Things have changed since these two divisional foes met a month ago. At the end of that match up, the Chargers walked off the field with their head held high, knowing that they had finished off the first quarter of the season with a 3-1 record. Now, they go into the rematch with the Chiefs, hoping to not go 0 for 4 over the second quarter of the season. Coming off three straight losses, it would appear that we are in the midst of the yearly, San Diego collapse.
In the previous meeting the ball bounced San Diego’s way. Matt Cassel threw 3 picks, including one that bounced off his target and went directly to the defender, who promptly returned it for a touchdown. Jamaal Charles fumbled twice inside his only 30 yard line and Shaun Draughn chipped in a fumble of his own. Maybe Cassel will never be more than the average quarterback he's peaked at in the past. Maybe his NFL career is closer to being over than hitting a second wind. Still, he's been atrocious. He can be better than atrocious. As for Philip Rivers, maybe he'll never be that elite Super Bowl-winning QB the Chargers thought they were getting on draft night, but he can put up huge numbers. He has to do that to change the Chargers' course in 2012.
The Chiefs need to run the ball and need to do so effectively. While the Chargers have had a fantastic run defense over the first half of the season, the NFL saw last week against the Cleveland Browns that a commitment to the run could put them away. Trent Richardson was bottled up but simply ran through the walls that stood in his way. While Jamaal Charles isn't the same type of runner, he can have the same impact on a game. On defense, the Chiefs need to continue to grow and mature as a passing defense. As horrible as they were early in the season, they have improved as of late. Note: "Improved" doesn't mean good; it just means less than horrible. If they can look less than horrible against a struggling and hobbled Chargers passing offense, this game could be up for grabs.
Rivers has been under duress for most of the season, and a dose of Mathews hasn't slowed anyone down when it's time for Rivers to drop back. It might be too much to ask Norv Turner to start calling some quicker three-step drops, but Rivers needs to progress through his reads more quickly and make better decisions. As average as I think Cassel will be (and that will be an incredible improvement), Rivers will be the story of this game as he, too, returns to form—be it ever so temporary. Rivers has slumps every year, but he always pulls out of his tailspins no matter how many people are betting against him.
I'll have more NFL plays for Sunday as we head toward the weekend.