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Keys to the Game: Chiefs vs. Chargers

Here are five keys to the game heading into the Week 3 match between the Los Angeles Chargers and Kansas City Chiefs:

1. Key in on Kareem – One of the biggest surprises to start the 2017 season has been rookie Kareem Hunt’s emergence as an elite running back. The third-round pick out of Toledo leads the league with 229 rushing yards on just 30 carries, averaging 7.6 yards per attempt. He also has eight receptions for 126 yards, proving to be a threat in the passing game. Hunt entered Week 3 also leading the NFL with five total touchdowns (three rushing, two receiving), and has already authored three plays of at least 50 yards. Head Coach Anthony Lynn has seen a lot of top backs over his career, and pointed out what makes the rookie so effective:

“He’s very instinctive. A good football player. He’s not their most dynamic player, but he’s a playmaker. God knows they have a lot of dynamic players, but he’s probably one of the best football players on that team.”

2. Feed Keenan – It’s safe to say Keenan Allen has had Week 3’s clash with the Chiefs circled on his calendar since the schedule came out. KA13 was off to a fast start before tearing his ACL late in the first half of the 2016 season opener. He laid on the turf at Arrowhead, knowing his year was over. Working hard to return to form, Allen has re-emerged as one of the top wideouts in the NFL. He ranks third among all wide receivers with 14 receptions, which is also the fifth most of any player through two weeks. Number 13 has proven to be a reliable force, fresh off a 100-yard effort in which he hauled in nine of 10 targets. Kansas City Defensive Coordinator Bob Sutton noted the challenge the Chiefs are in for trying to contain Allen:

“Highly competitive guy. He’s very explosive in and out of his cuts. Every route he runs, he runs hard. Whether he’s the primary guy or not, he runs like he’s getting the ball every play. Very willing to take the underneath pass, go over the middle. He’s just a really good football player. And like I said, he’s competitive, he’s got great skills catching the ball, he can do it in traffic. He’s just a good football player.”

3. Clamp Down on Kelce – A 6-5, 260-pound force who has gotten better each year, Travis Kelce is one of the biggest mismatches in the NFL. The tight end has caught 13 passes for 143 yards and one touchdown, and was a focal point in the Chief’s Week 2 victory after catching eight balls for 103 yards. Kansas City uses him in various ways, evidenced by his touchdown against the Eagles when he took a shovel pass off a triple-option to the house. Safety Tre Boston weighed in on what makes Kelce such a dangerous tight end:

“He’s one of the best tight ends in the league. We’ve got to do our job against him this weekend. If they get him going, you obviously can see what he can do. He is faster (than most tight ends); has more finesse. You can line him up at receiver any time you want and isolate him as the ‘X’ all by himself. He’ s just an all-around great player. That’s what separates him. He can do it all. So you’ve just got to watch it all, and see what they like at different times.”

4. Win the Turnover Battle – Protecting the rock was a key point of emphasis all offseason by Head Coach Anthony Lynn. After coughing it up just once in the season opener, the Bolts’ offense did not commit a turnover in Week 2. However, they also didn’t force one on defense. Now they face a Chiefs team who under Head Coach Andy Reid, has annually been one of the best when it comes to turnover differential. A large part of that is due to Alex Smith, as the quarterback has thrown 16 touchdowns and just one interception in 16 AFC West road games since joining KC. On the flip side, CB Marcus Peters leads the NFL in interceptions since he entered the league in 2015. Here’s what Philip Rivers had to say about the star cornerback:

“He’s obviously a super talented player. I think it’s the corners that are smart, that maybe guess some but also understand what they are seeing and recognize routes, the ones willing to take some changes; those are the ones who are the most dangerous. They’re the ones where you can get a big play on, yet they scare you away from a lot of things because you never know what they are going to do. He’s certainly a guy who obviously (gets) interceptions, but he’s also breaking up passes. He’s always around the ball. He’s a super competitive guy, and certainly been a good pick up for them since they got him.”

5. Limit the Explosive Plays – In addition to Hunt and Kelce, the Chiefs also boast one of the top speedsters in Tyreek Hill. Since breaking out at the end of his rookie campaign, the second-year wide receiver has seemingly authored a back-breaking big play once a game. Simply put, Hill is a threat to go the distance every time he’s on the field. He’s already caught 11 passes for 176 yards and one TD this year. Meanwhile, QB Alex Smith has been the straw that stirs the drink. As the AFC’s top-rated passer (134.1) through the first two weeks of the season, he’s completed 49 of 63 attempts (77.8%) for 619 yards, five touchdowns and no interceptions. With the ability to strike at a moment’s notice, Defensive Coordinator Gus Bradley explained the big emphasis this week is to limit the explosive plays that have been a trademark of the 2017 Kansas City Chiefs thus far:

“When you look at their offensive philosophy, they like to run the ball (and) have a really good passing game. Screens (and) quick-hitting things, and then they take their shots. (We need to) stay on top as a secondary to keep those explosive plays from happening, because that’s when they really get their points. We’ve seen it. One of the consistent stats is if you give up an explosive play within a series, the chances for an offense to score goes way up. The percentage is a lot higher. So we’re really going to have to eliminate their explosiveness. Staying back, breaking up and tackling well. Just using our base fundamentals.”

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