Young vs. old at QB in Chargers-Chiefs matchup
The Kansas City Chiefs face many questions entering the 2018 season, but when it comes to the readiness of quarterback Patrick Mahomes to assume command of the team's offense, head coach Andy Reid has no doubts.
"I like his approach to the game," Reid said. "He's given himself an opportunity to be successful is what he's doing, and he's just got to go do it."
All eyes should focus on Mahomes in Week 1 as the Chiefs travel to Los Angeles to face the Chargers on Sunday. The matchup of what many believe are the top two contenders for the AFC West title provides the winner with a crucial leg up in a battle that came down to Week 16 a year ago.
With all the changes in the division, the Chargers look like the Rock of Gibraltar.
That is especially true at quarterback with Philip Rivers setting sail on his 15th season as he continues to climb the NFL's all-time lists in nearly every passing category. Combine him with a prudent running game led by Melvin Gordon and targets that include Pro Bowler Keenan Allen and recently signed Antonio Gates. It seems like a wealth of riches on that side of the ball.
The Chargers hope to pick right up where they left off after being one of the hottest teams to end last year by winning nine of their final 12 games. The Chargers know they blew a chance last year to reach the playoffs because of an 0-4 start. They are determined to start fast this year and it would be a bonus to also pin a loss on a division foe.
Meanwhile, the Chiefs have surrounded Mahomes with plenty of options on the field. Running back Kareem Hunt led the league in rushing a year ago and both receiver Tyreek Hill and tight end Travis Kelce topped 1,000 yards. That's just the fifth time in league history a team pulled off that trifecta. With wide receiver Sammy Watkins added to the group of playmakers, Mahomes should have plenty of offensive firepower.
He may need it, too. The defense ranked 29th against the pass and 25th against the run a year ago. A poor performance from the secondary in the preseason prompted the Chiefs to sign free-agent cornerback Orlando Scandrick. The club also placed safety Daniel Sorensen on injured reserve. Strong safety Eric Berry, who hasn't practiced since Aug. 11, might not play because of a sore heel.
Speaking of defense, the Chargers also have impact players there, especially on the line. Defensive ends Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram supply a challenge to opposing quarterbacks and some believe first-round pick Derwin James, a safety, will have multiple Pro Bowls in his future.
It's the run defense that needed attention and it has gotten plenty with new faces and a new intensity. So far so good, but there are few areas which will be watched more closely.
From a game-plan standpoint, the Chiefs ran all over the Chargers a season ago, piling up 363 yards in two easy victories. Establishing the run early would allow Mahomes to settle into the offensive game plan.
On defense, the Chiefs will try to force turnovers because Rivers should be able to move the ball and put up points on a banged-up secondary with plenty of question marks. If the Chiefs find themselves in a shootout, expect Mahomes to work outside the pocket and use his big arm to force the ball deep.
While Rivers will certainly look to attack the Kansas City pass defense, running with Gordon will be important. It's unknown how much impact Gates will have, considering he didn't sign until after the cut to 53 players. Los Angeles lost starting tight end Hunter Henry to a torn ACL in the preseasons.
General manager Tom Telesco said, "He's coming back for all the right reasons. He's not coming back to put up more statistics. He's not coming back to prove anything to anybody because he doesn't have to do that. He's coming back because he loves his teammates and I think he sees something special in this football team and he wants to be a part of it."
This game will be a big test for the Chargers as they try to get off to a good start.
Updated September 5, 2018