Chargers Look to Finish Strong
With their record now sitting at 5-10, head coach Anthony Lynn and the Chargers are looking ahead to their final game of the season, a road matchup with the AFC West champion Kansas City Chiefs.
"We're professionals," Lynn said. "We have a job to do. I expect everybody to show up on Sunday and do a good job."
Besides mentioning that a win in the season's final week would create confidence and momentum heading into the 2020 season, Lynn highlighted a few players he's been impressed with over the past few weeks, the first of which being 2019 first-round pick Jerry Tillery, who played "his best game" of the year last Sunday, according to Lynn.
"His motor has been fine all year, it's just learning what we're doing," Lynn said. "He's a tall man, he's very long, so learning to play with leverage in the National Football League, that's been a process."
Derwin James = Gamechanger
Sunday will mark Derwin James' fifth game of the season since returning from injury, and defensive coordinator Gus Bradley attests that James hasn't missed a beat.
"Some guys can dictate the outcome of a game defensively," Bradley said. "He's one of those guys where if we use him right, he has that ability."
Bradley referenced how James is able to use his explosiveness to make difficult tackles in open space, speed that "really eats up the grass and gives us a chance to make some plays."
In four games, James has compiled 26 tackles (17 solo), including three for loss, a similar pace to his All-Pro stat line from last season where he finished with 105 tackles (75 solo) and four tackles for loss.
"I (think) DJ (Derwin James) has played well every game he's been back," Lynn said. "I love his motor (and) his demeanor. It doesn't matter what the score is, he's just taking it one play at a time and he's giving it everything he's got."
And according to Bradley, the sky's the limit for the 23-year-old safety.
"There's a lot of growth (left) for him," Bradley said. "He's created a standard, and I think as he keeps going, his standard will increase. He's driven to not be satisfied with where he's at, and (neither) are we."
Chargers Approaching Milestones
If wide receiver Mike Williams tallies 37 yards and running back Austin Ekeler accumulates 50 against the Chiefs, the Bolts will possess a trio of 1,000-yard receivers, as wide receiver Keenan Allen has already exceeded 1,000 yards this season. The trio would become just the sixth in NFL history to reach the 1,000-yard mark and the second trio in Chargers history (John Jefferson, Kellen Winslow, and Charlie Joiner did so in 1980).
"It would be special for those other two to get to 1,000...within the game plan," offensive coordinator Shane Steichen said. "If it happens, that would be great for them, but all three of those guys, Austin, Keenan, and Mike do a heck of a job week in and week out. It's a special group."
"Certainly you'd love to see Mike (Williams) get over 1,000 (receiving yards) and Austin (Ekeler) get over 1,000 (receiving yards)," Rivers said. "To have three receivers get over 1,000 hasn't happened in 30-something years...It's pretty awesome, when you think about it, if you end up getting three doing that… Seeing those young players develop and turn into the players they are, it's always exciting."
Allen needs five catches to reach 100 this season and eight to set a single-season team record, which would break the team record he set in 2017.
Meanwhile, Ekeler needs four catches to claim the second-most by a Chargers running back in a season. Steichen said he is not surprised about Ekeler's success this season, elaborating on the third-year running back's strengths.
"He works so hard, he's a strong, powerful guy that can run fast, (and) he's got good quickness in the open field to make guys miss," Steichen said.
Additionally, if Ekeler catches five of more passes in Kansas City, he will join Allen to become the first-ever set of Chargers teammates to each have at least 90 receptions in a single season.
Chiefs Players to Watch
QB Patrick Mahomes
Despite missing two games in the middle of this season due to injury, the reigning NFL MVP has maintained his elite level of play in 2019. Ranked second in quarterback rating behind Lamar Jackson, Mahomes ranks fourth in the league with 296.7 passing yards per game and has 25 touchdowns this season.
Although the Chargers came out on the losing end the last time these division rivals met, the Bolts defense contained Mahomes, as the quarterback finished the game 19-of-32 with 182 yards, a touchdown and an interception.
TE Travis Kelce
Selected to his fifth straight Pro Bowl, Kelce continues to prove why he is one of the most lethal tight ends in the NFL.
