Chargers face speed, surprise element when playing champion Chiefs
Kansas City’s offense is loaded with recognizable names: Patrick Mahomes. Travis Kelce. Tyreek Hill. Sammy Watkins.
And Daffy Duck? Yes, and Daffy Duck.
“You know you’re going to have to be really good against the unexpected,” Chargers defensive coordinator Gus Bradley said. “They might not do it for five or six games and then a wildcat or a Daffy Duck or a shovel pass. Things like that all of a sudden show up out of the blue.”
For the sake of accuracy, this Daffy Duck isn’t actually the Daffy Duck. This one, Bradley explained, is a funky formation the Chiefs have been known to employ, an alignment that features the tackles lined up wide.
The Chargers have no idea if they’ll see that formation Sunday when they play Kansas City in their SoFi Stadium debut.
They do have a very good idea of what they will see.
“You don’t have enough players to match up against those guys,” coach Anthony Lynn said. “So, you’ve got to scheme ’em a little bit. … They can create some matchup issues.”
Anthony Lynn says the Chargers can contain Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs if the Chargers play to their capabilities on defense and limit turnovers.
The Chiefs rode Mahomes and their issue-inducing offense to the latest Lombardi Trophy. They averaged 39 points per game in the postseason and scored three touchdowns in the final six-plus minutes to clinch Super Bowl LIV.
And then they got better. Kansas City added running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire in the first round of the draft, a move that helped produce 166 rushing yards in a season-opening 34-20 win over Houston.
Chargers cornerback Casey Hayward called Edwards-Helaire a “new toy” for Mahomes, the $500-million quarterback who already had just about every cool gadget a kid could desire.
“They got too many weapons back there,” Hayward said. “But we got weapons over here, too. I know they’re always big-play hunting. … That’s what this K.C. offense is. It’s shot, shot, shot. We gotta try to take that away.”
In recent seasons, the Chargers’ defense — a scheme based more on preventing than attacking — has done better than most against the Chiefs.
Mahomes didn’t reach 200 yards passing in either meeting between these teams last year. Combined in those games, he had the same number of passing touchdowns as interceptions, two apiece. Kansas City produced five plays that netted more than 25 yards when the Chiefs visited Carson to open the 2018 season. In the three meetings since, Kansas City had only six such plays.
“Getting after Mahomes,” pass rusher Uchenna Nwosu said of the key to limiting the Chiefs. “Let him feel our presence early in the game, often in the game. If we take him away, then what can the receivers do, you know?”
The problem is, despite their relative success with Mahomes, the Chargers are still 1-3 against him. Lynn has lost five of the six times he has faced Kansas City since becoming the Chargers coach.
Mitchell Schwartz has grown accustomed to big NFL assignments, having earned a Super Bowl ring as a starter for the Kansas City Chiefs. He has another Sunday in blocking Chargers’ end Joey Bosa.
In those games, Lynn’s team has turned the ball over 17 times (15 interceptions and two fumbles) and taken it back only twice. Kansas City has scored 58 points off those turnovers.
“That’s ridiculous,” Lynn said. “You can’t give them anything because they’re already good enough. They don’t need your help.”
The Chargers have a new quarterback this time, with veteran Tyrod Taylor set to make his second start as Philip Rivers’ replacement. Taylor’s greatest strength might be that he rarely loses the football.
In a 16-13 win last weekend at Cincinnati, the Chargers’ defense produced the game’s only two turnovers. Taylor didn’t throw for any touchdowns, but he wasn’t particularly close to being intercepted, either.
The Chargers hope to follow that sure-handed trend — and a defensive front providing the necessary pressure — to a victory that would qualify as a significant upset. There is no bigger underdog in the league Sunday than the Chargers.
“They can’t do anything with the speed if we get after the quarterback,” Nwosu said. “With the guys we have on our defensive line, I feel like we can definitely get that job done.”
The Chiefs use their speed to prove themselves superior. And no Kansas City player has epitomized that better than Tyreek Hill, especially in this matchup.
Hill has produced nine gains of at least 30 yards against the Chargers. He has scored on plays covering 95, 91, 64, 58, 34 and 30 yards.
But in another encouraging trend for the Chargers, Hill hasn’t scored against them since Week 1 of 2018.
With everything else they’re bringing, the Chiefs will arrive at SoFi Stadium with the additional swagger of Super Bowl champions. Nwosu insisted the Chargers don’t care.
“It’s a new season, new year, new us, new team,” he said. “We can’t dwell on the past. The Super Bowl means nothing. I mean, if that’s what they want to hang their hat on, that’s fine. But for us, it means nothing.”
Go beyond the scoreboard
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