Thursday Night Football has become synonymous with mediocre television. For some reason, most TNF matchups seem to involve two uninteresting teams in a game that means absolutely nothing. Not tonight, though. Tonight features a game between two highly-talented clubs with entertaining quarterbacks and a chance at a division title on the line. It’s a must-win for both teams, and that likely means we’re going to get a very slow-paced, low-scoring game.
Despite both teams averaging 27 points per game on the season — tied for eighth in the NFL, and featuring two of the most thrilling quarterbacks to watch, this game is going to come down to who can hold the ball longer.
Both the Chargers and Chiefs rank bottom-six in the NFL in yards per carry allowed. In fact, the Chargers have allowed at least 150 rushing yards and/or multiple rushing touchdowns in over half their games this season. In their first matchup, the Chiefs recorded 186 yards on the ground and still walked away defeated. Meanwhile, the Chargers recorded only 77 yards on 22 carries and still put up 30 points. Los Angeles won’t have the privilege of relying on their young star quarterback this time around, though.
Chiefs head coach Andy Reid is renowned for his ability to create impeccable game plans when given enough time. He’s like the football version of Batman, but with a much cooler mustache. Reid is 27-6 when his teams come off a bye — 20-3 in the regular season, 7-3 in the playoffs. He’s 7-1 after a bye with Patrick Mahomes as the quarterback. While he’s not coming off a bye this week, he is seeing the Chargers for the second time this year after suffering a loss in their first meet up, and revenge is on Reid’s mind.
In the last five years, every time the Chiefs have lost against a divisional opponent or won in a close game (one possession) during their first meet-up of the year, the Chiefs have stormed back in game number two and forced their opponents to play an entirely new style of football. In 2016, after an overtime win in Week 1 against the Chargers — when Phillip Rivers completed 70 percent of his passes, the Chiefs defense failed to force any turnovers, and Melvin Gordon ran the ball in for two scores — the two teams faced off again at the very end of the season. Rivers completed just 57.9 percent of his passes. The Chargers committed two turnovers, and failed to score a single time on the ground. The Chiefs led by three possessions going into the fourth quarter. That same year, after a narrow overtime victory over the Denver Broncos in Week 12, the Chiefs dominated their Mile High opponents 33-10 just four weeks later.
In 2017, Kansas City lost to the Raiders 31-30 in their first meeting. Derek Carr threw for three touchdowns and zero interceptions. He was not sacked a single time. In their second meeting, the Chiefs won while forcing two interceptions from Carr and bringing him to the ground three times — tied for their third-highest sack total for the season.
In 2018, the Denver Broncos forced Patrick Mahomes to have the worst game of his season to that point, recording just one touchdown and only 6.6 net yards per passing attempt, his lowest mark on the season through that game by over a full yard. Four weeks later, Mahomes threw for four touchdowns.
I could go further, but I think you get the point. Reid is Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution come to life, because very few people are better at adapting.
One way the Chiefs could force Herbert and the Chargers into bad situations would be to control the clock. Dominating time of possession forces rushed decisions and play-calling, something that most second-year quarterbacks tend to struggle with. Rushed decisions lead to turnovers. Turnovers lead to points. Points lead to victories. The Chargers allow the second-most yards per rushing attempt in the NFL. Expect a heavy dose of CEH and Darrell Williams in an effort to keep Herbert, Allen, Ekeler, and Williams on the sideline.
Everything I’ve said probably sounds like I expect the Chiefs to walk away with an easy victory, but that’s not the case. We still haven’t seen how well head coach Brandon Staley can adjust when seeing a team for the second time in a season. Perhaps he’ll be as good or even better than Andy Reid. The Chargers have the talent to keep up with the Chiefs, although this Chiefs team has been reborn during their current six-game win streak. Despite playing two top-10 offenses three times during their win streak, they’ve held each of their opponents under 20 points. With a defense that hot, it’s going to take a great game plan to come out on top.
Should be a great one, even if it should be much lower scoring than we think.