It’s difficult for a Week 2 NFL game to have the implications that naturally come in the upcoming Thursday Night Football game between the Kansas City Chiefs and the Los Angeles Chargers. The two betting favorites for the AFC West title are looking to gain the early advantage on each other, knowing the whole season could come down to the results in each of their matchups.
Chiefs head coach Andy Reid is always looking forward to the challenge of the upcoming opponent, but he knows this one means more than a typical win. That’s why the team started their preparation for the division back in organized team activities (OTAs), taking the time to know what to expect from the teams they’ll play twice this season.
“I started that when I was at Philadelphia doing that during the OTAs,” Reid shared with reporters after practice on Tuesday. “It kind of breaks it up and gives the guys something to look at plus it’s good feel for you. [It] makes coaches think, it makes the players think about who they’re playing.”
This year’s offseason preparation sets up the team to deal with the short week, where it becomes tough to balance preparation and recovery from the previous game. Quarterback Patrick Mahomes has gotten the routine down by now, starting for his fifth season.
He talked with reporters about how he attacks the week after practice on Tuesday.
“I think usually I sacrifice the sleep earlier in the week and then as you get closer to the game trying to get back on your sleep schedule,” Mahomes admitted. “They’re tough. They’re always tough because your body’s not necessarily all the way back to where you want it to be, but you have to find ways to battle through it… It seems like the hits that you take early in the season, you’re a little bit more sore because you’re not used to them again.”
The two teams have battled during the early parts of the season before, with Los Angeles winning the Week 3 matchup last year — which was also played at Arrowhead Stadium. Mahomes has taken away some lessons learned from that loss.
“They’ve won here so they’re not going to be scared to come in here and play,” Mahomes pointed out to reporters. “So, we’ve got to come out here with a better mindset. We have to go out there and play better from the start. I think last year we got down 14-0, quick and had to battle back… I think it was big for us to know that they’re going to come in with the mindset of kind of jumping on us early and trying to carry that momentum, so we’ve got to kind of match that with our momentum.”
To build some momentum, the Chiefs will want to score early. To do that, they need to have a plan for slowing down Chargers’ edge rushers Joey Bosa and Khalil Mack — who combined for 4.5 sacks in Week 1. They were maybe the biggest factor in their 24-19 Week 1 victory.
“They do jump out at you,” Reid noted. “They’re two good players. They’re both healthy and moving – and moving fast. They did a nice job against the Raiders. We’re aware of them. We know that they’re good. We respect that. So, we’re working on a plan to do the best we can against them.”
When the Chargers made the move to acquire Mack this offseason, it was easy to point to Mahomes as the reason Los Angeles felt the need to make the move. When you ask Mahomes, he believes it was more about the entire division’s level of quarterback play.
“I mean not just me, we have great quarterbacks in this division in general,” Mahomes countered. “So you saw everybody in this division get pass rushers so they can get out there and get after the quarterback and make it hard on us. But Khalil [Mack] is a great player. I mean obviously they have Bosa already with a lot of other guys that go out there and can rush the passer. They have a good defense everywhere.”
“I’m just sad Khalil came back man. I though he was out of the AFC West but now he’s back getting sacks again.”
Mack’s comeback to the AFC West allows the Chargers to get after the quarterback with just a four-man rush. It’s something they will likely lean on against Kansas City, knowing it’s not smart to blitz Mahomes extensively.
That’s what Arizona’s defense did, and we saw how well that worked. Mahomes doesn’t expect to see the same game plan on Thursday evening.
“Their defensive coaching staff is great,” Mahomes pointed out. “They’ll have a good gameplan, they do a good job of not only playing the same coverages but kind of through their scheme [evaluation], kind of being in the right spots… They’re going to play, I mean obviously, probably more zone – not as much pressure – but they’ll come out there and play man too. They got a lot of great players that they believe in that they’ve brought in and I’m sure they’ll give us our chances in man, and we have to win whenever we get our chance.”
The short week will be tough for both teams, but the familiarity each team has for the other should make for a great, competitive battle. Week 1 was a good sign of what the new Chiefs offense will look like, but this game will be a more apt test for how the team will fare in the deep AFC.