A detailed look at the key players to watch for the San Diego Chargers and the Kansas City Chiefs’ keys to victory leading up to their Week 17 game at 3:25 p.m. at Qualcolmm Stadium in San Diego. The game will air on CBS (Ch. 5 in Kansas City).
Coach: Mike McCoy (27-36) is in his fourth year as an NFL head coach, all with the Chargers. McCoy, 44, made his bones in the NFL as an offensive coordinator for Carolina and Denver and is known for his work with quarterbacks. He’s been dealing with rumors about his job security for the better part of a year.
Offense: Ken Whisenhunt, 54, is in his second stint as McCoy’s offensive coordinator and his fifth overall as an NFL coordinator. The Chargers rank sixth in the league in passing (261.9 yards per game) and 27th in rushing (92.1). The Chargers have passed the ball approximately 61 percent of the time, which ranks 14th in the NFL, and have gone shotgun on approximately 62 percent of their offensive plays. The Chargers are also a predominantly three-wide team that will throw some tight ends into the mix too and rank in the middle of the league in playaction usage (17 percent, according to Football Outsiders).
Defense: John Pagano, 49, is in his fifth year as the Chargers’ defensive coordinator and his fifth overall as an NFL defensive coordinator. The Chargers currently rank 19th in passing defense (248.3) and 10th in rushing defense (97.6). The Chargers rank 12th in the NFL with 34 sacks and fourth in turnovers forced (27th).
Special teams: Craig Aukerman is in his first year as McCoy’s special teams coach and first overall as a NFL special teams coach. Kicker Josh Lambo has converted 80 percent of his field goals, which ranks 27th. He missed a potential game-winner last week, which allowed a hapless Cleveland team its first win of the season. Punter Drew Kaser has dropped 18 punts inside the 20, which ranks 27th. The Chargers rank 30th in kick-return average and 26th in punt-return average. The kick-coverage unit ranks 26th, but their punt coverage unit ranks fifth.
Four keys to a Chiefs victory
1. Call ’em all
The Chiefs rallied from a 17-point deficit to topple the Chargers in Week 1, largely because the Chiefs offense finally awoke from a first-half funk. The Chiefs threw it around good that game, as quarterback Alex Smith racked up 363 yards and two touchdowns. Those 363 yards, by the way, remain a single-game high for Smith, who hasn’t fully let it rip with similar results since then. The Chiefs did it then by turning to their three-wide personnel, so after they probe the running game early Sunday, and try to be balanced, formation-wise, they might opt to start slinging it around. They might need to: The addition of edge rusher Joey Bosa and emergence of cornerback Casey Hayward has given the Chargers defense some much-needed juice.
2. Dial it up on Rivers
The Chargers are second in the league in giveaways with 33 — enough said. San Diego has lost a league-high 14 fumbles and been intercepted 19 times, which is the second-most in the league. That said, interception opportunities could be plentiful with quarterback Philip Rivers, who is forcing plenty of balls these days in an effort to carry a banged-up offense. Rivers is also the primary culprit of the Chargers’ fumbling issues, with seven, and his quarterback rating is only 39.6 under pressure, according to Pro Football Focus. The Chargers have surrendered 36 sacks, tied for the 11th-most in the league, so the Chiefs need to try to get after him and ballhawk his passes in the air. By the way, the Chargers’ projected starting left tackle on Sunday, Chris Hairston, is the same guy who got worked over in Dee Ford’s breakout game last December. Starting right tackle Joe Barksdale has struggled this year as well.
3. Make ’em prove they can run it
The typically pass-oriented Chargers hung a surprising 155 yards on 32 carries — an average of 4.8 yards per carry — on the Chiefs in Week 1, but there are many reasons the Chargers could have a difficult time replicating that success. For one, they are extraordinarily banged up on the offensive line again: Starting left tackle King Dunlap is doubtful with a knee injury, starting left guard Orlando Franklin is questionable with a shoulder injury and starting center Matt Slauson is questionable with a foot injury. Even if those three play, it could hurt the Chargers’ effectiveness. If they don’t play, it will hurt the unit’s cohesion. Also, the Chargers’ top three backs — Melvin Gordon, Danny Woodhead and Kenneth Farrow — are all out due to injuries. The Chargers miss Gordon, who has blossomed into a terrific player this year.
