KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Desperate times, desperate measures. Feel like playing a little center, Eric Winston?
“No, no,” the hulking Chiefs tackle said Monday, the first Victory Monday of Kansas City’s young 2012 campaign. “We’re in deep trouble if that happens, I promise you that.”
Speaking of trouble, win No. 1 in New Orleans — a 27-24 overtime escape — came with more than a few casualties attached, once the smoke finally cleared. Slot receiver Dexter McCluster got his elbow bent like a Gumby doll. Running back Peyton Hillis tweaked his ankle. And center Rodney Hudson wound up getting carted off in the third quarter with a knee injury, forcing a game of musical chairs on the Chiefs’ offensive line.
Guard Ryan Lilja moved over to center, a position he said he hadn’t played in ages. Rookie Jeff Allen came off the bench to fill Lilja’s spot at left guard. As of late Monday evening, the Chiefs still didn’t have a true backup center on the 53-man roster.
So with the spectre of 0-3 avoided, the next crisis on Arrowhead Drive is this: Who’s going to snap the darned football?
Lilja again? “Obviously he’s put a lot of work in, and you can see it,” Winston observed. “And he’s such a reliable guy that I think everyone felt pretty comfortable about him going there. And you watch him on film, he looks like a natural, and he looks like he’s played the position for quite some time.”
Casey Wiegmann? Last time we saw him, the 39-year-old former Chief was in a blue University of Kansas shirt in downtown St. Louis, cheering on the Jayhawks men’s basketball team as they put the hammer to dadgum Roy Williams.
Sampson Genus? The ex-Green Bay Packer — how about another hand for those replacement refs! — is reportedly slated to pop down for a workout with Chiefs brass.
“If (Hudson isn’t) playing, then I probably need to research,” coach Romeo Crennel allowed Monday, “to see if I can find at least a backup to come in.”
At least. Because if there were ever a week in which you wanted to keep the good vibes in the running game going — Kansas City rolled up 273 on the ground versus the Saints last weekend, 233 of those on the legs of Jamaal Charles — it’s this one.
San Diego’s up next on the docket, and recent history suggests the trenches could very well set the tone. Since 2007, the Chiefs have managed less than 100 rushing yards against the Chargers five different times. They’re 1-4 in those meetings, scoring just 13.8 points per tilt.
As with Drew Brees, the best defense against Philip Rivers is to keep him standing on the sidelines, bored stiff, while your line chews up yards and clock.
“A lot of teams try to take advantage of the fact that you have a new center,” Crennel said. “We were able to operate, and operate efficiently, so that was good for us.”
It’ll have to be better Sunday, you feel. The Chiefs are the best rushing team in the NFL, averaging 191.7 per game on the ground, and rank second in the league in average time of possession (35:02). Meanwhile, the Chargers have allowed just 67.3 rushing yards per contest — the fourth-best total in the league.
“It’s kind of funny how we’ve gotten (that rank), but it is what it is,” Winston allowed. “Now the hard part is staying there … defenses are going to be gunning for us. They’re going to know that we put up a lot of yards, and they don’t want to be next on the list.”