Chiefs Mahomes will be mindful of Chargers defensive ends
The Los Angeles Chargers collected one solitary sack against first-year starting quarterback Patrick Mahomes in the Chiefs’ season opener way back on Sep. 9, before Mahomes became a legend-in-the-making. And the Chargers needed to disguise a blind-side safety blitz just for that one sack happen.
The entire tenor of that Chargers pass rush and the potential for pressure on Mahomes in the second meeting between the teams, which plays out at Arrowhead Stadium on Thursday night, morphed four weeks ago when Pro Bowl defensive end Joey Bosa played his first game of the season for the Chargers (10-3). He had previously been sidelined with a foot injury.
All of a sudden, that defense Mahomes and the Chiefs (11-2) carved up in September looks more like a pack of wolves eager to pounce on a young quarterback who got hit 15 times by Baltimore’s defense on Sunday.
There won’t be any shortage of motivation with this week’s game serving as a de facto AFC West championship showdown.
“He’s a great player, and it kind of it gives them (a situation where) you’ve got two great players on both edges,” Mahomes said of Bosa. “Then they move those guys around a lot. I think Bosa and (Melvin) Ingram both enjoy getting to move around and be everywhere on the defensive line and complement each other. That’s not it for their defense, though: they have guys everywhere.”
Bosa and Ingram combined for 23 sacks last season, the second-most of any duo in the NFL. In four games since returning this season, Bosa already has four sacks despite playing a limited number of snaps in his first two games back.
In Bosa’s absence, the Chargers’ defense under the direction of Gus Bradley held six of 10 opponents to 20 points or fewer.
“Guys are definitely excited to get him back on the field, but this team had a lot of confidence before Joey came back,” Chargers coach Anthony Lynn said. “We won a few games when he was out. So the defense knows that they can go out and play at a high level and win football games, but having Joey back — that can only help.”
Bosa’s return gives the Chargers options on how to deploy Bosa and Ingram in order to create matchup advantages against a Chiefs offensive line that may not have either of its starting guards on the field. Cam Erving had not practiced early in the week and Laurent Duvernay-Tardif remains on injured reserve after suffering a broken bone in his leg earlier this season.
In three career games against the Chiefs, Bosa has had two sacks and two quarterback hits.
“You’ve got he and fifty-four (Ingram) in there and those two are rolling,” Chiefs coach Andy Reid said. “They have a nice little combination of packages they play off of each other with, but he’s a good, solid player. He’s got a great feel for the game. I know from Gus’s standpoint, he’s glad to have him back in there and going. He plays that strong end position and helps solidify some things on that side.”
All-Pro right tackle Mitchell Schwartz knows the Chiefs will face a very different challenge than what Baltimore threw at them last weekend by blitzing heavily and regularly. He also knows that Bosa’s return can give the Chargers’ defense a multiplicity of looks.
“Yeah, I mean he’s a top player at his position, so that definitely makes life more difficult for us,” Schwartz said. “You could see them rushing four (guys) more (often) and being able to sit back more in coverage. You don’t necessarily need to bring an extra guy when you’ve got Bosa and Ingram and the inside guys doing their thing.
“I think that’s kind of the game plan for success in the NFL: If you can rush four and get pressure with them, it allows you enough guys to cover downfield and still affect the quarterback. They’re able to do that at a really high level.”
Of course, success on first down could mitigate some of the headaches Bosa and Ingram create for an offensive line. Schwartz pointed out that it’s the long-yardage situations and obvious passing downs where the Chargers can turn things into a guessing game.
On first or second down, Bosa and Ingram will typically be at their defensive end positions. But once it’s third-and-long or a two-minute drill, Schwartz said you’ll see Bosa or Ingram start to move around and line up over the center or the outside shoulder of the guard.
“On third down and then more obvious pass situations you can get a little funkier with your alignment,” Schwartz said. “I don’t know how much is by design and how much is them just having the freedom to kind of do what they want because they are such good players and you trust them.”