Kansas City Chiefs: San Diego Chargers

NFL Nation: 4 Downs -- AFC West

June, 5, 2014
Jun 5
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Whenever "the predictors" go to work, as Denver Broncos coach John Fox likes to call most anyone who tries to offer thoughts on how the NFL season will go, Fox will often point to what happened in the AFC West in 2013 to show the relative worth of preseason predictions.

"Our division was supposed to be one of the worst, people had plenty to say about that," Fox said. "But then when things finished between the white lines, three teams went to the playoffs and it was really one of the toughest divisions. Our expectation is that it will be tough and that we need to be ready to earn what we get."

Whether or not the division can duplicate its 2013 postseason trifecta remains to be seen, but the AFC West team that may have made the biggest roster splash in last month's draft was the one team in the division that didn't make the playoffs: the Oakland Raiders.

With the rest of the division picking in the bottom third of each round, the Raiders took full advantage of location, location, location, grabbing Khalil Mack at No. 5 overall, quarterback Derek Carr with the fourth pick of the second round and Louisiana Tech defensive tackle Justin Ellis with the seventh pick of the fourth round. Add in guard Gabe Jackson with the 17th pick of the third round and the Raiders were workmanlike in their pursuit of immediate contributors.

But did everybody complete their pre-draft missions? NFL Nation's AFC West reporters -- Jeff Legwold in Denver, Adam Teicher in Kansas City, Eric D. Williams in San Diego and Paul Gutierrez in Oakland tackle it all in 4 Downs.

First Down

John Elway's offseason mission was for the Broncos to get "faster, more athletic, across the board." Have the Broncos succeeded?


Paul Gutierrez: File this one under the heading "The rich get richer," and amend to "The conference champs get faster, more athletic across the board." So, in a word, yes. First, the Broncos added DeMarcus Ware and Aqib Talib in free agency, and while they may have lost a step not only due to age, but to the enormous chips on their respective shoulders, they were steps few others had in the first place. Then the Broncos went out and drafted a cornerback who ran a 4.39-second 40-yard dash in Ohio State's Bradley Roby to help soothe the loss of Champ Bailey, and then a big, physical receiver in Indiana's Cody Latimer to give Peyton Manning another target in the wake of Eric Decker's departure to Gotham and the New York Jets. So, yeah, I think the Broncos accomplished Elway's goal. The real trick, then, is putting it all together in the postseason in general -- the Super Bowl in particular -- because, as I've written before, no team excels at losing on Super Sunday in more spectacular fashion this side of Fran Tarkenton's Minnesota Vikings than Elway's Broncos. And to bite a rhyme for Tarkenton's old 1980s show, That's Incredible!

Jeff Legwold: They careened into free agency, checkbook in hand, and came away with DeMarcus Ware, Aqib Talib, T.J. Ward and Emmanuel Sanders. The first two players they selected in the draft were two of the fastest on the board at speed positions -- cornerback Bradley Roby and wide receiver Cody Latimer. The feeling inside the Broncos' complex this offseason is that as the injuries piled up last season, their depth chart was good enough for them to make the Super Bowl, but their team speed and athleticism suffered. As they now get into the teeth of their offseason program, it's clear that with the new additions and the return of most of those players who were injured last season, they have a far more athletic roster than they did in a 35-point loss to the Seahawks in Super Bowl XLVIII.

Adam Teicher: Picking near the bottom of every early round makes it difficult for a team to get a lot done. But it looks like the Broncos accomplished what John Elway wanted them to with their first couple of picks, at least. Not that Bradley Roby is Champ Bailey or Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, at least not yet. But he's faster and is otherwise the athletic superior of those other guys at this point in their careers. Cody Latimer is one of those guys the Chiefs will probably regret they didn't get. With his size and speed, Latimer has what teams are looking for in a receiver. And with the Broncos, he won't have the pressure to produce big results immediately.

Eric D. Williams: On paper, Denver looks more athletic on defense in particular with the additions of DeMarcus Ware, T.J. Ward and Aqib Talib. But those three players, along with first-round selection Bradley Roby, still have to mesh and develop some chemistry with the rest of the defense, and that might lead to some growing pains early. More importantly, I'm not totally sold that the Broncos fixed the team's most glaring issue from the lopsided Super Bowl loss to Seattle -- protecting Peyton Manning. Getting back a healthy Ryan Clady will be critical for the Broncos, along with better overall performances from Orlando Franklin at left guard and Chris Clark at right tackle.