4. Stick with it through adversity
Simple stuff here, but if the Chiefs get down against the Chargers early — and with Rivers, that’s always a possibility considering he boasts a 157.9 passer rating on game-opening drives — the Chiefs just need to stick with it and keep battling. The Chargers have shown a nasty habit for surrendering fourth-quarter leads. They’ve blown an astounding six this year, starting with the Chiefs’ Week 1 win over the Chargers. These guys don’t have anything to play for, other than pride, and their coach might be fired next week. Execution and effort should get the job done.
Four Chargers to watch
No. 17, QB Philip Rivers, 35 years old, 6-5, 228, 13th season
Ranked No. 46 on the NFL’s Top 100 list for 2016. Has completed 60.6 percent of his passes for 4,117 yards (his fourth consecutive season topping the 4,000-yard threshold) with 31 touchdowns and a league-high 19 interceptions. Has an unusual sidearm motion but can deliver the ball with heat and touch. Has thrown 16 passes of 40 yards or more this season, a career-high. Throws with anticipation and accuracy. True definition of a gunslinger; will hold the ball under fire and trust his arm strength enough to make difficult throws. Surprisingly nimble in the pocket; has broken 14 tackles this season, according to Football Outsiders. Has had to take more chances downfield the second half of the season, which has led to more interceptions; has thrown 16 interceptions since Week 7, which is also the most in the NFL. Has fumbled seven times this year and struggled under pressure. Boasts outstanding competitiveness; the Chiefs respect him greatly due to his skill and ability to trash talk.
No. 16, WR Tyrell Williams, 24 years old, 6-4, 205, second season
Former undrafted free agent has emerged as the Chargers’ leading receiver since the season-ending injury to star Keenan Allen in Week 1, catching 63 passes for 989 yards and seven touchdowns. Has been especially hot recently, catching five touchdowns in his last seven games. Is Rivers’ favorite target, by far; has 113 targets, 24 more than the next-closest teammate. Boasts 4.42 speed in the 40-yard dash and has six catches for 40 yards or more, which is tied for the most in the NFL. Has some burst out of his breaks. Can win jump balls in the red zone. Can also make the tough catch; his one-handed snatch against Cleveland last week for a 1-yard touchdown was impressive, and he can make the contested catch, as well, but he’s also dropped seven passes, according to Football Outsiders.
No. 99, DE Joey Bosa, 21 years old, 6-5, 280, rookie season
The No. 3 overall pick in this year’s NFL Draft has lived up to his billing. Despite a long contract dispute that cost him four games, Bosa has been very disruptive as an edge rusher. Will line up against left and right tackle. Has recorded 36 tackles, 9 1/2 sacks and 20 hurries. Plays with good strength, quickness and technique; has a natural feel for pass rushing and understands angles. Capable of looping inside on stunts with quickness. Solid run defender who plays with power. Is disciplined and aware as a run defender. Has very strong hands to disengage vs. the run and pass. Plays with very good effort — is an all-day sucker — and has some pop as a tackler. Should be the foundation of the Chargers’ defensive front for years to come.
No. 26, CB Casey Hayward, 27 years old, 5-11, 192, fifth season
Signed a three-year, $15 million deal with San Diego this offseason after spending four years in Green Bay, where he was up and down. Opened the year as a slot corner but has thrived outside since injuries to Brandon Flowers and Jason Verrett. Was just named to his first Pro Bowl and has recorded 51 tackles, seven interceptions (the most by a Charger since 2011) and 20 pass breakups. Good athlete who is adept at press coverage and has occasionally shadowed No. 1 receivers (Mike Evans, DeAndre Hopkins, Kelvin Benjamin, Amari Cooper, etc.). Possesses above-average instincts and ball skills; can find the ball in the air and undercut it, pick it or deflect it away. Voted Team MVP and Defensive Player of the Year by his teammates this season.
