Chargers @ Chiefs
Final Score: Chiefs 27, Chargers 24
Writers: Dave Cherman (@davecherman on Twitter) and Mike Miklius (@SIRL0INofBEEF on Twitter)
Justin Herbert. Patrick Mahomes. The last two times these teams played, it was absolutely electric. For the next decade, this matchup will be must-see football. So what took place when the Chargers traveled to their rival in Week 2? A tale of two halves, a pick-six on the goal line, stellar defensive play in general, and a bad 4th quarter injury that took a possible shootout away from us. Ultimately, the Chiefs held on, though whether or not they were the better team last night is an open question.
Los Angeles Chargers
Justin Herbert: 33/48, 334 Yards, 3 TD, INT | 2 Carries, 1 Yard
An injury in the fourth and a bad goal line pick overshadow what was all in all a very good day for Justin Herbert. Once again, Herbert showed elite pocket presence and poise, delivering beautifully placed passes for the most part, but also was somewhat shaky early. Halfway through the first, he had Josh Palmer wide open on 2nd and 3 but missed him. In the second, he again missed a wide-open Palmer on 3rd and 2 for a first down. On the next play, the Chargers punted from the KC 47. A missed opportunity. He and Palmer improved as the game went on though, ending their scoring with a nice 4th quarter TD on 4th and goal.
JUSTIN HERBERT TO JOSHUA PALMER ON 4TH & GOAL FOR A CHARGERS TOUCHDOWN 🙌
LA now trails by 3 late in the 4thpic.twitter.com/PfAo9S8C2K
— ClutchPoints (@ClutchPointsApp) September 16, 2022
Herbert was under pressure all day. Early on, Herbert was able to manage it by moving well in the pocket and getting the ball out quick, but losing All-Pro center Corey Linsley at halftime and then starting RT Trey Pipkins in the 3rd quarter really hurt their protection. After that, it was very difficult for Herbert to get the ball moving as it felt like Herbert had zero time to throw.
Justin Herbert air yards/attempt vs. Chiefs with Corey LInsley on the field, per TruMedia: 8.18
Herbert AY/att with Linsley off the field: 3.10
— Daniel Popper (@danielrpopper) September 16, 2022
It’s hard to win when you have no time to throw. In addition, the Chargers offense struggled to get in consistent rhythm for the second week in a row- again, partially due to Brandon Staley’s shift away from 4th down aggression. Despite a few successful calls (4-for-4 in this game), it was the times Staley didn’t keep the ball in his offense’s hands that really stood out. As mentioned above, the Chargers had multiple 4th and short opportunities, but Staley continued to bet on his defense and special teams, which for the most part, was a good bet. Ultimately, Herbert had 3 TDs on the day but it seemed like more could’ve been on the table.
In the second half, he nearly had another, but he and Gerald Everett appeared to be out of sync as to what route Everett was running. The result? A painful pick six at the goal line, which completely took the Chargers out of the game.
CHIEFS 99-YARD PICK SIX 😤
— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) September 16, 2022
And when it mattered most, with the team with their backs against the wall, Herbert took a few brutal shots to the ribs and was in obvious pain at the end. On 3rd and 1, before the two-minute warning, he tried to scramble for a first and had tons of space in front of him. Out of nowhere, it seemed like all the pain hit him at once. He couldn’t run. He couldn’t slide. He couldn’t even throw it away. What resulted was an ugly throw away, which left fans of both teams grimacing and calling for the backup, just to spare Herbert any further injury. It was actually sad to watch him try to gut it out. But he followed that ugly play with an absolute laser to DeAndre Carter. I’ve watched every game Justin Herbert has played in the NFL. That throw to Carter, on 4th down when he appeared to have at least one broken rib, was maybe the most impressive I’ve ever seen from him.
— NFL (@NFL) September 16, 2022
The fact that this throw came right after he was barely able to move or throw the ball at all is astounding. His grit, determination, and toughness reminded me of Philip Rivers playing the AFC Championship on a torn ACL in 2007, a game which the Chargers, also, ultimately lost. Herbert capped off the drive with the Palmer TD mentioned above to get the game within 3, though it didn’t matter in the end. The TD was a moral victory. Herbert has 10 days to rest up before a date with Jacksonville and Brandon Staley said Herbert was “ok” after the game. Bottom line, Herbert was the better QB in this game and I don’t think it was particularly close either.
