The Kansas City Chiefs will look to officially eliminate the Chargers from the AFC West race when they head to San Diego on Sunday afternoon.
These two teams first met to open the season on Monday Night Football in Kansas City when the Chiefs won at a rain soaked Arrowhead Stadium 21-14.
The Chiefs have won three in a row and hold a two game division lead. Meanwhile, after starting the season 2-5 the Chargers have won four of the last five, but that one loss has put them on the verge of being eliminated from the playoffs. The outcome of this game will go a long way towards determining just how long the fight for the division will last.
Here are the three players from each team that you will need to keep your eyes on.
Offense: Brodie Croyle
Matt Cassel is still back in Kansas City following a mid-week appendectomy, once again making Croyle the Chiefs starting quarterback. No one expects Charlie Weis or Todd Haley to put the game plan all on Croyle’s shoulders, but he will no doubt look to prove he is better than his 0-9 career record as a starter.
Back in the first meeting, the Chargers held the Chiefs to just 68 yards passing though they were assisted by a poor Cassel performance and less than stellar weather conditions. This time around the weather won’t be a factor and the Chargers will do everything they can to dare Croyle and Kansas City passing game to beat them.
We know that the Chiefs are a running team, but we also know that Croyle brings a stronger arm to the table than Cassel. While it will still be the Charles/Jones show, don’t be surprised if the offense takes more shots down the field than normal to take advantage of Croyle’s big arm.
Defense: Eric Berry
San Diego has struggled running the ball, but posses the 2nd best passing game in the league. If you want to stop the Chargers defense you have to prevent Philip Rivers from breaking out the big play and that’s where Berry comes in. He is coming off a game with 8 tackles and season-high 2 passes defensed, a performance Berry will need to repeat.
Berry struggled giving up the big play early on in the season and has improved as his rookie season has progressed. If the ailing Kendrick Lewis is unable to line up next to Berry, that will put even more responsibility on the No. 5 overall pick to carry the load against the dangerous San Diego offense.
Special Teams: Dexter McCluster
No one stole the show more during the first game of the year than McCluster. After being billed as the rookie returner in need of more time to develop his return skills, McCluster was the one that provided the winning margin with a 94-yard punt return.
McCluster slowed down after that huge debut and then missed five games due to a high ankle sprain. He returned last week against the Broncos and was thrown right back into a full workload including time returning both punts and kicks. If the Chiefs are going to steal a win in San Diego and put an end to the Chargers reign atop the AFC West, McCluster is going to have to look more like the game breaker we saw in the first meeting between these two teams.
Offense: Philip Rivers
Rivers leads one of the most prolific passing offenses, but he has gone four games without a 300 yard outing, something he will need to change if he wants to keep the Chargers alive in the playoff hunt. Against the Chiefs in week 1, Rivers put up 298 yards and 2 touchdowns including a 59-yarder to Legedu Naanee that made it a one score game in the final minutes.
Without a consistent running game to keep a defense honest, Romeo Crennel should be able to keep his focus on Rivers and finding a way to make him move his feet more than he would like.
Defense: Shaun Phillips
Phillips was the Player to Watch last time around as he led the Merriman-less Charger defense against the Chiefs. All he did then was put up 5 tackles, 1 sack and 2 tackles for loss. Knowing that Croyle hasn’t faced any real pressure at game speed since the first game of last season, Phillips will be bringing the power of his 10 sacks right at the Chiefs quarterback all day long.
Special Teams: Darren Sproles
He might be a forgotten man on offense (10 carries over the last 4 games) but Sproles is still the man on special teams for San Diego. The Chargers have listed the shifty running back as questionable after he took a monster hit from rookie Rolando McClain last week and stayed on the sidelines due to the resulting concussion.
Sproles has yet to be officially cleared but has said he expects to play. If he can’t go, Jacob Hester automatically becomes the man to keep an eye on in the return game.