Second Down


Did the Chiefs make a mistake by not drafting a wide receiver?



Gutierrez: It would appear as such, especially with the consensus feeling out there before the draft that the Chiefs' biggest need was a receiver. Dwayne Bowe is coming off a career-low 11.8 yards per catch average, while Donnie Avery's two touchdown receptions were the fewest of his career as a starter. Both will be 30 by the end of September, and at the beginning of June, those are essentially the only wideout weapons at Alex Smith's disposal. And it's not as if the Chiefs were lighting it up in the passing game, anyway. The Chiefs had the 24th-ranked passing game in the NFL last season, and when their first pick came up at No. 23 overall, four receivers had already been taken in Sammy Watkins, Mike Evans, Odell Beckham Jr. and Brandin Cooks. So, sure, the top-rated pass-catchers may have already been gone, but Kelvin Benjamin and Marqise Lee were both still on the board when the Chiefs instead chose a defensive end in Dee Ford. Unless Bowe and Avery experience career renaissances, or someone else shows up, the Chiefs will regret passing on a receiver with that first pick, especially since they were without a second-round selection.

Legwold: Having seen what Andy Reid has done in the past in the passing game with running backs like Duce Staley and LeSean McCoy, it's likely fourth-round pick De'Anthony Thomas is going to see plenty of time lined up like a wide receiver. And if Thomas plays to his pre-draft scouting report, he should have some impact. The Chiefs were not that productive at wideout last season and seem locked in on Dwayne Bowe improving in 2014, and A.J. Jenkins will give them more as well. But if they don't like what they see in the coming weeks, they may have to sign a veteran when cuts get made around the league in August and September.

Teicher: They didn't make a mistake if they didn't like any of the available receivers when they made their picks in the first and third rounds. But it's difficult to see how the passing game will continue to flourish as it did late last season without the Chiefs getting at least some help from one of their draft picks. Their wide receivers were among the least productive in the league last season and they lost Dexter McCluster, one of their leading pass-catchers. There seems to be a lot of wishful thinking going on at the position. Maybe Dwayne Bowe will bounce back with a better season or Donnie Avery can be more consistent. Perhaps A.J. Jenkins, a former first-round draft pick with the San Francisco 49ers, can improve. It's possible CFL veteran Weston Dressler or speedy fourth-round draft pick De'Anthony Thomas can provide a boost. But from this vantage point it appears the Chiefs have a collection of players at this position who don't add up to much.

Williams: Consistent production at receiver appears to be the Achilles' heel of Kansas City's offense heading into the 2014 season. Dwayne Bowe was considered a true No. 1 receiver three years ago, but hasn't caught more than five touchdown passes in a season since 2010. Donnie Avery can serve as a vertical threat if he can stay healthy. Young players like A.J. Jenkins and Junior Hemingway have the potential to develop into regular contributors, while fourth-round selection De'Anthony Thomas could replace some of the production Kansas City lost due to Dexter McCluster signing with Tennessee in free agency. But the Chiefs do not have an outside receiver who puts fear into an opposing secondary.


Third Down

Did the San Diego Chargers add enough talent through the draft to improve an inconsistent pass defense from last season?



Gutierrez: Well, let's see. The Chargers finished 2013 with the 29th-ranked pass defense in the NFL, last in the AFC West. Only the Dallas Cowboys, Minnesota Vikings and Philadelphia Eagles were worse overall. So San iego (see what I did there, no 'D' in the Chargers' game?) went out and used its first-round pick, No. 25 overall, on TCU's Jason Verrett, a dark horse of a cornerback if there ever was one in this draft. He was the fourth corner chosen, behind Justin Gilbert, Kyle Fuller and Darqueze Dennard, and should start for the Bolts immediately. A pass-rushing linebacker in Georgia Tech's Jeremiah Attaochu was taken in the second round and the Chargers went defensive tackle in the fifth round with Arkansas State's Ryan Carrethers. And that was it on the defensive side of the ball in the Chargers' draft. So on the surface, by taking only one player from the secondary, the answer would appear to be a healthy ... no. But if Attaochu and Carrethers can supply adequate pressure to affect the quarterback, at least more than last year, how does a healthy "maybe" grab you?