Austin Ekeler: 14 Carries, 39 Yards | 10 Targets, 9 Receptions, 55 Yards
Joshua Kelley: 4 Carries, 22 Yards | 2 Targets, 1 Reception, 3 Yards
Sony Michel: 4 Carries, 13 Yards | 1 Target, 1 Reception, 6 Yards
Zander Horvath: 2 Targets, 1 Reception, 1 Yard, 1 TD
Despite finishing with 23 touches, it felt like Austin Ekeler disappeared for long stretches in this game. And he did. Four of his nine catches came on the final drive when Herbert seemingly didn’t have it in him to throw it past the line of scrimmage and he entered the 4th with just 13 touches. It wasn’t an indictment of Ekeler’s ability, though. When in space, Ekeler was still shifty and quick, making guys miss, fighting for extra yards, and proving invaluable in the blocking game. He’s still got unbelievable vision and patience, reminiscent of LeVeon Bell at times. Ultimately, it seemed Ekeler sat most when the Chargers were up more than a score, as they continue to try to rest their superstar back to keep him fresh for the second half of the season.
Once again, Joshua Kelley looked really good as a change of pace back. He was quick and decisive with his cuts, bursting through the hole with quickness, and demonstrating the strength to break arm tackles. In the second quarter, Kelley had a really beautiful run as he fought to stay on his feet and picked up an extra 4-5 yards in the process. He only had 5 touches, but that was equal to Sony Michel, as they split backup duties evenly. Sony even got the first goal-line carry. While Michel got his, Kelley was the second RB in the game and generally, appeared to be the back the team trusted more in important stretches. Oh, and Zander Horvath got another TD. Wild. That was his only touch of the game.
The Chargers’ run blocking has a long way to go though, especially if they lose Linsley and/or Pipkins for an extended period of time.
Wide Receiver/ Tight End
Mike Williams: 10 Targets, 8 Receptions, 113 Yards, TD
Joshua Palmer: 8 Targets, 4 Receptions, 30 Yards, TD
Gerald Everett: 10 Targets, 6 Receptions, 71 Yards
DeAndre Carter: 3 Targets, 3 Receptions, 55 Yards
Just four days after I told you not to worry about Mike Williams, he breaks out in a big way. Time and time again, the Chiefs gave the Chargers zone coverage looks and Williams FEASTED. He also bullied the Chiefs secondary, using his elite size and body control to not only get his TD, but nearly get a few others. Williams looked every bit the part of an elite WR in this one. Despite not getting as open as some other receivers do, his physicality is just unmatched. In the 3rd quarter, Williams fought through contact to make one of the more impressive TD catches you’ll see this year.
The corner basically shoved him to the ground as the ball was coming in and Williams still made the catch. Elite body control. Not only is he big, but he’s strong. On 3rd and 6 in the second quarter, Williams fought back through contact to the ball, catching it three yards shy of the first down marker. With the corner right on him, Williams pushed both himself and the defender to what initially looked like a first. Instead, it was a 4th and 1, which Herbert ran for a 1st. Until the 4th quarter, that was the Chargers’ only 4th down conversion of the game and it lead to 6. This wouldn’t have happened without Williams’ big 3rd down pickup.
A lot of digital ink was spilled this offseason about how Josh Palmer was modeling his game after Keenan Allen‘s. Well, here was an opportunity, without Keenan, to show that Palmer can be a high-end receiver, and he both did and didn’t show it. While the stat-line is mediocre, Herbert missed the second-year WR badly a few times, as mentioned above. He easily could’ve had another 15-20 yards on the day. On the TD, Palmer used his quickness to break free over the top and reeled in a strike from the aching Herbert. Palmer was routinely being used in motion, indicating that the Chargers were trying to scheme him open, the statline just didn’t reflect the quality game he had.
The real story in the receiving game was Gerald Everett, who was routinely open in this zone coverage and appeared to be Herbert’s second favorite checkdown behind Ekeler. Throughout the game, Everett’s athleticism was on display, as he looked very shifty in space and demonstrated quickness and burst that surpasses the starting TEs of the last two years. He did have a bad drop on 3rd and 2 in the 3rd quarter, but this perhaps could’ve been called a DPI, as the defender arrived a tad early. The big knock on him is going to be the pick six at the goal line. Did Everett run the wrong route? Did Herbert miss him? My inclination is a little column A, a little column B, with some good defense mixed in. However, the real issue is that Everett did not appear to want to be in on this play.
#Chargers TE Gerald Everett caught back-to-back passes for 7 and 26 yards and was gassed. He motioned to be taken off the field, but the Chargers were going tempo.
Next play: Ball once again comes Everett's way. He doesn't show much effort. Pick-6.https://t.co/t6wSOUhwfy
— Ari Meirov (@MySportsUpdate) September 16, 2022
Everett appeared tired from his back-to-back receptions and called to the sidelines- the team went hurry-up, went in Everett’s direction and the rest is history.
There’s not a ton to say about DeAndre Carter, who served as the speed option in this one, as Jalen Guyton was completely invisible. Carter had a few really nice plays: an end-around in the 4th quarter for a first down and a well-run route on their last drive on 4th and 1 to extend the game. He also was involved in one of the ugliest plays I’ve seen in the last decade of watching Chargers football; in the second quarter, with the offense humming, Herbert threw a screen pass to Carter, who then tried to reverse it to Austin Ekeler. The play went nowhere. Had Mike Williams not bullied his defender on the aforementioned 3rd and 6, it would have completely killed the drive.
