While Monday night will mark the 118th clash between the Chargers and division rival Kansas City Chiefs, it will be the first time the two will play a competitive game against each other outside of the United States, as well as the Chargers’ first contest in Mexico.
The Bolts will take the field at the historic Estadio Azteca, a stadium with a capacity of over 85,000. With a crowd of this size, Chargers players anticipate the football fans of Mexico City bringing the noise.
“I’ve heard that it’s a pretty spectacular place to play,” running back Austin Ekeler said. “(I’m) definitely looking forward to the energy, especially in a different country.”
Head coach Anthony Lynn, who played a preseason game in Mexico City as a player, said he has fond memories of that experience and is looking forward to going back.
“I had a heck of a time,” Lynn said. “Mexico (City) is a very rich city, the museums were outstanding. When you’re there for a week, you have a chance to get out...but we’re going for a day. It’s a business trip for us.”
Between NFL fans from Mexico City, to Chargers and Chiefs fans making the trip down to Mexico, the NFL’s initiative to bring one game yearly to one of the league’s largest foreign markets continues to increase the game’s fan base.
“I think it’s huge,” defensive end Isaac Rochell said. “They’ll have a greater appreciation for the NFL due to the league’s willingness to go down there.”
Meanwhile, for Chargers cornerback Michael Davis, taking the field in Mexico City will give the Mexican-American the chance to represent his mother, family, and Mexican heritage in front of the millions watching “Monday Night Football” across the world.
Training for Elevation
In preparation for their upcoming Mexico City game, the Bolts traveled to Colorado Springs for high-altitude training. At 7,200 feet above sea level, Estadio Azteca sits at a significantly higher elevation than that of the highest NFL stadium, which is Empower Field at Mile High in Denver at 5,280 feet.
“I think it can be helpful,” Lynn said. “Going from sea level to (7,200 feet), I didn’t feel comfortable doing that.”
Lynn mentioned that his playing experiences drove the decision to bring the team to Colorado for the week.
“As a player, I’ve been on that field,” Lynn said. “I’ve been in Dallas, Texas and then on the field in Wyoming the very next day, and I felt the effect, so I wanted my players to come and practice in it for a week.”
Fullback Derek Watt echoed that the team is feeling the effects of the altitude.
“You don’t really feel it until you’re trying to catch your wind back,” Watt said. “You’re gasping for air, for sure.”
Lynn added that the Bolts have been doing “team-building activities and keeping the guys busy and together.”
“When we’re home, guys leave,” Lynn said. “They go home to their families and homes. Here, guys go back to the hotel, and they’re still spending time together. You can get some extra team bonding there.”
Colorado native Austin Ekeler also saw the wisdom in traveling to Colorado to train, attesting that going outside of the team’s normal routine could be the “change up” they need to get their season rolling.
“Let’s pick up, let’s move, and let’s just focus, because we have six games left,” Ekeler said. “These are super important… I like that we’re out here so we can focus on just this game.”
Chiefs' Recent Play, Against the Run
After starting the season 4-0, the Chiefs have lost four of six overall and three of the last four games quarterback Patrick Mahomes has played.
Outside of Kansas City’s most recent game where they totaled 530 yards of offense, the Chiefs averaged just 323.6 offensive yards in their previous five games.
Additionally, KC’s defense has struggled to limit the running game over this stretch, a problem apparent last Sunday, as the Chiefs’ defense allowed 225 yards rushing. All season, stopping the run has been a challenge for Kansas City, who ranks 31st in rushing yards allowed per game entering Week 11.
This inability to contain the running game could be good news for running back Melvin Gordon, who in his most recent game eclipsed 100 yards for the first time this season.
“Anthony Lynn kinda knows that spot right there,” Reid said. “You couldn’t pick a better head coach to play for as a running back, and you see (Gordon) getting better every week.”
Chiefs Sack Leader Out for Season
Defensive end Emmanuel Ogbah tore his pectoral muscle during Sunday’s game against the Titans and has already undergone surgery, ruling the team leader in sacks out for the season.
Ogbah is also tied for the team lead with 11 quarterback hits.
Derek Watt: A Menace on Special Teams
Fullback Derek Watt is proving to be a versatile asset on special teams in 2019. With five tackles in the Bolts’ last game against the Raiders, Watt brought his total to an NFL-leading 12 special teams tackles this season.
“They were coming down my side, and I was trying to get off my block and make plays, and (I) was able to do that that game,” Watt said. “You get in that rhythm, you get in that feel, and it’s like ‘Oh, I’m making some plays. I wanna make another one, I wanna make another one’… It was a lot of fun for me.”
Chiefs Players to Watch
Quarterback Patrick Mahomes
Patrick Mahomes is the NFL’s reigning Most Valuable Player, and his passer rating is even better this season.
“He’s hard to stop,” Lynn said. “He can make every play in the book, (and) he can create (and) just extend plays and keep his guys alive, and they’re all fast.“
The 24-year-old returned last week against the Titans with a 446-yard, three-touchdown performance after missing the previous two games due to a dislocated right kneecap. This season, Mahomes has thrown 18 touchdowns and just one interception, to go with 2,626 yards and a passer rating of 114.1.
“It might be a tough ask to limit him too much, because, obviously, he’s such a great player,” Chargers defensive end Joey Bosa said. “Just try to keep him in the pocket and affect him with that pass rush.”
Bosa’s defensive line-mate Melvin Ingram added that the goal is to “create pressure (and) try to get (Mahomes) uncomfortable.”
