Struggling AFC West sides the Kansas City Chiefs and San Diego Chargers, begin Week 9 of the 2012 NFL season by doing battle on Thursday Night Football. The game will be determined by these three key matchups.
Jamaal Charles vs. Takeo Spikes
Running back Jamaal Charles is the lone playmaking threat for a dire Chiefs' offense. Quick-footed, elusive and blessed with genuine game-breaking speed, Charles is the one player the Chargers' defense must contain.
Keying those efforts will be inside linebacker Takeo Spikes. The rugged veteran is the fulcrum of San Diego's run defense. Spikes is protected by nose tackle Aubrayo Franklin and defensive lineman Corey Liuget and the 35-year-old will need to quickly shoot his gaps and get to Charles.
Not many defenders can deal with Charles and his graceful footwork one-on-one. But Spikes is a natural and savvy run stuffer who has seen it all. If the Chargers hope to corral Charles, they'll need a productive game from the 15-year-pro.
Tamba Hali vs. Jared Gaither
Chargers left tackle Jared Gaither could be motivated to produce a strong performance against his former team. San Diego will need Gaither at his best if they hope to control dominant Chiefs rush linebacker Tamba Hali.
Gaither endured a nightmare stint with the Chiefs during the first 10 games of last season. He was eventually released and plucked from the league's scrapheap by the Chargers.
The hulking offensive lineman can expect to tested early and often by Hali. The powerful and technically-astute outside linebacker is the primary pass-rusher in the Chiefs 3-4 defensive front.
If Gaither can't keep Hali at bay and protect Rivers' blind side, the Chiefs should be able to force some turnovers from the mistake-prone quarterback.
Romeo Crennel vs. Norv Turner
This game is defined by two coaches who are under intense pressure. Romeo Crennel has managed just one win with the Chiefs and his defense, a supposed area of strength, has regressed.
Crennel has looked out of his depth, as he has struggled to find answers at quarterback and keep morale high from week to week. On the opposite sideline, pressure and criticism are nothing new to Norv Turner.
The Chargers have frequently flattered to deceive under his stewardship and have once again collapsed after a positive start. Turner's offense continues to make mistakes in big games and has undermined an improved defense.
Both coaches have contrasting areas of expertise and it will be fascinating to see if Crennel's defensive proficiency can outwit Turner's offensive acumen. Crennel favours a bend-don't-break style of defense that emphasises tight zone coverage.
The scheme will be tested by Turner's system, that relies on vertical routes from receivers in the passing game, to create space underneath for the run and prolific tight end Antonio Gates.
With both coaches fighting for their jobs, it may be the man who is prepared to take more risks, who decides this game.
image: © Marianne O'Leary