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Final Thoughts: Quarterbacks Take Center Stage in AFC West Showdown


Ready or not, Week 2 is here.

Here are five final thoughts as the Chargers get ready for Thursday night's primetime game against the Chiefs:

1. Herbert-Mahomes, Chapter 4

The Chargers will face perhaps their toughest road test Thursday night in Kansas City.

The environment will be loud as the Chiefs — already one of the most talented teams in the league — host their home opener in primetime.

How do you try and erase that homefield advantage? Have Justin Herbert at quarterback.

That was the message from Chargers Head Coach Brandon Staley this week, who said the Bolts will follow their quarterback into Arrowhead Stadium with full belief.

Unfortunately, Staley said, Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes brings that same mindset to the opposite sideline.

"I think any time you go up into a matchup like this, when you feel like you have the quarterback to go into any environment and be able to win that game, you have the confidence to win it," Staley said. "I think on the road is the biggest place where you're going to determine your success, I think, in today's football, if you don't have an elite quarterback then you better be loaded everywhere else. That's hard to do nowadays with the way the [salary] cap is, to engineer a team that way.

"Justin, guys like Patrick, they give their teams a chance in every single game, regardless of the circumstance, regardless of the score," Staley added. "Their team believes that they can win the game."

Thursday will be the fourth matchup between Herbert and Mahomes. The pair of quarterbacks are young, talented and cornerstone pieces of their respective franchises.

And make no mistake about it, the Bolts have plenty of respect for Mahomes, who has a Super Bowl ring and has led the Chiefs to four straight AFC title games.

"I have a lot of respect for Patrick. He's an incredible quarterback, has had a lot of success in this league over the past few years," Herbert said. "Any time you get to play against him, it's always a great opportunity to learn, to watch. I just have so much respect for his game."

Staley added: "He's just a very complete player at the position. He has outstanding football intelligence, smarts, command at the line of scrimmage. He can really hurt you post-snap. He has outstanding field vision, so he can really see the field. He's accurate at all three levels of the field, both from inside the pocket and outside the pocket. I think people are aware of his creativity outside of the pocket and his ability to conduct a completely different play outside the framework of the first one, and I think that's a real gift of his. I think he really sees the game like a point guard."

But the Chargers love their guy, too, and will turn to their quarterback in the biggest moments Thursday night in primetime.

Herbert and Mahomes likely have similar aspirations for the 2022 season, including a division title, playoff run and a world championship.

Yet, as they meet for the fourth of many times in their careers, there should also be an appreciation for the chance to watch them compete on an annual basis.

"They are two of the special players in the league. They are as good as it gets," Staley said. "I think you are seeing, in the NFL, the quarterback position is in a great spot for the NFL.

"It's exciting for the league when you have this many good quarterbacks all at once, and a lot of them are really young. The future of the league is really bright. It makes it really tough to cover them, but the future is really bright," Staley added. "These two guys being in the same division, both being young players, it's great for the game. Any time you have rivalries within a division, and then two quarterbacks like this, it's really good for the game."

2. Missing Keenan Allen

The Bolts will be down one of their top playmakers against the Chiefs, as wide receiver Keenan Allen will miss the game with a hamstring injury.

Allen was injured in the first half against the Raiders, but not before catching four passes for a team-high 66 yards in the season opener.

Staley said the loss of Allen can't be understated.

"Just a real presence. He is a captain. He's seen it all. He's performed against it all. You're talking about one of the premier players in the league," Staley said. "You're talking about a guy that is on a historic run right now and a guy that gives you so many things on game day that go beyond just him catching the football, the confidence that he gives your whole team, not just your offense.

"Keenan, he is the type of guy that he's going to be out there whether he is playing or not. We're going to feel him, and that's why he was elected captain for our team," Staley added.

Allen's absence leaves four other wide receivers on the roster in Mike Williams, Joshua Palmer, DeAndre Carter and Jalen Guyton. It remains to be seen if the Bolts make another move at the position, such a possible elevating Michael Bandy from the practice squad.

Staley said it will be all hands on deck to try and make up for the loss of Allen.

"You just try to move it around a little bit, maybe activate a couple of more players than you would normally, where you're featuring Keenan," Staley said. "Fortunately, we feel like we've built a receiving corps, for sure, that guys can move around, where you can put Josh Palmer in that spot,DeAndre Carter in that spot, Mike can play some in the slot, so can [tight end] Gerald [Everett], so can [running back] Austin [Ekeler], all of those guys.

"Everyone just has to do a little bit more, but we feel like we have a diverse enough cast where we can kind of share the load with that group," Staley added.

One player to keep an eye on?

Williams, who has five touchdown catches in five career games at Arrowhead Stadium.

3. Be wary of the red zone

The Chargers will have their hands full if the Chiefs get into the red zone.

Kansas City was one of nine teams to score on each of its red-zone possessions in Week 1, but the Chiefs feat was even more impressive considering they made six trips inside the 20-yard line.

Mahomes and the Chiefs spread the ball around, too, as the quarterback threw touchdowns to four different players from 10 yards and in.

Staley said the Chargers will have to be vary of multiple players near the end zone. That includes Mahomes, who has eight career rushing scores, all of which have come in the red zone.

"They're definitely a good red zone team because you have to defend all five people and the quarterback," Staley said. "Any time all five people are a legitimate threat to do something with the football down there, and you have to account for the quarterback, you're maximizing your chances of being an outstanding red zone team.

"They run the football well down there because they can run it and they can get the RPO version of the game, so they can change the math, even the math out down there," Staley added. "They're an outstanding screen team. A very, very tough cover. That's why they're such a good football team."

Take a behind-the-scenes look at the Chargers locker room getting set up for the Thursday Night Football matchup with the Chiefs in KC

4. Does J.C. Jackson play?

We won't know the answer to that until roughly 90 minutes before kickoff when the inactives come out.

Jackson, who is listed as questionable, did not play in the season opener due to an ankle procedure he had in August.

"I think he's headed in the right direction, but I think there is still a lot to be decided before game time on Thursday night," Staley said this week.

If Jackson does play, his return will be a boon to a secondary that fared well without him in Week 1. Michael Davis and Asante Samuel, Jr., started at outside cornerback, with Bryce Callahan getting the start in the slot.

Samuel had an unreal interception while Callahan held Hunter Renfrow in check with just three catches for 21 yards.

But Jackson was brought in for a reason, and if he can be the elite cornerback he is, the Chargers defense could go to another level with him in the lineup.

5. The early AFC West race

The Chargers are one of four teams to open the 2022 season with back-to-back division games, joining the Saints, Colts and Packers.

But given how competitive the AFC West figures to be this season, it's no secret to say the Bolts will be well positioned if they can get a win against the Chiefs.

Because not only would that be an 2-0 start in 2022, but it would also mean a 2-0 division record right out of the gate.

As it stands now, the Chargers and Chiefs are 1-0, while the Raiders and Broncos are 0-1.

The easiest way to ensure a playoff spot is to win your division, something the Chargers haven't done since 2009. And the Chiefs have dominated the AFC West with six straight division crowns.

Yet a win Thursday night would give the Bolts an early division lead. That won't ensure anything just yet, but it's better than being on the opposite side.

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