“We gotta...make him feel us and try to play assignment football,” Ingram said.
While wide receiver Tyreek Hill and tight end Travis Kelce remain Mahomes’ most consistent options, rookie WR Mecole Hardman has found the end zone five times and has become a dangerous deep threat. Mahomes has connected with Hardman for three scores of at least 42 yards (42, 63, 83).
Chiefs head coach Andy Reid described Hardman as a “smart kid (who) likes to play the game.”
“Tribute to those (Georgia) Bulldogs, man,” Reid said. “He comes to play. He’s got good talent, and he’s in a good room with all those other guys. They all compete, and that makes you better.”
WR Tyreek Hill and TE Travis Kelce
Since missing four games early in the season, Hill has been a force, scoring five touchdowns in the Chiefs’ last four games. In addition, he is coming off career highs in receptions (11) and targets (19) Sunday against the Titans.
When asked if Hill is the league’s best receiver, Mahomes said he wouldn’t trade his wideout for anybody in the NFL.
“He’s able to have that explosiveness,” Mahomes said. “He’s able to have that speed, but he’s able to run routes, he’s able to high point, and really do stuff that I’ve never seen anyone else be able to do. I think that’s a testament to his work ethic...and the way he prepares his body and prepares himself mentally.”
At 5-10, Hill relies on his speed to beat defenders, which has earned him the nickname “Cheetah.” Over Hill’s last two games, he is averaging 148.5 yards receiving per contest. Last season, the Pro Bowler three years running led the NFL in 20-plus-yard receiving plays with 27, and finished fourth in yards receiving (1,479) and receiving TDs (12).
When asked who’s faster between Hill and Hardman, Reid laughed and said, “You’ll have to ask them.”
Lynn spoke about the Chiefs’ speed at receiver, saying “they’ve always been fast but have even upgraded” in that area this season.
“You can’t let these guys get behind you,” Lynn said. “We have to eliminate explosive plays as much as we can...They love to get those guys in space. I’m talking about two-yard routes (turning) into 50-yard plays.”
Lynn said that he believes safety Rayshawn Jenkins, who “can run a little bit himself” will be up to the challenge.
Kelce, who has been named to the Pro Bowl four seasons in a row, leads tight ends in yards receiving (741) and first downs (40). Furthermore, the former Cincinnati Bearcat has been targeted consistently regardless of which quarterback has been under center, receiving between seven and 10 targets in each of the team’s 10 games this season. While Kelce has just three touchdowns thus far in 2019, he has scored in two of the Chiefs’ past three contests.
DE Frank Clark and DT Chris Jones
Clark has been hampered by a pinched nerve this season but still has managed four sacks, two forced fumbles, a fumble recovery and an interception through eight games. The fifth-year veteran was traded from the Seahawks to the Chiefs this past offseason, along with Seattle’s 2019 third-round pick, in exchange for the Chiefs’ 2019 first- and third-round picks and a second-round selection in 2020.
As for Jones, he's coming off a monster game against the Titans, in which he recorded two sacks, a forced fumble and seven tackles. He has collected three of his five sacks this season over the past two games after finishing last season ranked third in the NFL in the category.
Safety Tyrann Mathieu
Mathieu tied for 12th among defensive backs in solo tackles and 14th in total tackles last season as a member of the Houston Texans. In his first season with the Chiefs, the safety’s numbers don’t jump off the page, but he remains a fearsome defender for whom the Chargers must game plan.
Monday night’s matchup will feature the Chiefs’ “Honey Badger” at strong safety and Chargers kicker Mike “Money Badger” Badgley, whose nickname fans based on Mathieu’s.
The Chargers trail the all-time series, 55-61-1, but stand at 32-26-1 when they’re the designated home team against their AFC West rivals. Monday night’s showdown, however, marks the first time the teams will face off on a neutral field.
In Week 15 last season, the Bolts snapped a nine-game losing streak against the Chiefs after erasing a 28-14 fourth-quarter deficit in Kansas City. The Chargers won 29-28 after a Mike Williams touchdown catch with four seconds left was followed by a successful two-point conversion, also from Rivers to Williams.
Chiefs' Last Time Out
In Kansas City’s last game, it was stunned by the Tennessee Titans Sunday in Nashville, falling 35-32 after Ryan Tannehill threw a 23-yard touchdown pass with 23 seconds left in the contest. The Chiefs allowed Derrick Henry to run for 188 yards rushing and two touchdowns on 23 carries. Tannehill posted a robust 133.9 passer rating.
The Chiefs lost despite dominating time of possession (37:51 to 22:09) and tallying significantly more total yards than the Titans (530 to 371).
Chargers Watch Parties
This week, the official Bolts Watch Party will be at Fiesta Martin Grill in Inglewood! For more information on this watch party, along with the others that will be held across Southern California, click here.
- Monday, Nov. 18, at 5:15 p.m. PT
- Estadio Azteca (Mexico City, Mexico)
- TV: ABC (simulcast on ABC7 in Los Angeles and Orange County) – Joe Tessitore (play-by-play), Booger McFarland (analyst), Lisa Salters (sideline)
- Radio (English): KFI-AM 640 - Matt “Money” Smith (play-by-play), Daniel Jeremiah (analyst) and Shannon Farren (sideline)
- Radio (Spanish): KFWB-AM 980 - Mario Solis (play-by-play) and Jorge Villanueva (analyst)
- APP: Chargers Mobile (iOS), Yahoo Sports (Android)
For more information on how to watch the game including the mobile app and live streaming, click here.