Tale of two defenses between Chiefs, Chargers

Chiefs linebacker Nick Bolton celebrates after making an interception during the first half of a game earlier this month against the Broncos at Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City. (Associated Press)
Chiefs linebacker Nick Bolton celebrates after making an interception during the first half of a game earlier this month against the Broncos at Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City. (Associated Press)

KANSAS CITY -- The Los Angeles Chargers and the Kansas City Chiefs have been predictably good on offense this season, at least statistically, which means in the complementary world of the NFL, the difference in their records probably resides on the opposite side of the ball.

The Chargers are 2-3 largely because they allow more yards than all but one team in the league.

The Chiefs are 5-1 thanks to a defense that allows fewer points than all but one.

“Yeah, that helps a ton, especially when you don’t play your best ball,” said Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes, who has been openly critical of his own play heading into today’s game between the AFC West rivals at Arrowhead Stadium.

“Our defense is holding it down for us right now, but let’s take the pressure off them so they can play free and be even better.”

Imagine that: The Chiefs are tied for the best record in the NFL with an offense Mahomes thinks has yet to hit its stride.

Still, the Chiefs are second in yards passing, fourth in total offense and ninth in scoring the first six weeks of the season. And while those numbers were inflated by a blowout of the Bears, Kansas City’s offense has nevertheless been impressive enough on a week-to-week basis to win every game since a season-opening loss to Detroit.

Part of the reason Mahomes is lamenting the offense has been its failure to reach the end zone. The Chiefs have piled up the yards between the 20s, taking advantage of short passes while opposing defenses continually take away the deep stuff, but their offense has been bogged down by turnovers and penalties when it reaches the red zone.

“You have to continue to push, continue to get better and better. That’s all you can do regardless,” Mahomes said. “We understand that it’s going to take the offense at some point to have to have the big game to win it.”

It might happen this week. The Chargers, despite some desultory lulls of their own, are a top-10 offense when it comes to passing, total offense and scoring, so the Chiefs might well need their offense to finally pop to win a shootout.

It should help their cause the Chargers have among the worst defenses in the league.

“This is going to be a different week because it’s a shorter week,” said Chargers coach Brandon Staley, whose team is coming off a Monday night game while the Chiefs played the previous Thursday, giving them four more days to prepare.

“But in terms of the approach of how we attack a plan and what’s needed to be our best for Sunday, that has to stay the same,” Staley said. “What you have to focus on are the keys to winning. What ultimately is going to impact winning on Sunday? That’s where our full focus has to be right now. From now until kickoff, just focusing on the things that are going to help us win.”

• The Chiefs should get even better on defense with the return of Charles Omenihu, who was suspended the first six games for violating the NFL’s personal-conduct policy. The former 49ers pass rusher, who signed a two-year, $16-million deal with Kansas City, is expected to be active against the Chargers despite having only a week to get back up to speed.

• Kansas City brought back wide receiver Mecole Hardman this week in a swap of late-round draft picks with the Jets, who had signed him to a $4-million deal in the offseason. Hardman was part of both of the Chiefs’ recent Super Bowl-winning teams, but he barely got on the field in New York, which had made it clear in recent weeks that it was eager to move on.

• The Chargers are tied for third in the league with 21 sacks, and all of them have come in their last four games. Morgan Fox has four straight games where he has taken down the quarterback, the longest streak of his career, and Khalil Mack has seven in the past two games alone, including a franchise-record six in a win against the Raiders.

“He is really healthy, and a healthy Khalil Mack is a productive Khalil Mack,” said Staley, whose veteran pass rusher has sacked Mahomes twice thorugh the years. “We’ve done an outstanding job against the run, which has earned him more opportunities to rush. I think he has capitalized on his matchups. When you can get into a rhythm, as a rusher, that’s as good as Khalil is, I think that you’re going to be consistent around the quarterback, which is what he has been.”

• Justin Herbert has completed fewer than 60 percent of his passes in consecutive games for only the third time in his four-year career, going 22-of-37 for 227 yards with two touchdowns and a pick last week against Dallas. Yet he also has three 300-yard games in six starts against the Chiefs.

“They are kind of young, but they don’t play like it. They play like they’re veterans all around the board,” Herbert said. “They’re really well-coached. When you have a group like that together, it’s going to make for a really good defense.”

• The Chiefs have won three straight against the Chargers, part of an era of AFC West dominance that has yielded seven straight division titles. One reason for that sustained success is Chiefs coach Andy Reid spends time during training camp working specifically on division opponents, and that could give his team an advantage when game week arrives.

“I don’t know if most teams do that but I’m sure other teams do,” Reid said. “I think taking the time for the coaches and players when it’s not quite so chaotic as during the season, I think helps.”