KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The Chiefs have a chance to put themselves on track for a third-straight AFC West title in the season opener, facing the team considered the most likely to challenge them for supremacy in the division, the Los Angeles Chargers.
Kansas City owns an eight-game win streak over the Chargers, as the the Chiefs seem to own the blueprint for beating quarterback Philip Rivers. How can the Chiefs run the streak to nine games on the road Sunday? Here are five keys.
Whoever stops the run wins
The Chiefs won the rushing battle over the Chargers in two games last season 363 to 202. That continues a trend where the Chiefs have averaged rushing yards in their eight-straight wins in the series. The Chargers mustered just 95.4 rushing yards per game with only five rushing touchdowns in that span. The Chiefs believe that stopping the run makes the Chargers one dimensional. When forced to throw the ball, that's when Philip Rivers can turn the ball over with alarming frequency.
Win the turnover battle
The Chiefs 2017 season was very predictable in one respect – turn the ball over and win. The Chiefs forced 24 turnovers in their 10 regular season wins and just two single turnovers in their six losses. Kansas City took the ball away from their Chargers 16 times in the eight-game winning streak, while turnover the ball just four times themselves. Those four turnovers occurred in the closes games in the streak, including two by the Chiefs in a 10-3 win in 2015.
Keep Keenan Allen out of the end zone
Allen has 22 career touchdown catches but none against the Chiefs. Outside the big first-half Allen had in the 2016 season opener against the Chiefs, Bob Sutton's defense has mostly kept Allen in check. His 74.8 receiving yards per game is nearly identical to his career average (74.2). The Chargers are playoff team when Allen scores a touchdown (11-6) instead of an also-ran (25-38) when he doesn't in his five-year career.
Get pressure on Rivers
Putting a hit isn't necessarily critical to the Chiefs chances in the game but it is essential to the defense's psyche. Justin Houston's six sacks against Philip Rivers is tied for his most against any quarterback (he also had six sacks against Michael Vick). But the Chiefs showed a pure vanilla pass rush in the preseason, and the club ranked 24th in the league with 31 sacks last season. Setting the tone against Rivers on Sunday with Houston and Ford back on the field together with Tanoh Kpassagnon and Breeland Speaks filling in goes a long way in building the defense's confidence.
The Chiefs head coach has won nine of his last 11 season openers, including four of five in Kansas City. The lone loss came at Tennessee in 2014, on a day when the team lost starters Derrick Johnson and Mike DeVito to Achilles injuries for the season. That's what it generally takes to beat a Reid team in Week 1. Reid's coming off his masterpiece opening win last season, putting on an offensive show at New England in spoiling the Patriots' Super Bowl celebration. Give Andy Reid more than a week to prepare for a team and he almost always wins. Give him five months to prepare and it's not a fair fight. And Reid in a big divisional game opening the season with his brand new toy Patrick Mahomes at quarterback? Every offensive coordinator in the NFL plans to watch this game tape on Monday.