Legwold: The Chargers largely kept it in the fairway in free agency and the draft, preferring a low-key approach they believe will allow them to keep their playoff status. Grind it out will keep it close, but it won't consistently beat the Broncos. It will take explosiveness and perhaps even a turnover or two on top of that. The Chargers played the Broncos better than anyone last season, at least until the Seahawks dismantled Denver in Super Bowl XLVIII. But the Broncos filled holes and actually made their depth chart better. The Chargers look like they have made moves that will help them grow, but at first blush it doesn't look like they did enough to unseat Denver, provided the Broncos keep Peyton Manning and the bulk of their starters healthy.

Teicher: It's difficult to fault the Chargers' efforts. In going 1-2 in the draft with a cornerback, TCU's Jason Verrett, and a pass-rusher, Georgia Tech's Jeremiah Attaochu, the Chargers tried to make the necessary repairs. But Verrett is small and probably best suited to playing nickelback. If that's where he plays, he's a part-timer. As for Attaochu, it's unusual for rookie pass-rushers to come in and have a huge immediate impact, particularly those who aren't selected near the top of the draft. It's not wise for the Chargers to count on a lot from him as a rookie.

Williams: San Diego's first two picks in this year's draft, cornerback Jason Verrett and edge rusher Jeremiah Attaochu, should make an impact in their rookie seasons, upgrading a defense that finished No. 29 against the pass in 2013. Verrett is still rehabbing from surgery to repair a torn labrum and likely won't be cleared to practice until August. But San Diego plans on getting him on the field quickly and can use his tenacity and speed in the back end. Attaochu gives the Chargers much-needed speed off the edge defensively. But besides those two, San Diego's defense should improve against the pass because of a healthy Dwight Freeney and Melvin Ingram providing a more consistent pass rush in 2014.


Fourth Down

Will the Raiders' plan to take a play from the Packers -- having their QB of the future (Aaron Rodgers) sit behind the starter (Brett Favre) for a few seasons -- come to fruition, or will Derek Carr supplant Matt Schaub as Oakland's starter this season?



Gutierrez: Stop me if you've heard this before, but this was also Oakland's plan last year ... so to speak. The Raiders acquired Matt Flynn to be their franchise QB and had designs on drafting Matt Barkley before taking Tyler Wilson instead. Terrelle Pryor and Matt McGloin eventually split the gig and neither Flynn nor Wilson made it to the end of the season, while Pryor was traded away in April. This time, though, the Raiders insist they have it right, with coach Dennis Allen going so far as to say that Schaub is a top-10 quarterback in the NFL. They better be right. Because if Carr takes any significant snaps this season, that means something went terribly wrong with Schaub, a two-time Pro Bowler who passed for more than 4,000 yards three times between 2009 and 2012 but is coming off a nightmarish season with the Houston Texans. And after last year's fiasco under center, the brain trust of general manager Reggie McKenzie and Allen can ill afford another such dud. Unless, of course, Carr does supplant Schaub and is the second coming. But that would be dumb luck, and that's not Oakland's plan ... at the moment.

Legwold: Coach Dennis Allen has consistently said he believes Schaub is a top-10 quarterback. But his actions this season will show whether he really believes that or not. The Raiders certainly drafted Carr with the idea he could be the quarterback of the future. But that means the Raiders will have to have organizational discipline to live with the plan. That means avoiding a knee-jerk reaction to public sentiment if Schaub makes mistakes, and keeping Carr on the bench. If the plan is for him to watch and learn, then stick to it; let him watch and learn no matter what is going on around the team. If the Raiders have some success and Schaub can rise above the mistakes, it will be far easier to keep Carr next to a clipboard rather than behind center.

Teicher: It's best for the Raiders in the short term, at least, if Schaub is their starting quarterback for all of 2014. Starting a rookie quarterback is, in most cases, a prelude to disaster. That hasn't always been the case, but generally speaking a team needs more going for it than Oakland has to succeed with a rookie QB. So the best-case scenario for the Raiders is for Schaub to play well enough to allow him to keep his job. They don't need Dennis Allen making the panic move to save his job by switching to Carr, who may or may not be ready to play. Oakland needs Schaub to succeed to the point where you're asking the same question at this time next year.

