By Charles Jay
Okay, I know that the altitude is going to play SOME kind of role on Monday night when the Los Angeles Chargers meet up with the Kansas City Chiefs. I’m just not sure how big a role it’s going to be, or which side is going to be at more of an advantage.
I can tell you that the Chiefs would probably prefer to turn it into a track meet, while the Chargers should be looking to do the ground-and-pound.
The numbers we use for WagerWAR are like this:
Kansas City Chiefs -5
Los Angeles Chargers +5
Over 53 points -110
Under 53 points -110
Patrick Mahomes came back to action with a flourish, throwing for 446 yards (with 157 to Tyreek Hill and a 63-yard TD to Mecole Hardman) last week against Tennessee. Hardman ran faster on that play than any other receiver in the league this season (yes, they can measure these things – he was traveling at 21.87 miles per hour).
But they wound up losing the game because they could not handle the Titans’ running game. Derrick Henry, the former Heisman winner who is a real load, had 188 yards. So the 530 offensive yards the Chiefs had went for naught.
Kansas City’s defense is a real problem right now, and that’s one reason they are now in a dogfight with none other than the Oakland Raiders for leadership of the AFC West. They are allowing 5.1 yards per carry, and 148 yards a game. They are last in the NFL in a very telling statistic called “Adjusted Line Yards,” which is a barometer of overall effectiveness of a defensive line in stopping running plays.
They are also last in the “stuff rate,” which measures how often a defensive line holds an opponent to no yards or negative yards. They’ve done that only 11% of the time. And they next to last in terms of yards allowed on the “second level,” meaning once a back gets at least five yards beyond the line of scrimmage.
Simply put, if a team has the equipment to run the ball, they can put some real hurt on the Chiefs.
In a sense, the stars could be aligning here for the Chargers. When you’re 7000 feet above sea level, somebody is going to be gasping for breath, particularly when you get late in the game. And if L.A. can keep the KC defense on the field, they will have a good chance to wear them down. Because the Chiefs don’t stop the run, there’s a real good shot of that happening. There is no doubt that Anthony Lynn has been a proponent of running the ball throughout his coaching career. And Melvin Gordon has settled in after that long holdout.
These are reasons I might side with the Chargers here; that and the fact that their defense, which played Mahomes in the 2018 season opener, limited him and the KC offense to just three explosive plays (those that went for 20 yards or more) when they got a second look at him.
But I wonder if they are really going to commit to the run. They have often seemed to get away from it, as Philip Rivers flings the ball all over the field. But hey, maybe not – they have actually run the ball 45.5% of the time in the last three games. So maybe they’ll do it.
They are also likely to be without key pass protector Russell Okung, so the best way to mitigate the effects of the Chiefs’ pass rush (30 sacks) may be a steady diet of the ground game. The Chiefs have to dig into the depth chart on the defensive line, as Emmanuel Ogbah and Alex Okafor are out.
Sure, if they are successful, the Chargers will chew up some clock. But the way I look at it, if they have a more well-rounded offense, they are going to score more points.
And you know, even though they held the Chiefs to a pass success rate of under 50% in both meetings last year, these games went to high scores (66 and 57 points). And L.A. had All-Pro safety Derwin James then; he is out with an injury now. The Chargers’ defense, the vast majority of the time, has had to stay on the field for a while, as they have forced three-and-outs only 14.9% of the time, which is next to last in the NFL. Both of these teams are in the bottom half of the league in preventing touchdowns in the red zone. And throw in the fact that I feel that defense will be hurt more under these conditions than offense, and I’m okay going with the “over” as well.
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