LA Chargers @ Kansas City
Power rankings: LA Chargers 5, Kansas City 3
When the Chargers have the ball:
We knew going into the season that the Chargers had a special quarterback. The knock on Justin Herbert last year was his game had far too much dinking and dunking. He has one of the best arms in football, so the lack of downfield aggression was disappointing. Last year, Herbert finished 31st of 37 qualifiers in deep passing rate (9.5%), which measures how often a quarterback throws more than 20 yards down the field. Last week, Herbert was at 15.2%, but that was still just 5 attempts, of which he completed 3 passes for 95 yards (19.0) average, and a touchdown. Herbert is a special player, but the scheme needs to allow him to be the type of quarterback he can be, particularly against this opponent. His weaponry will take a hit, as Keenan Allen injured his hamstring last week and will not play. The top receivers by routes run last week were: Mike Williams, Josh Palmer, TE Gerald Everett, and DeAndre Carter. Of course, RB Austin Ekeler typically factors into the pass game role. Williams is clearly the best of the bunch, a 6'4 outside threat who can stretch the field. He had a tough start to the season, racking up just 2 catches for 10 measly yards. Josh Palmer, a second year 3rd rounder out of Tennessee, was equally bad, gathering just 5 yards on 3 catches, giving him a laughably bad 1.7 yards per reception. Herbert can and will elevate those around him, but the receiving group needs to step it up. The offensive line typically does a great job protecting Herbert and paving way for the run game, particularly LT Rashawn Slater, a 2021 1st rounder who burst onto the scenes as rookie, and C Corey Linsley, consistently one of the better centers in football. There were some questionable spots, as it wasn't completely clear going into training camp who was going to start at right tackle. The answer is Trey Pipkins, a 2019 3rd rounder. Pipkins has yet to play a full season as a starter and struggled week 1, where he allowed 2 pressures and earned a 53 PFF grade. The guard spots are maned by Matt Feiler, a solid veteran, and Zion Johnson, the 17th overall selection in this years draft (Boston College). Austin Ekeler will handle most of the running back carries, with Sony Michel and Josh Kelley chipping in. The run game struggled last week, thanks in part by poor run blocking across the line (except Slater, who was fantastic as always). That's certainly not a trend I'd expect to continue. Kansas City's defense came in featuring an line that wasn't special on paper outside of Chris Jones, a would be household name if Aaron Donald did not exist. Jones is a pass rushing beast -- last week being no exception, where he racked up 6 pressures. The Chiefs did have George Karlaftis, the 30th overall selection in this years draft (Purdue), and Michael Danna, a 2020 5th rounder out of Purdue, both step up last week, as they each matched Jones's 6 pressures. The bigger names that you may be more familiar with, Frank Clark and Carlos Dunlap, both rushed the passer less than Karlaftis and Danna, and they are non-factors. It was only week 1, but if the Chiefs can get consistent pressure out of names not named Chris Jones, this line could be a lot better than people expected. The linebacking core features a strong 1-2 punch of Willie Gay Jr and Nick Bolton, though the former struggled last week, giving up 3 receptions, missing 2 tackles, and was a non-factor in the run game. The best corner on the team is L'Jarius Snead, who is capable of moving inside and outside, and had a predictably fantastic start to the season. Rashad Fenton is the number 2 option, he's typically a slightly above average corner, but he did struggle last week. Trent McDuffie, the 21st overall in the draft (Washington) was slated to be the team's nickel corner, but a hamstring injury in week 1 has landed him on IR. Juan Thornhill is also a productive safety, but the same cannot be said for his counterpart, Justin Reid.
When the Chiefs have the ball:
Many wondered what Kansas City's offense would look like without Tyreek Hill. If there week 1 performance was any indicator, where they casually curb stomped Arizona for 44 points, the answer is "still really fucking good." Mahomes completed 76.9% of his passes, gained 9.2 yards per attempts, and threw 5 TDs without an interception. Granted, part of issue was a puzzling Cardinals game plan that surrounded blitzing Pat Mahomes, widely known around the league as a man who cannot be blitzed. In total, Mahomes was blitzed on 58.5% of dropbacks, where he went 16/23 for 143 yards and threw all 5 touchdowns. The good news is most teams are keenly aware of the don't you dare blitz Pat Mahomes strategy - he was blitzed just 15.2% of the time last year, by far the least in the league (Big Ben was second at 21.1%). I also wondered if Travis Kelce, a soon to be 33 year old tight end who no longer has Hill to stretch the field, would receive extra attention from defenses, but he went for 8 catches for 121 yards and a touchdown. The receiving group behind Kelce by routes run was: Marquez Valdes-Scantling, JuJu Smith-Schuster, and Mecole Hardman. Rookie second rounder Skyy More was a non-factor, where he ran a route on just 9 of 44 dropbacks. The offensive line is strong across the board -- they had an injury scare last week where RG Trey Smith injured his ankle. He's questionable this week, but the fact that he practiced in full on Wednesday shows that he's anything but. On the ground, rookie 7th rounder Isiah Pacheco led the way with 12 carries, while Clyde Edwards Helaire had 8. The receiving core has some questions, and it was certainly disappointing to see Skyy More that low on the depth chart, but this is clearly still an elite offense. On the other side, the Chargers feature one of the strongest pass rushing duos in football, Khalil Mack and Joey Bosa. Both had strong starts to the season, as Mack had 5 pressures and Bosa had 4. The interior is a rotation between Sebastian Joseph-Day, Austin Johnson, Morgan Fox, and Jerry Tillery -- it's not the most impressive bunch, but they should have areas to attack with Bosa and Mack commanding the edge. The linebacking combo of Drue Tranquill and Kyle Van Noy is the weakest part of the defense, but if you're going to have a weak unit in 2022, linebackers is where you'd want it to be. The secondary spent big money brining in ballhawking corner JC Jackson, but he missed last week with an ankle injury. Jackson is officially questionable, but he did get in two practices this week (both as limited), and is a true 50/50 to play. Behind Jackson is Asante Samuel Jr, a 2nd round pick from a year ago, and Bryce Callahan, who is always a stingy slot corner. The safety group is led by Derwin James, a versatile safety who will basically play every position -- last week, the guy had 2 pressures and 4 pass rushing snaps. The man is a specimen.
TNF Prop Bets:
Pat Mahomes o2.5 passing TDs +120 (DraftKings): With a game total of 54, we should see plenty of points. Mahomes, coming off a 5 TD game, is projected right at 2.5 I like the over with dog odds.
Josh Palmer u50.5 receiving yards -130 (PointBet): I promise, I'm not overreacting to Palmer's hilariously bad game last week. He's the clear #2 wide receiver with Allen out, but this number is still well below his 41.6 projection.