Why Rashee Rice is the Chiefs' Most Important Player vs. Chargers

The second-round rookie is the key to a Chiefs victory
Rashee Rice had a career-high 72 receiving yards in Week 6 vs. the Broncos
Rashee Rice had a career-high 72 receiving yards in Week 6 vs. the Broncos / William Purnell-USA TODAY Sports

Kansas City's most important player this week, outside of Patrick Mahomes of course, is not Travis Kelce. In fact, it's the second-round rookie that's suddenly a much larger part of the offense than any of us anticipated.

Rice has at least four catches in three of the Chiefs' last four games, taking over as the team's leading wide receiver in the process.

Based on the Los Angeles Chargers' defensive tendencies, Rice is in line for perhaps his best NFL game yet in Week 7.

Why Rashee Rice is Chiefs' X-Factor vs. Chargers

According to Pro Football Focus, the Chargers play zone coverage at the eighth-highest rate of any defense in the NFL. They run zone just over 80% of the time, but they haven't found much success.

In zone coverage, Los Angeles is "28th in first downs and touchdowns allowed on a per-play basis (37.8%), 30th in yards allowed per coverage target (8.8) and 31st in explosive play rate allowed (18.5%)."

Given these tendencies, it's no wonder that the Chargers are 31st in opponent yards per pass play (7.6). Where does Rice come in? Funny you ask, as he's been one of the league's best receivers against zone coverage.

Even if the Chargers play more man than normal, they won't overhaul the entire defense overnight on a short week. Rice will have opportunities and he's delivered to this point.

Of Rice's 21 catches this season, 20 of them came against zone coverage to the tune of 237 yards. The Chargers are likely to focus their attention on Travis Kelce, who just caught nine-of-nine zone coverage targets against Denver, so Rice should find space to operate.

The Chiefs are in line to effectively put the AFC West away this week, as a win would give them a 3.5-game lead over the Chargers with the tiebreaker in hand.

Rice is the key to putting Los Angeles away. When we look back at the end of the season, I expect this to be the game that Rice took over as WR No. 1 and the rest was history.

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