After a big win over the Las Vegas Raiders in Week 1, the LA Chargers are quickly turning around and hitting the road to take on the Kansas City Chiefs on Thursday Night Football. While there is a lot of football left to play in the 2022 season, this game could make-or-break who wins the AFC West when it ultimately comes down to it.
Justin Herbert has never lost at Arrowhead as these two teams have consistently battled since Herbert took over. Outside of the Week 17 game in 2020 when the Chiefs were resting their starters, every game between these two teams with Herbert under center has been decided by one score. The Chiefs' two wins were both in overtime.
NFL fans can expect an extremely exciting primetime game while Chargers fans can expect a dog fight that gets the butterflies going in the stomach. The Chiefs are a hard team to beat and the Chargers are going to have to game plan accordingly to come away with the victory.
In order to get an idea of what the Chargers can do to be successful in this game, we reached out to FanSided's resident Chiefs expert, Matt Conner. Matt is the editor over on Arrowhead Addict and he gracefully gave us a candid answer about a potential weakness that the Chargers can try to exploit on Thursday.
"Patrick Mahomes threw to a hundred targets (give or take 90) on Sunday against the Cardinals who are defensively challenged, and DC Vance Joseph did the one thing you cannot do against Mahomes which is to blitz. Whether it’s one or the house, Mahomes will almost always find the open guy. The response to last night was, “Wow, look at how such a diverse group of pass catchers allows this Chiefs offense to flow”, but Mahomes would have put up 44 if he’d had Tyreek back and didn’t have all these new weapons. ‘Zona’s own game plan shot them in the foot. What we haven’t proven yet is that this group of pass catchers is deep enough to create mismatches somewhere. Everyone is saying it, but it’s not yet proven. If the Chargers can frustrate Mahomes with their defensive front, it will be interesting to see how a deeper group of wideouts without that single superstar will react when defenses drop guys in coverage instead of sending them. Maybe the Chiefs will be fine and they’ll score 40 on everyone and Week 1 was for real. It was in a sense, because the Cardinals are a talented team that went to the playoffs last year. However, the defensive game plan was a gift and the Chargers won’t ring the doorbell at Arrowhead with the same presents in hand. "
Essentially, the Chargers need to not fall into the trap of blitzing Mahomes more than they need to as that will give him a mismatch down the field that he can quickly exploit. Conner is correct about Arizona playing into this strength of Mahomes as he was blitzed 22 times in Week 1, the most of any quarterback.
In short, the LA Chargers need to rely on their defensive front against the Chiefs and Patrick Mahomes.
Does this mean that the Chargers should not blitz Mahomes at all on Thursday night? No. The Chargers ran some nice disguised blitzes against the Raiders and they have the players that can match up one-on-one with the prominent Chiefs' pass-catchers (looking at you, Derwin James).
LA's defensive game plan seems to fit nicely into this narrative as the Bolts only blitzed Derek Carr seven times in Week 1 and were still able to get pressure on the quarterback. Granted, the Chiefs have a far better offensive line than the Raiders do.
If the Chargers can get pressure on Mahomes without sending the house then the Chiefs' offense is going to struggle in this game. There is no longer that Tyreek Hill dynamic that he can quickly throw to defeat the defense and James typically does really well against Travis Kelce.
If J.C. Jackson plays then the Chargers can even send a bit more pressure and not miss out on much as well. This would open the door for James to be a disguised blitzer in some packages with there being better help on Kelce.
Outside of that, though, the Chargers shouldn't be in the business of sending the house at Mahomes.