returns have gone for at least 20 yards with only the Jets Joe McKnight having more with as many returns.