Projected Chiefs two-deep
KEY: Bold=Player to Watch, C=Captain, AP=2015 All-Pro, PB=2017 Pro Bowl, Q=Questionable
No., Name, Ht., Wt., Years
11 Alex Smith, 6-4, 220, 11 | 4 Nick Foles, 6-6, 243, 5
32 Spencer Ware (Q), 5-10, 229, 3 | 35 Charcandrick West, 5-10, 205, 3
42 Anthony Sherman, 5-10, 242, 6
17 Chris Conley, 6-3, 205, 2 | 12 Albert Wilson, 5-9, 200, 3
19 Jeremy Maclin, 6-0, 198, 8 | 12 Albert Wilson, 5-9, 200, 3
10 Tyreek Hill (PB), 5-10, 185, R | 13 De’Anthony Thomas, 5-9, 176, 3
87 Travis Kelce (PB), 6-5, 260, 4 | 84 Demetrius Harris, 6-7, 230, 3
72 Eric Fisher, 6-7, 315, 4 | 71 Mitchell Schwartz, 6-5, 320, 5
73 Zach Fulton, 6-5, 316, 3 | 75 Jah Reid, 6-7, 325, 6
61 Mitch Morse, 6-6, 305, 2 | 73 Zach Fulton, 6-5, 316, 3
76 Laurent Duvernay-Tardif, 6-5, 321, 3 | 75 Jah Reid, 6-7, 325, 6
71 Mitchell Schwartz, 6-5, 320, 5 | 75 Jah Reid, 6-7, 325, 6
99 Rakeem Nunez-Roches, 6-2, 307, 2 | 98 Kendall Reyes, 6-4, 300, 5
92 Dontari Poe, 6-3, 346, 5 | 77 T.J. Barnes, 6-7, 364, 3
95 Chris Jones, 6-6, 310, R | 94 Jarvis Jenkins, 6-4, 300, 6
51 Frank Zombo, 6-3, 254, 7 | 91 Tamba Hali, 6-3, 275, 11
48 Terrance Smith, 6-2, 235, R | 57 D.J. Alexander, 6-2, 233, 2
53 Ramik Wilson, 6-2, 237, 2 | 49 Daniel Sorensen, 6-2, 208, 3
55 Dee Ford, 6-2, 252, 3 | 91 Tamba Hali, 6-3, 275, 11
22 Marcus Peters (AP, PB), 6-0, 197, 2 | 39 Terrance Mitchell, 5-11, 190, 3
38 Ron Parker, 6-0, 206, 6 | 21 Eric Murray, 5-11, 199, R
29 Eric Berry (AP, PB), 6-0, 212, 7 | 49 Daniel Sorensen, 6-2, 208, 3
39 Terrance Mitchell, 5-11, 190, 3 | 27 Kenneth Acker, 6-0, 195, 3
20 Steven Nelson, 5-11, 194, 2 | 39 Terrance Mitchell, 5-11, 190, 3
5 Cairo Santos, 5-8, 160, 3
2 Dustin Colquitt, 6-3, 210, 12
13 De’Anthony Thomas, 5-9, 176, 3
10 Tyreek Hill (PB), 5-10, 185, R
41 James Winchester, 6-3, 240, 2
Projected Chargers two-deep
KEY: Bold=Player to Watch, C=Captain, AP=2015 All-Pro, PB=2017 Pro Bowl, Q=Questionable, *=See “additional notes” section below for more info on player
No., Name, Ht., Wt., Years
**17 Philip Rivers (C), 6-5, 228, 13**| 10 Kellen Clemens, 6-2, 220, 11
36 Ronnie Hillman, 5-10, 195, 5 | 44 Andre Williams, 6-0, 220, 3
34 Derek Watt, 6-2, 234, R
15 Dontrelle Inman, 6-3, 205, 3 | 88 Jeremy Butler (Q), 6-2, 213, 3
**16 Tyrell Williams, 6-4, 205, 2** | 81 Geremy Davis, 6-2, 217, 2
12 Travis Benjamin, 5-10, 175, 5 | 89 Isaiah Burse, 5-10, 187, 2
*85 Antonio Gates (C), 6-4, 255, 14 | *86 Hunter Henry, 6-5, 250, R
75 Chris Hairston, 6-6, 330, 5 | 78 Tyreek Burwell, 6-6, 310, 2
74 Orlando Franklin (Q), 6-6, 315, 6 | 79 Kenny Wiggins, 6-6, 314, 3
68 Matt Slauson (Q), 6-5, 315, 8 | 62 Max Tuerk, 6-5, 298, R
76 D.J. Fluker, 6-5, 339, 4 | 73 Spencer Pulley, 6-4, 308, R
72 Joe Barksdale, 6-5, 326, 6 | 78 Tyreek Burwell, 6-6, 310, 2
**99 Joey Bosa, 6-5, 280, R** | 93 Darius Philon, 6-1, 300, 2
71 Damion Square, 6-2, 293, 4 | 90 Ryan Carrethers, 6-1, 333, 3
*94 Corey Liuget, 6-2, 300, 6 | 96 Kaleb Eulls, 6-4, 309, 2
*54 Melvin Ingram, 6-2, 247, 5 | 46 Chris Landrum, 6-2, 245, R
*56 Korey Toomer, 6-2, 235, 3 | *57 Jatavis Brown, 5-11, 221, R
52 Denzel Perryman (Q), 5-11, 240, 2 | 53 Josh Perry, 6-4, 253, R
51 Kyle Emanuel, 6-3, 250, 2 | 58 Tourek Williams, 6-4, 262, 4
42 Trevor Williams, 5-11, 191, R | 38 Trovon Reed, 6-0, 191, 1
*37 Jahleel Addae, 5-10, 195, 4 | 31 Adrian Phillips, 5-11, 210, 2