Williams: Dennis Allen and Reggie McKenzie need to finish around .500 to save their jobs, so the more games Schaub plays and is effective, the better the chance of that happening. Carr has a strong arm and is an interesting prospect, but he's not ready to lead a team and win on a consistent basis in the NFL. The Raiders need Schaub to hop in a time-travel machine and perform like he did in 2009, when he led the league in passing yards and earned a trip to the Pro Bowl.

Top free-agent roundup: AFC West

March, 10, 2014
Mar 10
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The AFC West produced three playoff teams and the eventual AFC title winner in the Denver Broncos, so it should come as no surprise that many top free agents come from the division. Oakland Raiders reporter Paul Gutierrez, Broncos reporter Jeff Legwold, Kansas City Chiefs reporter Adam Teicher and San Diego Chargers reporter Eric D. Williams break down the top 15:

1. Branden Albert, Chiefs offensive tackle: Kansas City won’t franchise him this year. Albert will get a nice contract elsewhere.

2. Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, Broncos cornerback: He’s not yet 30 and still a top-tier athlete.

3. Eric Decker, Broncos wide receiver: Productive in scoring zone, will be one of the biggest wide receivers on open market, but rarely faced opponents’ top cornerback in Broncos offense.

4. Lamarr Houston, Raiders defensive end: Better suited to the left side because he’s not the prototypical speed-rusher.

Moreno
5. Knowshon Moreno, Broncos running back: Has had multiple knee surgeries, including one on a torn ACL in 2011, but he runs with passion, is solid in pass protection and a productive receiver.

6. Jared Veldheer, Raiders offensive tackle: Didn’t have a very good season in 2013 but would attract some attention as a free agent.

7. Geoff Schwartz, Chiefs guard: Was a free-agent find for Kansas City last season. Can play right tackle if needed.

8. Jon Asamoah, Chiefs guard: A better pass-protector than run-blocker. He will be only 26 in July.

9. Shaun Phillips, Broncos linebacker: He’ll be 33 in May but showed last season that he can still be an effective situational pass-rusher.

10. Zane Beadles, Broncos guard: For a movement-based front, he’s a smart, durable option who played in every game while with Denver.

McCluster
McCluster
11. Dexter McCluster, Chiefs wide receiver/punt returner: Hasn’t had a huge impact on the offense in Kansas City, but he will be only 26 in August.

12. Robert Ayers, Broncos defensive end: Had his best season in 2013, so maybe he’s a late bloomer.

13. Tyson Jackson, Chiefs defensive end: Like Ayers, he had his best season in 2013, so maybe he’s figuring it out as well.

14. Tracy Porter, Raiders cornerback: He’s versatile enough to cover the slot receiver, and he had one of his better seasons in 2013.

15. Kendrick Lewis, Chiefs safety: He’s only 25 but was a better player earlier in his career. He hasn’t been the same since a shoulder injury in 2012.

Upon Further Review: Chiefs-Chargers

December, 30, 2013
12/30/13
11:00
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Chiefs reporter Adam Teicher and Chargers reporter Eric Williams discuss the state of their teams after Sunday's game.

Live blog: Chiefs at Chargers

December, 29, 2013
12/29/13
2:30
PM ET
Join our ESPN.com NFL experts as they break down the Kansas City Chiefs' visit to the San Diego Chargers. Contribute your thoughts and questions beginning at 4:15 p.m. ET. And, be sure to visit our NFL Nation Blitz page for commentary from every game, as well as fan photos and the latest buzz from Twitter. See you there.
 
Philip Rivers, Alex SmithAP Photo San Diego's Philip Rivers is seeking a season sweep over Alex Smith and the playoff-bound Chiefs.
The Kansas City Chiefs already punched their ticket into the postseason, while the San Diego Chargers cling to a sliver of hope that they can sneak into the playoffs.

The two AFC West rivals meet at Qualcomm Stadium in the final regular-season game with different things at stake.

At 11-4, staying healthy will be the key task for Kansas City. The Chiefs are locked into the No. 5 seed in the AFC playoffs, and likely will use the game as a tune-up for the postseason, resting key players and getting younger guys some playing time.

Sitting at 8-7, competing for a chance to play another week is the goal for the Chargers. They need a win over Kansas City and losses from Baltimore and Miami to make the playoffs for the first time since 2009.

