Catching UP To Chargers … GAMEDAY CUP O’Chiefs

Last season when his team was getting ready to open its schedule against the San Diego Chargers, Todd Haley made it very plain that his team was not nearly as talented as the then defending division champions.

“We are not as good a team as they are,” Haley said at the time. “They are the best team in the division.”

Coaching smoke? Yes and no. There was no doubt that the Chiefs did not have the type of talent of the Chargers, who had put together a four-year string of division championships. But there was also no doubting the fact that Haley felt his team could win, if they played smart football. They would have to limit their penalties, win the turnover battle and have the advantage in the kicking game. The Chiefs did all three and earned a 21-14 victory.

Just over a year later, the Chiefs and Chargers meet again, in another Monday night game at Arrowhead Stadium. Kickoff is 7:30 p.m. CDT with the telecast on ESPN and locally on Channel 9.

Are the Chargers still the best team in the division? Are the Chiefs still not up to San Diego’s level?

“This will be a big, big test for our team,” Haley said. “This is a very skilled San Diego Chargers team. I’m happy that we’re getting to play here at home, but I told the players the same thing (as last year), that it will take our best game of the year to be competitive with this team.”

Yes, the Chargers are the best team in the division. But the gap between the teams has closed. In 2009 it was huge, as the Chargers went 13-3 and the Chiefs were 4-12 in Haley’s first season as head coach. They lost by 30 points at home (37-7) and 29 points in San Diego (43-14). Last year, things got tighter with the Chiefs 7-point victory. But the Chargers followed up with 31-0 drubbing in southern California. With Monday night’s game, the difference has gone like this:

  • 2009 – Chiefs minus-59 points.
  • 2010 – Chiefs minus 24 points.
  • 2011 – Chiefs minus 3 points.

“San Diego is a very good team; I think a well-coached team with some premier, premier skill players throughout their roster,” Haley said. “They’ve been one of the best teams in the NFL, in my opinion, here for a pretty good stretch of time.”

But have the Chiefs caught up, or have the Chargers fallen to a level of talent below what they’ve had the previous five seasons? Part of that answer will come with the Monday night game and it’s outcome. It’s so very important to what will happen down the road in the AFC West. The victory would give the Chiefs a 4-3 record, tied with the Chargers and Raiders, but they would have victories over both of those teams.

Here’s a look at the teams that will be on the field tonight and one man’s opinion of how the talent levels compares at this point in the season. The grading will go down with three possible marks: even, advantage and big advantage

OFFENSE

Quarterback – Philip Rivers vs. Matt Cassel. This has not been one of the better season starts in Rivers career, but there’s no denying what he’s shown in the past. Cassel is performing at a higher level than he was last year, but it’s not high enough to give him an edge. ADVANTAGE SAN DIEGO.

Running back – Ryan Mathews and Michael Tolbert vs. Jackie Battle and Thomas Jones. The best back on the field will be Mathews, with his 452 rushing yards and 287 receiving yards. The second most productive back on the field (if he plays) will be Tolbert with 394 total yards and 5 touchdowns. Battle has just gotten into the thick of the offense, but Jones has shown his time is over in the NFL. ADVANTAGE SAN DIEGO.

Wide receiver – Vincent Jackson, Malcom Floyd and Patrick Crayton vs. Dwayne Bowe, Steve Breaston and Jonathan Baldwin. In this match-up, Bowe has the advantage over Jackson, although the separation between the two is not huge. Breaston and Floyd are a push as they’ve put up similar numbers this season. Crayton does not see the ball much, but then neither has Baldwin. EVEN.

Tight end – Antonio Gates and Randy McMichael vs. Leonard Pope and Jake O’Connell. No sense wasting a lot of words on this match-up. BIG ADVANTAGE SAN DIEGO.