Not only is Kelce once again leading all TEs in receptions and yards receiving, but he ranks second in the NFL behind Julio Jones with 12.7 yards per touch and recently became the first tight end in history to record four straight seasons with more than 1,000 receiving yards.
"Kelce's a tremendous athlete and finds a way to make plays," Chiefs offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy said. "Him and the quarterback, Pat (Mahomes), they got a unique chemistry, and they got a unique bond. That's what makes it special."
Kelce and Mahomes have been the Chiefs' top offensive contributors this season and are a crucial reason why Kansas City ranks fourth in offensive yards per game with 382.1.
RB Damien Williams
Although Andy Reid deploys combinations of his running backs in any given game, expect Damien Williams to receive the most snaps at that position on Sunday.
After missing four straight games due to injury, Williams returned to action last Sunday against the Bears, compiling 92 total yards and one touchdown, the most yardage a Chiefs running back had accrued since Williams had 109 total yards in Week 10.
Williams leads a group of running backs that also includes LeSean McCoy and Darwin Thompson.
"We have a good nucleus of guys," Reid said referring to his running backs. "And they all do it a little bit different."
"If you look through the season," Mahomes added, "and (see) the fact that we've used all these different running backs, that's going to really help us out going into the playoffs. A lot of these guys have gotten opportunities and shown that they can make plays happen, and we'll be able to use them in (a) different variety of ways as we make this stretch run."
WR Mecole Hardman and Tyreek Hill
Rookie wide receiver Mecole Hardman has been a pleasant surprise for the Chiefs this season. Selected to the Pro Bowl as a return specialist, Hardman ranks sixth in the NFL with 597 kick return yards.
Combine this with six receiving touchdowns and 20.3 yards per reception in limited snaps, and the 2019 second round pick out of the University of Georgia is putting teams on notice.
Additionally, despite missing four games this season, wide receiver Tyreek Hill was selected to his fourth straight Pro Bowl.
Last time against the Bolts, Hill was removed from the game early due to injury. Over the wide receiver's last two games, he has amassed 139 yards receiving and two touchdowns.
While the Chiefs run defense woes has been a recurring problem, Kansas City's defensive line has locked down opposing offenses over the past two weeks.
"The Chiefs defense has gotten better every single week," Lynn said. "I think, earlier in the year, you could say the defense looked like they weren't all on the same page, but right now — I think in the last month they've held their opponents to seven points-per-game. I think [Chiefs Defensive Coordinator] Steve [Spagnuolo] has done a good job with that defense. I think they're playing their best ball at the right time."
Both the Bears and Broncos mustered only three points each, as Pro Bowlers Frank Clark and Chris Jones provided defensive fortitude up front. On the season, safeties Tyrann Mathieu, also known as the 'Honey Badger,' and Juan Thornhill lead the team with three interceptions each. The Chiefs have the sixth-most interceptions in the NFL with 19 and have allowed the eighth-fewest passing touchdowns.
The Bolts are 56-62-1 all-time against the Chiefs, possessing a 24-35 road record in these matchups.
In the teams' last meeting, Kansas City narrowly came away with the victory, 24-17, in Mexico City on Monday Night Football in Week 11. Ekeler caught eight passes for 108 yards, and Michael Badgley contributed three field goals, including a 49-yarder.
Chiefs' Last Time Out
Kansas City enters with a five-game winning streak and has outscored its opponents 49-6 over their past two games. In their last game, the Chiefs defeated the Bears on Sunday Night Football in Chicago, 26-3. Mahomes threw two touchdowns and posted a 112.1 passer rating in the contest.
This week's Bolts watch party will be taking place at Sports Harbour in Torrance. Come hang out for a 10 a.m. kickoff as the Chargers visit the Kansas City Chiefs. For more information and to see other watch parties taking place across Southern California, click here.
- Sunday, Dec. 29, at 10:00 a.m. PT
- Arrowhead Stadium (Kansas City, MO)
- TV: CBS - Kevin Harlan (play-by-play), Rich Gannon (analyst) and John Schriffen (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.