Wednesday, October 31, 2012

NFL WEEK 9 – Thursday Night Preview

Chiefs fans aren't so enthralled with this season.
The 1-6 Chiefs travel out West to face the 3-4 Chargers, losers of three in a row. The Chiefs management and coaching is under heavy fire from local pundits and reporters alike to put up a product the fans can trust, and their impatience may be justified. According to Sam Mellinger's football commentary, the Chief are the first team to go seven weeks without a lead since 1940. To say that's a point of embarrassment for the Kansas City fandom is to be euphemistic at minimum.

Chargers fans aren't much less surly, and this division matchup once filled with such promise now becomes a game even the local fans can't bear to watch. San Diego's offense has been pretty dreadful. Philip Rivers started with a completion rate of 72 percent or better in three of their first four games. Since then, all games have been under 65 percent, and declining each week. Antonio Gates appears to be a shell of his former self, and he now has fewer receptions than backup RB Ronnie Brown. B
oth teams have running backs that seem to be under-utilized. The Chargers Ryan Mathews has had ball security issues, and lost another fumble last week.  The San Diego Coaching Staff has made it all but clear he's lost any chance at red zone carries.  However, Norv Turner's image is nearly at the point of being burned in effigy, and at some point Turner's going to have to ride out his fortunes on someone, and it might as well be Mathews.

Mathews has had over 20 carries the past two games, but has seen his receptions diminish, not to mention sharing the load with RBs Ronnie Brown and Jackie Battle.  This week, don't count out Battle again being used against his former team. Though he hasn't had more than four carries since their first meeting, in the last game against Kansas City he carried 15 times and scored twice. So while Mathews should be getting 20 carries, he might lose 6-8 of them to Battle. Rivers threw only 23 times last game, but in all likelihood the Chargers won't be given as many short fields to play with. Thus, I expect more attempts and more opportunities for Malcom Floyd, who has six touchdowns against the Chiefs in 12 games. He'll get his second score of the season. Eddie Royal hopes to be healthy enough to play and could return punts, but it's also possible he'd see more targets if he's active. After all, Robert Meachem (hamstring issue) dropped a sure touchdown pass last week, and I'd be surprised if his opportunities increase. If Royal can't go, Denario Alexander and recently signed Seyi Ajirotutu could see more action, but I wouldn't pin any hopes on them for your lineup. Antonio Gates has owned the Chiefs to the tune of 12 touchdowns in 15 games, but based on a short week and the fact he managed just three grabs against KC last time, I'm not putting a whole lot of faith in him here. 

The Chiefs have to get out of their own way.  In the last meeting, the Chiefs turned the ball over five times, and two of Matt Cassel's interceptions hit his receivers right in the hands.  Not surprisingly, two of those interceptions came on long situations, so don't be shocked if Cassel is throwing on early downs again, and using Jamaal Charles on second and short and third and manageable situations.  Charles received only eight touches last week, and after Romeo Crennel's press conference where he stated he wasn't sure why Charles saw such limited action, you can bet he'll get plenty of opportunities here. In seven games against San Diego, Charles sports a per carry average of over five yards and has scored three rushing touchdowns. The matchup is favorable as San Diego's rush defense has fallen to 20th, and the Chiefs are going to want to limit their quarterback's exposure. Peyton Hills could mop up a touchdown in red zone duty, but not much else. Wide receiver Jonathan Baldwin hasn't had more than two catches in the last three games, so you're actually coveting Dwayne Bowe in this game for nearly 80 yards and a score. The Chiefs discovered their TE Tony Moeaki last weekend, giving him eight targets and four receptions. However, while it would seem prudent to give Cassel the easier assignment of finding Moeaki in the middle of the field, the Chargers have allowed just one pass TD to a tight end all season. Moeaki may get you 45-50 yards, but that's all.  If you're looking for PPR help, RB Dexter McCluster is now second on the team with receptions, and is a poor man's Darren Sproles.  He has returner's speed but has a higher center of gravity and won't likely break many tackles.

In the end, this game will come down to the rushing attacks, and which defense causes the big turnover. The Chiefs should have taken the first game but put five turnovers in the Chargers hands with Cassel has been victimized by his own receivers. Turnovers tend to balance out over time, and this Chargers team won't get the benefit of two tipped interceptions, or as many Jamaal Charles fumbles. The Chiefs are going to make this one close before lfinding a way to lose by a field goal.