Offensive line – Going across the front, from left to right, and I see an even matchup at left tackle between Marcus McNeill and Brandon Albert. At left guard in this game is Tyronne Green, replacing the injured Kris Dielman for the Chargers and Ryan Lilja; count that as a big advantage for the Chiefs. At center it’s Nick Hardwick in San Diego and Casey Wiegmann for the Chiefs; it’s pretty even there. At right guard, it’s Louis Vasquez vs. Jon Asamoah, with an advantage to the Chargers. At right tackle there isn’t much of a difference between Jerome Clary and Barry Richardson, but the Chiefs have the edge. Overall on the offensive line ADVANTAGE CHIEFS.

DEFENSE

Line – Both teams operate out of the 3-4 scheme. The Chargers have Corey Liuget and Vaughn Martin at the ends and Antonio Garay at nose tackle. The Chiefs trio is Glenn Dorsey and Tyson Jackson on the ends and Kelly Gregg at the nose. In production and numbers, there isn’t a lot of difference between these groups. Both have one sack among the three. The San Diego trio have 12 more tackles than the Chiefs tree. ADVANTAGE SAN DIEGO.

Inside linebackers – Takeo Spikes and Donald Butler vs. Derrick Johnson and Jovan Belcher. Combined the Chargers backers have 100 tackles, 7 tackles for loss, 2 sacks, 1 interception. Johnson and Belcher have 106 total tackles, 5 tackles for loss, 0 sacks and 0 interceptions. Over the last few weeks, Johnson has been sensational, maybe the best inside backer in the league. Based on that performance alone we’ll go with … ADVANTAGE CHIEFS.

Outside linebackers – Travis LaBoy, Darryl Gamble and Antwan Barnes vs. Tamba Hali, Andy Studebaker and Justin Houston. The Chargers will be without Shaun Phillips for this game and that’s a huge blow to their defense. Gamble hasn’t played and Barnes has limited snaps. Combined the three San Diego OLB have 22 tackles, 3 tackles for loss and 2 sacks. Hali has been quite on the sack front in recent weeks, but he’s still applying the pressure. Combined, Hali-Studebaker-Houston have 66 ftackles, 9 tackles for loss and 4 sacks. ADVANTAGE CHIEFS.

Cornerbacks – Quentin Jammer, Marcus Gilchrist and Antoine Cason vs. Brandon Flowers, Brandon Carr and Javier Arenas. In his 10th season, Jammer is the grizzled veteran of this group. Cason apparently has lost his starting job this week with the rookie Gilchrist stepping in. Combined the three of them have 49 tackles, 1 interception and 6 passes knocked down. Flowers and Carr have been playing at a very high level, as good as any CB combo in the conference. BIG ADVANTAGE CHIEFS.

Safeties – Eric Weddle and Steve Gregory vs. Kendrick Lewis and Jon McGraw. If the Chiefs have Eric Berry, then there’s no question who has the advantage on the back line. Weddle is one of the better free safeties in the league and he has an edge over Lewis. McGraw has a slight edge on Gregory, but essentially there is not much different in what they get done on the field. EVEN.

KICKING

Kicker – Nick Novak vs. Ryan Succop. Novak has not missed a kick this year, but he does not have as strong a leg as Succop. Kickoffs for both are good. EVEN.

Punter – Mike Scifres vs. Dustin Colquitt. Both of these punters are “team” punters, who don’t worry so much about personal stats, but how their kicks can help the team with field position. EVEN.

Returner – Patrick Crayton and Richard Goodman vs. Javier Arenas. The Chargers have gotten nothing out of their return game so far this season. Arenas is second in the league in punt return average at 15.5 yards. ADVANTAGE CHIEFS

Overall – Add it all up and there’s not a lot of difference between the teams. San Diego’s offense has more talent, while the Chiefs defense has more talent on that side of the ball. Special teams are pretty even. Both teams are without some of the better players, so that’s a wash.

Decide for yourself whether the Chiefs have caught up, or the Chargers have dropped down to their level.

But one thing is for sure – it’s no longer a mismatch.

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