Fourth, as in they’re one of the top five units in the league, statistically. Who would’ve thought that would happen by now? It means at least one phase of head coach Herm Edwards’ master plan is working. Remember his speech about playing great defense and controlling the tempo of the football game? It’s happening.
Okay, sort of. The Chiefs have played the 23rd, 26th, and 30th-ranked offenses in the league in the Texans, Bears and Vikings - not exactly a murderer’s row. Still, it’s something the team can hang its collective hat on.
More number fun:
Despite being ranked fourth in total defense, the Chiefs are a mediocre 18th against the run, allowing about 113 rushing yards per game. It would appear there’s some vulnerability there, something the Chargers may try to exploit this weekend, but it’s a mixed bag. Kansas City is allowing 3.8 yards per rush, not great, but still below the league average of 4.1. The Chiefs have allowed two 100 yard rushers already, so it’ll be interesting to see if the Chargers try to attack that perceived weakness.
It’s quite amazing how KC’s offensive and defensive units are the complete opposite of each other. The defense is ranked fourth, but the offense is ranked 29th, and not doing anything particularly well. Both units have had six trips into the Red Zone, and scored/allowed two touchdowns apiece.
This “mirror image” holds up on special teams, too. The kickoff unit is one the league’s best, as opponent’s average the 21-yard line as their starting field position. Meanwhile, the return unit is averaging the 24-yard line as their starting position, good for 26th in the NFL.
The Chargers sport the NFL’s leading receiver on third down, tight end Antonio Gates. He has 12 catches already on third down and 27 overall. San Diego quarterback Philip Rivers looks to him often, so the Chiefs better be ready for it. They may have the solution, and I’ll talk about that later.
San Diego is ninth against the run, not exactly good news for the Chiefs if they want to get running back Larry Johnson on track.
Part of the Chiefs resurgence on defense is due in part to the defensive line, or specifically, the play of the defensive tackles. Last season, the team suffered from substandard play in the defensive interior, frankly killing the team defensively. This offseason, the Chiefs went out and drafted tackle Tank Tyler and signed Alfonso Boone from the Bears. Those two players, along with a rested Ron Edwards, have added some punch to the pass rush. Boone especially has been playing his enormous butt off, putting his stamp on every game so far the season.
I know my esteemed publisher normally has the players to watch, but I think there are a couple of matchups this weekend that can’t be ignored. First one, and it’s pretty obvious, is Kansas City offensive tackle Damion McIntosh against San Diego outside linebacker Shawne Merriman.
Merriman is a mauler, a big physical linebacker who’s strong and quick enough to beat most offensive tackles consistently. McIntosh is a bigger, stronger player with the feet to put himself in front of just about anyone. He has to hold up against the Chargers and protect Damon Huard’s blind side Sunday or the Chiefs won’t have a shot at winning. Offensively, it’s the matchup of the game. Right tackle Kyle Turley also has to hold up against bookend outside linebacker Shaun Phillips, a smaller, quicker pass rusher.
Defensively, the team needs safety Jarrad Page to limit the damage Antonio Gates inflicts. As I pointed out earlier, he’s having a great season at the moment, but last year, Page was able to shut down Gates head to head. The Chargers like to use Gates as a big wide receiver, spreading him out on the perimeter often. Page is like a big corner. He has the athleticism and coverage ability to hold Gates in check. We’ll see if that holds true again this weekend.