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Rewind: San Diego Take Five

Posted Dec 13, 2010

Rewinding five focus points from pre-game

Shutout on Sunday’s scoreboard, the Chiefs also went pointless in our pre-game Take Five. Let’s re-visit some of those keys we outlined prior to kickoff. As always, the original article is posted below with the aftermath in bold.

The AFC West resides in Kansas City’s hands and, regardless of what happens on Sunday, the Chiefs will still be in the driver’s seat come Monday morning. With a two-game lead on the rest of the division, and two of the final four games against those second place chasers, the Chiefs path to the postseason is clear.

Sunday’s meeting with the Chargers is (has Todd Haley has said numerous times before) the Chiefs biggest game of the season to date. It’s time to Take Five.

1)      The Quarterback

Kansas City’s quarterback situation has dominated the storylines since Wednesday. Matt Cassel’s appendectomy procedure has put his status for Sunday in doubt, increasing the odds that Brodie Croyle will make his first NFL start since the Chiefs 2009 season opener in Baltimore.

What would a Croyle start mean for Kansas City? The Chiefs have said that their offensive system will remain the same and that Cassel and Croyle both carry similar quarterback traits. At the same time, no two players are the same. How would a switch at quarterback alter the play-calling? Would the Chiefs play more conservative? Would they take more deep shots behind Croyle’s big arm? What about showing a new wrinkle in the running game?

Exactly how the Chiefs quarterback situation unfolds is what everyone will be watching.

When Cassel didn’t get on the team plane, Croyle’s status as Sunday’s starter went from likely to definite. While Cassel stayed in Kansas City recovering, the Chiefs were getting sick in San Diego.

Sunday’s loss can’t be pinned on one player alone. The Chargers ripped the Chiefs in all three phases of the game. The four-time defending AFC West Champions showed new looks with their safeties and handcuffed Kansas City’s backup quarterback.

Croyle and the Chiefs offense averaged just 1.6 yards per play on 41 snaps and failed to convert any third downs. Whether a run or pass play was called didn’t matter. Nothing worked for the Chiefs.

“We were obviously planning to run the ball early, but it got out of reach,” Croyle said. “We didn’t execute any part of it.”

We didn’t see any new wrinkles to the offense either. It’s hard to imagine that the Chiefs didn’t have something new up their sleeves for this matchup. Maybe with the game getting out of hand, Kansas City opted not to show anything fresh on film with three critical games on the horizon.

We’ll see what transpires with Cassel once the Chiefs return to practice on Wednesday.

2)      Mistakes, Mistakes, Mistakes

Just how does a team with the NFL’s top-ranked defense (281.5 yards per game) and second-ranked offense (397.4 yards per game) find itself with a .500 record through 12 games? That’s easy, mistake-prone football.

Despite their gaudy offensive and defensive numbers the Chargers have been miserable in allowing special teams scores. They also lead the NFL in lost fumbles and are among the league leaders in negative plays. As a result, San Diego is 1-4 in games decided by seven points or less. Those turnovers, fouls and big plays all add up and it’s bitten the Chargers in 2010.

In the first meeting between the two teams, special teams play and defensive takeaways helped give the Chiefs a seven-point victory. Dexter McCluster returned a punt for a touchdown and the Chiefs offense converted a San Diego fumble into another TD, giving the Chiefs 14 of their 21 points. Those two plays were enough to squeak past the Chargers and the Chiefs will likely need another game-changer this weekend as well.

Cruising with a 21-0 third quarter lead, the Chargers had two hiccups that gave the Chiefs a window of hope. Eric Berry picked off a pass at the Kansas City 16-yard line at the beginning of the quarter and Wallace Gilberry recovered a Tamba Hali sack-and-strip at the San Diego 37-yard line near the end. Converting those takeaways into scores would have brought the Chiefs back into the game.

Instead, Kansas City went three-and-out on each offensive possession following those takeaways. Six plays were run between the two offensive sets that combined to produce -3 yards.

The Chiefs won the turnover battle on Sunday ( 2). Finishing positive usually leads to good things with the Chiefs outscoring opponents 65-13 off turnovers this season, but it didn’t matter in San Diego.

3)      Carve ‘Em Up

Behind 251 rushing yards, Oakland cruised to a 28-13 upset victory in San Diego last weekend. The Raiders run game helped the Chiefs build a two-game lead in the division race and exposed holes in the Chargers front as well. This week, it’s the NFL’s top-ranked run game that’s coming to town.

Oakland’s run game was the key to its success in So Cal, and the rush won’t be any less important for the Chiefs either. Gashing the Chargers helped make San Diego’s offense one-dimensional. An early lead and clock-grinding drives ultimately factored in the Chargers finishing with just eight rushes for 21 yards. Oakland’s offense helped its defense by forcing Phillip Rivers to become one-dimensional. Time of possession is critical this weekend. The Chiefs have the tools to control the game on the ground, but will they execute?

Maybe the Chargers were embarrassed by Oakland’s rushing success a week prior? Maybe they just came in with a good game plan? Whatever the case, Kansas City’s NFL-leading rushing attack was held to a seasonal low of just 48 yards. Kansas City tried to carve with a butter knife.

The only other occasion that the Chiefs were held under 100 yards rushing this season came in a 49-29 blowout loss to Denver.

4)      Keep It Close

As mentioned above, the Chargers are 1-4 this season in games decided by seven points or less. Fighting an early San Diego surge is a must for the Chiefs.

The circumstances surrounding this game makes San Diego an even more dangerous opponent. The Chargers are playing for their playoff lives in front of their home crowd in a do-or-die scenario. A Kansas City win would eliminate San Diego from the AFC West race, likely putting an end to any postseason hopes as well. The Chargers should come out emotionally charged and it will be a challenge for the Chiefs to match San Diego’s aggression while also playing smart football.

As expected, there was a big-game atmosphere in San Diego. The Q was LOUD from the start and San Diego came out with fire. The Chiefs failed to match the Chargers intensity in the early-goings and the crowd’s impact only grew throughout the day, as did San Diego’s lead.

Really, the only bright note of the day was that Kansas City fans packed Qualcomm Stadium. The lower-level seats behind the Chiefs bench were filled with red and the majority of those fans stayed behind their team until the bitter end. Chiefs fans have now invaded enemy territory in back-to-back west coast road trips.

5)      Linebackers and Safeties

Though he’s officially listed as questionable this weekend, Chargers All-Pro TE Antonio Gates has told the San Diego media that he will play on Sunday. If that’s accurate, Kansas City’s linebackers and safeties become a critical part of the Chiefs pass defense.

Gates has historically turned in solid games against the Chiefs and, of course, poses mismatches against linebacker and safeties. Gates is a player that forces a young secondary to grow up quickly and the Chiefs will have plenty of youngsters in coverage on Sunday. Some Chiefs learned about Gates the hard way earlier this season on Monday Night Football.

Gates’ inactive status surprised a lot of people in San Diego on Sunday morning. As it turns out, the Chargers didn’t need him. Even more bizarre, the Chargers are undefeated without their All-Pro tight end this season.

San Diego nickel and dimed the Chiefs with underneath routes, but those short-yardage dumps turned into chunk yardage with a high amount of missed tackles. Darren Sproles was particularly effective out of the backfield as the Chiefs failed to close on the football in what looked to be a blast from the past cover two.

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