ESPN.com Chiefs reporter Adam Teicher and Chargers reporter Eric D. Williams take a closer look the matchup:

Teicher: Eric, the Chargers have really improved on defense since playing against the Chiefs last month, allowing an average of 16 points over the four games. Where have the Chargers made the improvements that have made the difference?

Williams: The Chargers finally are healthy on that side of the ball. Outside linebackers Jarret Johnson (hand) and Melvin Ingram (knee) played together for the first time this season against the New York Giants three weeks ago. And defensive coordinator John Pagano replaced a struggling Derek Cox at cornerback with eight-year veteran Richard Marshall a week earlier against Cincinnati. The infusion of more talented veteran players created more cohesion and better communication, resulting in more consistent defensive play. San Diego also is doing a better job of creating turnovers. The Chargers have forced eight turnovers in the past four games, leading to 30 points on offense. San Diego created just nine turnovers in the first 11 games. Lastly, the Chargers are getting off of the field on third down, with a 31 percent third-down efficiency rate (13-of-42) over the past four games.

After a 9-0 start, the Chiefs have lost four of their past six games by an average margin of nine points a contest. What are the reasons for Kansas City’s recent slide?

Teicher: They’ve been playing better opponents, mainly. Of those four losses, three have come against teams already in the playoffs (Denver twice and Indianapolis). The other is against a team that could get into the postseason (Chargers). Those opponents all have Pro Bowl-quality quarterbacks. Meanwhile, Kansas City’s two wins in this stretch have come against struggling teams with struggling quarterbacks (Washington and Oakland). The Chiefs look worn out defensively. They were relentless in getting after the opposing quarterback over the first half of the season, but their pass rush has largely disappeared other than a big game against Washington. They also have tackled poorly over the past few games. The Chiefs had been scoring points in bunches, muting the effect of their defensive collapse. But even that ended last Sunday when they scored just seven points against the Colts.

The Chargers can still make the playoffs but could be eliminated before kickoff on Sunday. How would they handle the Chiefs game if indeed either the Ravens or Dolphins win their respective games?

Williams: Both head coach Mike McCoy and quarterback Philip Rivers emphasized the importance of finishing 9-7 versus 8-8. Rivers called it playing with character, while McCoy has emphasized the one-game-at-time approach all season. For McCoy, finishing above .500 in his first year as part of the rebuilding effort with general manager Tom Telesco would be viewed as a success. The players and coaches will have the games on in the locker room as they prepare for the Chiefs, so San Diego should know where it stands before game time. But the Chargers maintain whether they have a chance to make the playoffs or not will not have an impact on their approach to the game.

Kansas City running back Jamaal Charles is having an MVP-type season. Along with his 1,287 rushing yards, Charles has career highs in total touchdowns (19), receptions (70) and receiving yards (693). How have Andy Reid and offensive coordinator Doug Pederson effectively gotten Charles involved in the passing game?

Teicher: They’re playing to his strength, which is his ability to play in the open field. The Chiefs have done a nice job of using personnel groupings and formations to get Charles matched up on a linebacker. The Chiefs, of course, go to Charles every time when that happens. It took some time before they got the timing down, but the Chiefs also are using Charles more effectively of late with screen passes. He scored three touchdowns in a recent game against the Oakland Raiders on screen passes, and a fourth when the Chiefs got him matched up against a linebacker.

Whether or not the Chargers make the playoffs this year, do you see them as contenders in the AFC West next season? What are some of the necessary steps they must take to get there?

Williams: Good question. With Rivers, the Chargers have a quarterback in place to compete for an AFC West title. But San Diego needs to improve the talent on both sides of the ball. Specifically on offense, the Chargers could use an explosive receiver who can stretch the field on the perimeter, and competition at both guard spots. On defense, San Diego must add a cornerback, pass-rusher and run-stuffer inside. The Chargers also could use a kick returner/punt returner. Even if they don’t make the playoffs, one thing McCoy accomplished in his first season is establishing an identity and consistent blueprint for winning each week, which the organization can build on in 2014.

The Chiefs are locked in as the No. 5 seed in the AFC playoffs, but they could travel to New England, Cincinnati or Indianapolis depending on what happens on Sunday. What team is the best matchup for the Chiefs, and will they rest players with nothing on the line this weekend?

