The San Diego Chargers will face the Kansas City Chiefs in a late game on Monday night that should provide a perfect bellwether for how San Diego is going to play this season.
On offense, the Chiefs' undersized front seven (they don't really seem to have the personnel for the 3-4) should reveal if San Diego is going to be able to run the ball at all this season. If the offensive line and the powerful rookie Ryan Mathews can't exert its will on the Chiefs' defense by the 3rd or 4th quarter, it doesn't bode well for the ground game this year.
I would discount the first quarter and a half or so of the game, as the Chiefs are going to be playing on an adrenaline high in their new stadium with a new chance to prove they won't be one of the worst teams in the league. Romeo Crennel will probably have some creative blitzes early on, so the Chargers will have to adjust to the high pressure atmosphere and unique scheme. Ultimately though, San Diego should be able to push these guys around.
In the passing game, the talented Tamba Hali should also provide a real test for Brandon Dombrowski. Even one sack will cause Charger fans to start gathering with torches and pitchforks outside of AJ's office. "Sign McNeill! Sign McNeill!" will ring annoyingly in AJ's ears for every home game...unless Dombrowski can actually do the job. We'll see. My guess is he might be good enough to be an average NFL tackle, but the pressure and expectations will simply be too high. He will make some mistakes, and AJ will work out something with McNeill before too long.
Downfield, the Chargers will get to test top rookie safety Eric Berry, who has amazing potential. Hopefully, Rivers and Norval will be able to make him look like just another rookie a few times in this first game. I wouldn't want to be facing a Norv Turner inspired game plan my first game. We'll also get to see if any of the Chargers' wide receivers can get deep, or will the subtraction of Vincent Jackson shrink the field? I'd love to see a few shots deep to Buster Davis and Legedu Naanee. San Diego needs to find out if they can make the big play.
On the other side of the ball, the Charger defense should stack the box to contain Jamaal Charles and Thomas Jones, forcing Matt Cassel (who was just horrible last year) to beat them. It will be interesting to see if new offensive coordinator Charlie Weis can actually improve this offense, or were he, Crennel, head coach Todd Haley, Eric Mangini, and Josh McDaniels all just overrated hacks riding the coattails of the genius Bill Belichick? The "truth" arrow points more to "a bunch of hacks" right now. None have shown consistent success and many have been abject failures. When will NFL owners and GM's lose faith in Belichick's disciples? This will be a key season.
If the Chargers can weather the early storm and not make mistakes, they should be able to build a lead. This will force Cassel to pass the ball more, playing catch up as the game goes on. This should give Chargers fans a chance to see if the front seven can bring any pressure on the quarterback. I expect Rivera will hit on one or two safety blitzes, but that doesn't really show much, as more talented teams and QB's will sting the Chargers for taking those big gambles consistently. I want to know if Larry English and Shaun Phillips can get to the quarterback. Can Antonio Garay, Cam Thomas, Luis Castillo and Jaques Cesaire actually get enough push to create havoc and confusion on the offense? If the answer is "no," San Diego's secondary will get burned by the high powered offensives in the NFL. This should make everyone very nervous going into the playoffs in January. If they can bring pressure? This actually could be the Chargers' year to go all the way.
Chargers 27 Chiefs 13