Matt Vensel is in his first year at the Star Tribune after covering the Ravens for the Baltimore Sun for six years. He is a Pittsburgh native and a Penn State grad. Follow him at @mattvensel.


Mark Craig has covered the NFL for 23 years, and the Vikings since 2003 for the Star Tribune. He is one of 44 Pro Football Hall of Fame selectors. Follow him at @markcraignfl.


Master Tesfatsion is the Star Tribune’s digital Vikings writer. He is a 2013 graduate of Arizona State and worked for mlb.com before arriving in Minneapolis. Follow him at @masterstrib.


Behind Enemy Lines: Chiefs look to McCluster for offensive spark

Posted by: under Vikings, Lions Updated: September 28, 2011 - 11:27 AM
As the Vikings head to Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City for a Week 4 meeting between winless teams, we asked  Kent Babb of the Kansas City Star to give us his up-close-and-personal scouting report on the Chiefs. Here are four things you need to know …
 
1)      The Chiefs may be the NFL team bit hardest by the injury bug.
In Week 1, in a 41-7 home loss to Buffalo, second-year safety Eric Berry went down with a season-ending ACL injury. The following week, budding tailback Jamaal Charles suffered the same injury in a 45-point loss in Detroit. Add that to a preseason ACL tear suffered by Tony Moeaki and now an ankle injury limiting cornerback Brandon Flowers and the Chiefs are left to attack the rest of the season without a handful of their key standouts.
 
“If you stop and look at it, they’ve lost arguably their best offensive threat in Charles and their best defensive player in Berry,” Babb said. “That’s an obvious reason for their struggle.”
 
2)      Kansas City’s lack of quality depth has been a hindrance.
Babb believes the Chiefs are thinnest at safety where the loss of Berry has thrust Sabby Piscitelli, a fifth-year player out of Oregon State, onto center stage.
 
Said Babb: “Piscitelli is just not a guy that belongs in the NFL. That’s the long and short of it. So when you lose a guy like Berry, you not only feel it at safety. You feel it across the whole defense because he was the quarterback back there.”
 
Kansas City’s receiving corps and offensive line also have depth issues. On top of all that, there’s a belief in Kansas City that head coach Todd Haley’s unique preseason plan of attack after the lockout ended has backfired in the early season.
 
“The preseason for this team was so laidback,” Babb said. “I don’t know why Haley did it that way. But his idea was to be innovative. He didn’t want to have a whole lot of contact or hitting. They didn’t really play the starters much at all for the first three preseason games. And then they played almost the entire fourth preseason game. It was pretty backwards. The idea was that would limit injuries and theoretically would keep them fresher into the regular season so they could peak at a later time. Instead, the team hasn’t been ready at all. They went 0-4 in preseason looking horrible in the process. And now they’re 0-3 in the regular season. And in the first two games, they were easily the worst team in the NFL.”
 
3)      With Charles out, the Chiefs need second-year speedster Dexter McCluster to emerge quickly.
In the search to replace Charles, Kansas City’s options are more limited than they appear. Thomas Jones is 33 years old, in his 12th NFL season and finally showing some wear and tear; he had just 31 yards on 14 carries last week against San Diego. LeRon McClain, meanwhile, is a fullback by trade and will never be effective as a frequent ball carrier. So that leaves McCluster with the responsibility of becoming a big play threat while also tending to his ball security issues after fumbling in Weeks 1 and 2. Last week, McCluster had nine rushes for 45 yards and five catches for 17 yards.
 
“Against San Diego, the biggest thing that happened was McCluster held on to the ball,” Babb said. “He had some nice-looking plays. Nothing spectacular. But he looked good. Look, he’s not Jamaal Charles. But he has a lot of similar skills. He’s got the speed. He has the agility and quickness and he can catch balls out of the backfield.”
 
4)      As bad as the Chiefs were in Weeks 1 and 2 in blowout losses to the Bills and Lions, they seemed to show signs of progress in Week 3, falling by only three points to the San Diego Chargers.
Most notably, Kansas City seemed to play with a greater edge defensively, holding the Chargers’ potentially explosive offense to 20 points and 375 total yards. San Diego quarterback Philip Rivers was 24-for-38 for 266 yards in the game. Rivers was sacked twice and threw two interceptions.
 
“The Chiefs hit on something to get pressure on the quarterback,” Babb said. “And they stepped up in big moments. They had a big stop on fourth-and-1 with (1:26) to play that gave them a chance to win the game or tie. Now Matt Cassell bungled that away with an interception. But at least the defense finally gave them a chance. It was an obvious step in the right direction.”

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