Teicher: As far as resting some key players on Sunday, that looks likely, at least to an extent. Most likely the Chiefs will start the game with most or all of their key players in the lineup and then at some point send some of them to the bench. Quarterback Alex Smith and Charles are among the players you shouldn’t expect to see much of. As far as the best wild-card round playoff matchup for the Chiefs, I think it’s the Colts, believe it or not. Indianapolis dominated the Chiefs 23-7 at Arrowhead Stadium last week, but I still believe the Chiefs have a better chance of winning at Indianapolis than either New England or Cincinnati. The Chiefs were minus-4 in turnovers against the Colts and allowed a couple of big plays, one on a busted coverage and the other when they missed three tackles.

 
Philip Rivers, Alex SmithAP Photo San Diego's Philip Rivers is seeking a season sweep over Alex Smith and the playoff-bound Chiefs.
The Kansas City Chiefs already punched their ticket into the postseason, while the San Diego Chargers cling to a sliver of hope that they can sneak into the playoffs.

The two AFC West rivals meet at Qualcomm Stadium in the final regular-season game with different things at stake.

For the 11-4 Chiefs, staying healthy will be the key task. They are locked into the No. 5 seed in the AFC playoffs and will likely use the game as a tuneup for the postseason, resting key players and giving younger guys some playing time.

The goal for the 8-7 Chargers is a chance to play another week. They need a win over Kansas City and losses by Baltimore and Miami to make the playoffs for the first time since 2009.

ESPN.com Chiefs reporter Adam Teicher and Chargers reporter Eric D. Williams take a closer look the matchup:

Teicher: Eric, the Chargers have really improved on defense since playing against the Chiefs last month, allowing an average of 16 points over the four games. Where have the Chargers made the improvements that have made the difference?

Williams: The Chargers finally are healthy on that side of the ball. Outside linebackers Jarret Johnson (hand) and Melvin Ingram (knee) played together for the first time this season against the New York Giants three weeks ago. And defensive coordinator John Pagano replaced a struggling Derek Cox at cornerback with eight-year veteran Richard Marshall a week earlier against Cincinnati. The infusion of more talented veteran players created more cohesion and better communication, resulting in more consistent defensive play. San Diego also is doing a better job of creating turnovers. The Chargers have forced eight turnovers in the past four games, leading to 30 points on offense. San Diego created just nine turnovers in the first 11 games. Lastly, the Chargers are getting off of the field on third down, with a 31 percent third-down efficiency rate (13-of-42) over the past four games.

After a 9-0 start, the Chiefs have lost four of their past six games by an average margin of nine points a contest. What are the reasons for Kansas City’s recent slide?

Teicher: They’ve been playing better opponents, mainly. Of those four losses, three have come against teams already in the playoffs (Denver twice and Indianapolis). The other is against a team that could get into the postseason (Chargers). Those opponents all have Pro Bowl-quality quarterbacks. Meanwhile, Kansas City’s two wins in this stretch have come against struggling teams with struggling quarterbacks (Washington and Oakland). The Chiefs look worn out defensively. They were relentless in getting after the opposing quarterback over the first half of the season, but their pass rush has largely disappeared other than a big game against Washington. They also have tackled poorly over the past few games. The Chiefs had been scoring points in bunches, muting the effect of their defensive collapse. But even that ended last Sunday when they scored just seven points against the Colts.

The Chargers can still make the playoffs but could be eliminated before kickoff on Sunday. How would they handle the Chiefs game if indeed either the Ravens or Dolphins win?

Williams: Both head coach Mike McCoy and quarterback Philip Rivers emphasized the importance of finishing 9-7 versus 8-8. Rivers called it playing with character, while McCoy has emphasized the one-game-at-a-time approach all season. For McCoy, finishing above .500 in his first year as part of the rebuilding effort with general manager Tom Telesco would be viewed as a success. The players and coaches will have the games on in the locker room as they prepare for the Chiefs, so San Diego should know where it stands before game time. But the Chargers maintain whether they have a chance to make the playoffs or not will not have an impact on their approach to the game.

Kansas City running back Jamaal Charles is having an MVP-type season. Along with his 1,287 rushing yards, Charles has career highs in total touchdowns (19), receptions (70) and receiving yards (693). How have Andy Reid and offensive coordinator Doug Pederson effectively gotten Charles involved in the passing game?

