Chargers vs. Chiefs matchups: Justin Herbert, offense seek to improve in red zone

Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert passes during a loss to the Dallas Cowboys on Sept. 19, 2021.
Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert, shown passing in last Sunday’s loss to Dallas, will attempt to produce more touchdowns when the team gets in the red zone.
(Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

Breaking down how the Chargers (1-1) and the Kansas City Chiefs (1-1) match up heading into their game at 10 a.m. Pacific time Sunday at Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City, Mo. The game will be carried on CBS (Channel 2).

When Chargers have the ball: Scoring touchdowns on only three of 10 trips, the Chargers this season often have left the red zone red faced. Defensively, though, Kansas City has been worse. The Chiefs allowed Cleveland and Baltimore to go a combined eight for eight in the red zone to open the season. The Chargers have been productive moving the ball, but not scoring. They have only three touchdowns despite possessing an offense that features Justin Herbert. Kansas City already has surrendered nine touchdowns. The Ravens scored on five of their final six possessions last week before running out the clock in a 36-35 win. Herbert has been playing at a high level, with back-to-back 300-yard games while deftly eluding pressure. “We’re distributing the ball evenly, balanced, getting it to a lot of different people,” coach Brandon Staley said. “I really like the way we’re throwing the football right now.” Running more effectively, especially in the red zone, could help with point production. The Chiefs have been accommodating in that regard. Playing against solid rushing teams in the Browns and Ravens, Kansas City has given up 404 yards on the ground to rank last in the NFL. This isn’t a prediction, just a fact: The Chargers haven’t had a 100-yard rusher since Dec. 8, 2019, when Austin Ekeler totaled 101 at Jacksonville.

The Chargers have had difficulty scoring points, but they will need a boatload if they are hoping to overcome Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs’ high-flying offense.

Sept. 25, 2021


When Chiefs have the ball: Starting this conversation anywhere but with Patrick Mahomes simply would be wrong. The 2018 league MVP, Mahomes is the engine that makes the offense hum. He is dangerous throwing and running and, especially, on plays when he does both. “A lot of people don’t realize how tough he is to tackle,” Staley said. “He’s really, really strong and physical for the position.” This challenge for the Chargers arrives after a loss to Dallas in which they struggled to tackle anybody. The Cowboys frequently destroyed Staley’s defense up front, but the Chiefs have averaged only 3.3 yards per rushing attempt. Kansas City’s two biggest playmakers after Mahomes remain tight end Travis Kelce and wide receiver Tyreek Hill. “We’re gonna have our eyes glued on a lot of people,” Chargers defensive coordinator Renaldo Hill said. “We got to be vocal. ... We’ve got to make sure that everyone’s aware of what’s going on and what they try to do.” In his most recent appearance against the Chargers, in Week 2 last season, Mahomes wasn’t great until he needed to be. K.C. scored on its final four possessions in a 23-20 overtime win at SoFi Stadium. Mahomes finished with 302 yards passing and two touchdowns, and rushed for 54 yards.

When they kick: Tristan Vizcaino had the first miss of his career — a 44-yard field-goal attempt — last week against Dallas, and it was costly as the Chargers fell 20-17. He is eight of nine on field-goal attempts and four of four on extra-point attempts in three NFL games. Kansas City’s Harrison Butker kicked two 58-yard field goals when these teams met last September.

Jeff Miller’s prediction: The Chiefs haven’t lost two in a row since Weeks 5 and 6 in 2019, and won’t this time, either.