The Vikings are 2-2, well-rested off a bye week and returning home to TCF Bank Stadium. The Chiefs are none of the above as we take our early look at the Vikings’ next opponent. Warning: The opinions expressed here belong to the author, who welcomes everyone else to form their own.
Let’s roll …
NEXT UP: Kansas City Chiefs, noon CT Sunday at TCF Bank Stadium. Sunday, the Chiefs were 9 ½-point home favorites when they lost 18-17 to a beat-up Bears team on a seven-yard touchdown pass from Jay Cutler to Matt Forte with 18 seconds left. The Chiefs have lost four straight to fall to 1-4, tied with Baltimore, Houston and Jacksonville for the AFC’s worst record.
KEY INJURY: Jamaal Charles, the team’s offensive identity and the versatile weapon that overcomes quarterback Alex Smith’s many deficiencies, tore the ACL in his right knee on Sunday and is out for the season. Since 2012, when Charles returned from tearing the ACL in his left knee, the Chiefs have relied on Charles for 30.9 percent of their offense. According to ESPN, only Chicago running back Matt Forte (31.2) has accounted for a higher percentage during that time.
REPLACING JAMAAL: Charles’ workload will fall to shifty second-year player Charcandrick West, who has 12 career carries, and Knile Davis, who has two career 100-yard games. The Chiefs also are working out former Texan, Brown and Viking Ben Tate and former Saint Pierre Thomas today. Coach Andy Reid also said Monday that 5-8, 176-pound receiver De’Anthony Thomas, a dangerous weapon on bubble screens, can play some at running back in this offense.
THE SERIES: This is only the 11th meeting since these two met for the first time in Super Bowl IV on Jan. 11, 1970. The Chiefs upset the Vikings 23-7 in that meeting and hold a 7-4 overall advantage. In the last meeting, Chiefs quarterback Matt Cassel posted a 102.7 passer rating while leading Kansas City to a 22-17 win over Donovan McNabb, who fell to 0-4 as a starter to open the 2011 season. The Chiefs haven’t played in Minnesota since a 45-20 loss in 2003.
A LOOK AT THE FILM: Smith sees ghosts
For Vikings fans, it will be interesting to see the Chiefs without Charles. For Chiefs fans, it could be sickening. Watching Sunday’s game, it was immediately obvious that the key to shutting down the Chiefs’ offense is taking away the screen game. Doing that forces Smith to throw the ball down the field, which he can’t do consistently well because he either doesn’t have the time (21 sacks, No. 2 in the league) or he hurries when he doesn’t have to because he’s so used to getting pummeled. Against the Bears, he ran for a first down on third-and-seven, but rushed a wide-open screen to Charles on the next snap. That could have been a big gainer but fell incomplete because Smith clearly was sensing pressure that wasn’t there. Without Charles’ versatility as a runner and short-pass receiver, Smith could be lost. With Charles, the Chiefs led the Bears 17-6 and had the ball inside the Chicago 10-yard line in the third quarter. After Charles left, the Chiefs had two first downs and gave up 12 unanswered points.
RANKINGS: Offense: 18th (18 rushing, 21 passing). Defense 26 (13 rushing, 27 passing). Scoring: T-14. Scoring defense: T-29.
STORYLINE: Remember the feel-good stories when Andy Reid was bounced from Philly as a worn-out coach only to land in Kansas City, where he immediately turned the Chiefs into an 11-5 playoff team? Yeah, that seems long ago, doesn’t it? Well, Reid is back on the hot seat after a four-game losing streak that includes last week’s embarrassing home loss to Chicago. Since going 11-5 in 2013, Reid is 10-12, including 0-1 in the playoffs.
OFFENSE: We’ve detailed Smith’s deficiencies and the grim situation at running back. But that’s not all that troubles the Chiefs’ offense. The receivers didn’t catch a touchdown pass all last season and have only two this season. As Reid’s “spread game coordinator,” one of former Vikings head coach Brad Childress’ duties is working with the receivers on game day. Reid’s conservative nature also has surfaced as a storyline again. Two weeks ago, Smith threw for 386 yards, but the Chiefs settled for seven field goals and no TDs in nine possessions. Near the end of last week’s first half, Reid and Smith were either content to play for a field goal or mismanaged the clock horrendously. They ended up kicking a field goal for a 17-3 lead in a game they lost 18-17. Former Eagles receiver Jeremy Maclin has only one touchdown, but is averaging seven catches for 97 yards per game.
DEFENSE: This is a pressure-based unit that should be able to get to the passer and create havoc consistently. But that hasn’t been the case so far as the Chiefs rank 27th against the pass and 29th in points allowed (28.6). Of course, it doesn’t help that the Chiefs have played and lost to Green Bay (38-28), Denver (31-24) and Cincinnati (36-21). Last week, the Chiefs attacked the middle of a Bears’ line that including a rookie center making his first NFL start. It paid off with an early strip-sack fumble recovery for a touchdown. But that was one of only two sacks the Chiefs would get. Linebacker Justin Houston, whose league-high 22 sacks a year ago came within half a sack of the NFL single-season record, had three sacks in the first two games, but hasn’t had one since. The Chiefs also have been especially vulnerable in coverage at the No. 3 corner spot since Phillip Gaines was injured in Week 3. Jamell Fleming, Marcus Cooper and Ron Parker have been picked on as they’ve rotated at that spot.
STAT OF THE WEEK: 21
— Number of times Smith has been sacked. Only Seattle’s Russell Wilson has been sacked more times (22). Smith is on pace to be sacked 67 times, which would rank fourth in NFL history. Five of the Vikings’ eight sacks have come at home.
TURNOVER MARGIN: Minus-3 (T-19)
They have only four takeaways – tied for sixth-fewest — and seven giveaways, including three Smith interceptions.
KEEP AN EYE ON: Safety Husain Abdullah
The former Viking retired because of multiple concussions, sat out the 2012 season and then returned to play for the Chiefs in 2013. He has struggled in coverage. He gave up the game-winning touchdown pass to Matt Forte with 18 seconds left in Sunday’s game.
THE QUOTE: “It’s my responsibility.”
— Reid, whose honeymoon in Kansas City is long over, on the Chiefs going from preseason contenders for the AFC West title to 1-4 and riding a four-game losing streak.