Teicher: They’re playing to his strength, which is his ability to play in the open field. The Chiefs have done a nice job of using personnel groupings and formations to get Charles matched up on a linebacker. The Chiefs, of course, go to Charles every time when that happens. It took some time before they got the timing down, but the Chiefs also are using Charles more effectively of late with screen passes. He scored three touchdowns in a recent game against the Oakland Raiders on screen passes, and a fourth when the Chiefs got him matched up against a linebacker.

Whether or not the Chargers make the playoffs this year, do you see them as contenders in the AFC West next season? What are some of the necessary steps they must take to get there?

Williams: Good question. With Rivers, the Chargers have a quarterback in place to compete for an AFC West title. But San Diego needs to improve the talent on both sides of the ball. Specifically on offense, the Chargers could use an explosive receiver who can stretch the field on the perimeter, and competition at both guard spots. On defense, San Diego must add a cornerback, pass-rusher and run-stuffer inside. The Chargers also could use a kick returner/punt returner. Even if they don’t make the playoffs, one thing McCoy accomplished in his first season is establishing an identity and consistent blueprint for winning each week, which the organization can build on in 2014.

The Chiefs are locked in as the No. 5 seed in the AFC playoffs, but they could travel to New England, Cincinnati or Indianapolis depending on what happens on Sunday. What team is the best matchup for the Chiefs, and will they rest players with nothing on the line this weekend?

Teicher: As far as resting some key players on Sunday, that looks likely, at least to an extent. Most likely the Chiefs will start the game with most or all of their key players in the lineup and then at some point, send some of them to the bench. Quarterback Alex Smith and Charles are among the players you shouldn’t expect to see much of. As far as the best wild-card matchup for the Chiefs, I think it’s the Colts, believe it or not. Indianapolis dominated the Chiefs 23-7 at Arrowhead Stadium last week, but I still believe the Chiefs have a better chance of winning at Indianapolis than either New England or Cincinnati. The Chiefs were minus-4 in turnovers against the Colts and allowed a couple of big plays, one on a busted coverage and the other when they missed three tackles.

Live blog: Chargers at Chiefs

November, 24, 2013
11/24/13
10:00
AM ET
Join our ESPN.com NFL experts as they break down the San Diego Chargers' visit to the Kansas City Chiefs. Contribute your thoughts and questions beginning at 1 p.m. ET. And, be sure to visit our NFL Nation Blitz page for commentary from every game, as well as fan photos and the latest buzz from Twitter. See you there.
 
Johnson/MatthewsGetty ImagesThe improved Kansas City Chiefs defense, led by linebacker Derrick Johnson, will be a challenge for the San Diego Chargers and running back Ryan Mathews.

The Kansas City Chiefs lost their first game of the season last weekend against the Broncos in Denver, but at 9-1 they remain tied for first place in the AFC West. On Sunday, they return home to face another divisional rival, the San Diego Chargers, who after losing their last three games have fallen to 4-6.

But the Chargers are still in contention for a wild-card berth, so both teams have a lot to play for Sunday at Arrowhead Stadium. ESPN Chiefs reporter Adam Teicher and Chargers reporter Eric D. Williams discuss the upcoming game.

Teicher: Philip Rivers has revived his career after a couple of -- for him -- down seasons. How do you explain him turning things around? Is it as a simple as a coaching/system change?

Williams: Rivers has been helped by a scheme change implemented by Mike McCoy and offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt. With a reliance on a short passing game, Rivers is getting the ball out quick to his playmakers, evidenced by his league-leading 70.9 completion percentage. However, Rivers has struggled during San Diego’s three-game losing streak. He has completed 64.2 percent of his passes, throwing four touchdowns and three interceptions. Rivers also has been sacked eight times in the past three games and has an 89.1 passer rating.

Speaking about the quarterback position, I understand Andy Reid had some familiarity with Alex Smith. Can you explain what went into the Chiefs making the decision to acquire Smith. And can Kansas City win a Super Bowl with him?

Teicher: When he was with the Eagles, Reid inquired about trading for Smith. He liked him coming out of college and has always admired his skills. Between free agency, trades and the draft, the quarterback market was awfully slim this year, and Smith was, in Reid’s opinion, by far the best option. Reid thought he was an accurate passer and the ideal fit for his version of the West Coast offense. He liked how Smith survived some rough seasons early in his career and thrived when his football world stabilized after the 49ers hired Jim Harbaugh as coach. Smith isn’t the kind of passer who can carry a team on his back. In order to win a Super Bowl, he will have to be surrounded by the right type of talent.

