The Vikings are 3 1/2-point favorites heading into Sunday’s game against the Chiefs. And that seems generous to a Chiefs team that’s 1-4, has lost four straight and is coming off a loss as a 9 1/2-point home favorite against a beat-up Bears team. And, oh yeah, they also lost their offensive identity when their best player, running back Jamaal Charles, tore the ACL in his right knee against the Bears.
The Vikings are 2-2, coming off a bye week and are 2-0 at home. But, remember, this is the NFL. Sometimes, when things lean too far one way they tend to fall the other way. Perfect example: The Bears going into Kansas City and beating the Chiefs a week ago.
The Chiefs were presumed to win last week. This week, it’s the Vikings.
For a closer look at the Chiefs, we’ve reached out to Adam Teicher, who has covered the Chiefs for 23 years, including 20 for the Kansas City Star and the past three for ESPN. Here are five questions we posed:
MC: What is the mood of the team and is there any fight left in a Chiefs team that’s lost four straight, is coming off losing at home as a 9 ½-point favorite and now hits the road knowing its best player, Jamaal Charles, is out for the season?
AT: “That might be the issue that defines the rest of the season for the Chiefs. They have too much talent to be as bad as they’ve been through the first five games. I’d have to say it’s going to be a problem for them. Jamaal Charles acknowledged after a lopsided loss in Green Bay the Chiefs didn’t play with much energy. Andy Reid this week said the sense of urgency needed to be greater than it’s been. Maybe they respond well to all of this adversity but they certainly haven’t done well in that regard so far.”
MC: Alex Smith has taken 21 sacks and appeared to sense pressure even when it wasn’t there against the Bears. How is he playing this season, is he capable of performing consistently in a more vertical attack, and what can we expect from him now that the running and screen games have taken the blow of losing Charles?
AT: “Smith certainly isn’t all that ails the Chiefs offensively, but he’s been part of the problem. As always, he’s been too quick with the checkdowns and as a result the Chiefs have lost some big plays. In his first two seasons with the Chiefs he didn’t win them any games but at least he didn’t cost them any, either. But this year he had two costly interceptions in a loss to the Broncos and a bad pick against the Packers while that game was still in doubt. In Charles’ absence, the Chiefs will have no choice but to ask for more from him. There’s been no indication he’s capable of giving it.”
MC: Speaking of the offense without Charles, now would seem to be a good time for some extra brain power from a “spread game analyst.” Speaking of which, what does former Vikings coach Brad Childress bring to Andy Reid’s table as the “spread game analyst” during the game-planning process and on game day?
AT: “It’s hard to know exactly what Childress does or his impact on things. I’ve never received an answer that made much sense when I’ve asked about his specific responsibilities. The Chiefs have mostly kept him well-hidden from the media. So he remains a man of some mystery in Kansas City, at least publicly.”
MC: It’s really hard to get a feel for the Chiefs’ defense. Yeah, the Chiefs played the Broncos, Packers and Bengals – combined record: 15-0 – in consecutive weeks. But they also gave up 31 or more points in each of those three losses. The defense looked good for three quarters against the Bears last week, but failed at the end. So how good are the Chiefs defensively?
AT: “This is the biggest disappointment. The Chiefs were solid all of last season despite season-long injuries to three regulars. They didn’t allow 30 points in a game one time. But things have collapsed despite the return of the injured players and no major defections, including the coaching staff. Opponents have been successful at picking on the weak links and the Chiefs haven’t adjusted to cover for this. The pass rush might be the biggest failure. They’re getting pressure but not finishing the deal.”
MC: Justin Houston led the league in sacks with 22 last year and had three through two games this year. But he hasn’t had a sack in the past three games. What kind of pressure is he producing and do you think the Chiefs will target their pressure toward Vikings rookie right tackle T.J. Clemmings – two sacks allowed versus Denver — as they appeared to do last week against a rookie center making his NFL debut?
AT: “Houston’s all-around game is again superb. As far as the pass rush he’s been getting pressure and hurries but he hasn’t been finishing. He had a streak going back to last season of eight games with at least one sack but now, as you mention, he’s gone the other way. Hard to say how the Chiefs will try to attack the Vikings with pressure. But they haven’t always been successful picking on what they perceived to be an opponent’s weakness. They thought Houston would have a big pass-rush game against the Packers and their struggling right tackle, but that was the game that snapped his sack streak.”