Kansas City Chiefs
Patrick Mahomes: 24/35, 235 Yards, 2 TD | 2 Carries, -1 Yards
The fact that Patrick Mahomes made it out of this one without an interception in the stat sheet is kind of a miracle. Chargers defenders hauled in two of Mahomes’ passes, but both were called back for defensive penalties. The third was late in the game and deflected off a defender’s hand. Mahomes still made some of his trademark ‘wow’ passes, including two touchdown tosses. Mahomes’ best throw of the day was his first score. He rolled out to his right and threw a beautiful side-arm pass to Jerrick McKinnon after dodging pressure. While the final result was good, this was not a smooth ride for the Chiefs and Mahomes will need to tighten things up to avoid piling up the picks.
— Kansas City Chiefs (@Chiefs) September 16, 2022
Clyde Edwards-Helaire: 8 Carries, 74 Yards | 4 Targets, 4 Receptions, 44 Yards
Jerick McKinnon: 4 Carries, 12 Yards | 2 Targets, 2 Receptions, 4 Yards
Isiah Pacheco: 2 Carries, 6 Yards
Clyde Edwards-Helaire was the first back in for Kansas City, and he looked fine with his early carries. That being said, he was soon spelled and ceded some work to his backfield mates. CEH’s best run came late in the game as Kansas City was icing the clock. He ran to his right. Followed good blocking, and quickly burst through for a 52-yard gain down the sideline. It helps that CEH picked up some passing game work as well, hauling in all four of his targets. Given the lack of reliable weapons behind Travis Kelce, this could be huge.
Jerrick McKinnon came in on the Chiefs’ second drive and immediately caught a pass for a loss of five yards. McKinnon was solid with his workload but isn’t likely challenging for significant work here given his injury history. Still, he plays smart and will steal touches, including his touchdown catch. It wasn’t a special play on McKinnon’s part, but he found open space and made the catch.
Isaiah Pacheco was the third back in, but he just saw a pair of carries and was otherwise a non-factor. I was optimistic for Pacheco when he came in on the Chiefs’ third drive, but it wasn’t his night. This is just a deep stash for now.
Wide Receiver/ Tight End
Travis Kelce: 7 Targets, 5 Receptions, 51 Yards
Justin Watson: 2 Targets, 2 Receptions, 50 Yards, TD
Mecole Hardman: 1 Carries, -4 Yards | 4 Targets, 3 Receptions, 49 Yards
Marquez Valdes-Scantling: 7 Targets, 2 Receptions, 13 Yards
JuJu Smith-Schuster: 3 Targets, 3 Receptions, 10 Yards
Travis Kelce led the way for Kansas City, though it was a relatively quiet day for him. The Chargers have done an excellent job game-planning for Kelce and it showed tonight. Still, Kelce made some great catches including a long play on the Chiefs’ third drive. On a free play, Mahomes took a deep shot and Travis Kelce pulled it in. Towards the end of the game, Kelce made a leaping catch and was body-slammed by Derwin James.
DERWIN JAMES pic.twitter.com/4LlbCR4dQT
— Michael McQuaid (@Michael_NFL) September 16, 2022
Bigger games wait ahead against defenses that aren’t so well tuned into the elite tight end.
Justin Watson scored the Chiefs’ second touchdown of the night on a huge 41-yard pass from Mahomes. He was lined up on the left side and ran a deep post route. He had a step on his defender and made a smooth catch in stride. Watson had some big preseason moments and is–in my opinion–a name to watch here. Watson had a big preseason as well and this team could stand to have someone step up and take on my work.
PATRICK MAHOMES AND JUSTIN WATSON STRIKE BACK!
— Brandon Carr (@bcarr_13) September 16, 2022
Chiefs WR Justin Watson gets J.C. Jackson turned around at the top of the route and dusts him for the long TD. pic.twitter.com/pFWIh4RTgb
— Field Yates (@FieldYates) September 16, 2022
Mecole Hardman’s big play came to start the Chiefs’ third drive for a 30-yard gain. Hardman was lined up on the right outside. He ran a slant and found space between two defenders, making a nice catch and getting forced out of bounds. Hardman is the same big-play threat we’ve seen before.
Marquez Valdes-Scantling saw a lot of balls his way–as many as Travis Kelce–but he ultimately had trouble connecting with his quarterback. He hauled in two of his passes, both for short gains. Still, seven targets–including another called back by a penalty–is a good sign for the former Packers receiver.
Juju Smith-Schuster was basically a non-factor tonight, seeing only three targets and hauling them all in.