20 Dwight Lowery, 5-11, 212, 9 | 25 Darrell Stuckey (C), 5-11, 212, 7
**26 Casey Hayward (PB), 5-11, 192, 5** | 38 Trovon Reed, 6-0, 191, 1
2 Josh Lambo, 6-0, 215, 2
8 Drew Kaser, 6-2, 206, R
89 Isaiah Burse, 5-10, 187, 2
89 Isaiah Burse, 5-10, 187, 2
47 Mike Windt, 6-1, 237, 7
Bonus notes on the Chargers
*Receiver Travis Benjamin was signed to big money this offseason due to his 4.36 speed and terrific short-area burst and quickness. His production has only been okay (47 catches, 677 yards, four touchdowns), but he is still a deep-ball threat who must be accounted for.
*Antonio Gates is still Antonio Gates. He’s no longer in his prime, but he’ll use his big frame to body the defender up in the red zone and win contested balls. He’s caught 48 passes for 493 yards and six touchdowns.
*Hunter Henry isn’t much of a run blocker, but the second-round rookie has a bright future in this league. He’s got good ball skills and receiving ability for a tight end and is dangerous in the red zone. This year he’s caught 32 passes for 435 yards and seven touchdowns.
*Defensive lineman Corey Liuget hasn’t given the Chargers much of a pass rush (zero sacks, seven hurries), but he’s been solid against the run. Chiefs co-coordinator Brad Childress likes him. “He’s strong, powerful and quick,” Childress said. “He can get on your edge and beat you, he can come back across your face and beat you.”
*Defensive lineman Damion Square was impressive against the Browns, tallying two sacks and three pressures. He’s a former Chief, by the way, and has done a nice job filling in for injured plugger nose tackle Brandon Mebane the last month or so.
*Outside linebacker Melvin Ingram is having another terrific season. He teams up with Joey Bosa to give the Chargers an excellent edge duo. Ingram will line up on both edges and boasts the burst, strength and athleticism to consistently threaten the edge. Has racked up 57 tackles, eights sacks and 19 pressures.
*Inside linebacker Korey Toomer is a good athlete who has been very productive this season (74 tackles, two pass deflections). Good football plater.
*Rookie inside linebacker Jatavis Brown is slight-but-athletic. He’s made a lot of plays this year for the Chargers, particularly as a pass rusher and in coverage, but teams have had some success running at him (six missed tackles).
*Safety Jahleel Addae is a hard hitter who has had some run-ins with Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith in the past. Skill players, beware.
Prediction: Chiefs 31-24
The Chiefs have plenty to play for. With a victory and an Oakland loss, the Chiefs can win the AFC West for the first time since 2010 and clinch a playoff spot. The Chargers, on the other hand, are looking to wrap up another lost season. And while they might be primed for a boost by playing what will perhaps be their final game in San Diego after 56 years, even that has been mitigated a bit, since the Chargers essentially said their goodbyes in the regular-season finale last year ... only to end up staying. The Chargers can sling it a bit and the defense is better than you think. But the Chiefs are superior on paper and the Chargers are coming off a loss to previously-winless Cleveland, for goodness sake. Look for the Chiefs to go into the playoffs on a high note.