The Chargers’ leading wide receiver, Keenan Allen, is a rookie whom many Chiefs fans won’t be familiar with. Give us a little scouting report on Allen.

Williams: Allen’s draft stock took a hit when he suffered a knee injury during the second half of his final season at Cal. The Chargers snapped Allen up in the third round. With Danario Alexander and Malcom Floyd placed on the injured reserve with season-ending injuries, Allen emerged as San Diego’s go-to receiving threat on the perimeter. At 6-foot-2 and 211 pounds, Allen is sneaky fast with reliable hands. He does a nice job of creating separation out of his breaks, and for a big guy, he has some wiggle to create explosive runs after the catch. Allen also has a flair for making a big play in critical moments of the game. He is third on the team in catches with 41 for 613 yards and three touchdowns.

With four defensive players making the Pro Bowl last season for the Chiefs, the talent has always been there. But Kansas City defensive coordinator Bob Sutton has this unit playing at a high level. How has Sutton done it? And specifically, how has the improvement of defensive tackle Dontari Poe contributed to the defense’s success?

Teicher: Sutton is playing to the strengths of the individual players and putting them in spots where they can excel. It sounds simple, but that’s not something the Chiefs had done very well in recent seasons. They let their cornerbacks play press man-to-man coverage and then try to pressure the quarterback. Justin Houston spent a lot of time dropping into coverage last season, but he’s getting to rush the quarterback more this year. As far as Poe, he’s been central to their success on defense. He has generated consistent push up the middle in the pass rush but also has been strong against the run. He’s like a lot of young defensive linemen. It takes most of them some developmental time before they become premier players, and that was the case with Poe last season as a rookie.

Judging from the Chargers’ defensive stats, it looks like they should be giving up a lot of points. They’re allowing 4.8 yards per rush, and opposing quarterbacks are completing almost 68 percent of their throws with a passer rating of over 100. They’ve also forced only seven turnovers. So how is it that they’re 11th in the league in scoring defense?

Williams: Good question. While defensive coordinator John Pagano’s unit might lack talent at key positions, he makes up for it in innovation. The Chargers use multiple looks defensively, creating the illusion of pressure up front to mask the fact that they don’t have an elite pass-rusher. Pagano’s defense has been decent getting off the field on third down, but they’ve also benefited from a ball-control offense that eats up time of possession, so they’re not on the field as much. The Chargers held Denver’s prolific offense to 28 points, but the team also is susceptible to giving up explosive plays due to poor tackling.

Kansas City leads the NFL with a turnover differential of plus-15, including a league-low nine giveaways. The Chiefs had a league-worst minus-24 turnover differential last season. How have the Chiefs dramatically changed course in this important barometer of success in the NFL?

Teicher: Much of the difference can be traced to the quarterback. Last season, Matt Cassel and Brady Quinn committed 27 turnovers combined, including fumbles and interceptions. This year, Smith has thrown four interceptions and hasn't lost a fumble. One of the qualities Reid liked about Smith is that he doesn't commit many turnovers. On defense, the Chiefs are pressuring the opposing quarterback more than last season, resulting in more forced turnovers.

Chat wrap: A Pryor plan?

August, 22, 2013
8/22/13
7:00
PM ET
We held our AFC West (sans Denver) chat earlier Thursday. Here are some highlights:

Kansas City

John from Fairbanks, Alaska: How dominant can this Chiefs linebackers group be? [Tamba] Hali and [Justin] Houston both top 10 sacks?

Bill Williamson: Could be best group of 3-4 linebackers in the NFL. Expect a huge season from those guys.

Oakland

Sheldon from Washington, DC: Any chance Terrelle Pryor gets some snaps with the first-team offense tomorrow night against Chicago?

BW: I wouldn't be shocked. Why not? Get him some work with the better players. If he is going to have a chance to start at some point, might as well see what he can do

San Diego

Nick W. from Indianapolis: I now it's still very early. But how do you think the [Mike] McCoy era is starting?

BW: Yes, it's early. Players like him. Camp went well. So far, so good. But wins and losses is what matters most.

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