Once again, it’s that time of the week where we sit down and get some insight on this weekend’s game from one of our fellow SB Nation blogs. This week, the Minnesota Vikings will take on the Kansas City Chiefs, a team that made it to last year’s AFC Championship Game but has hit a couple of bumps in the road this season.
I had an opportunity to exchange some questions with John Dixon, who writes for Arrowhead Pride, SB Nation’s home for everything relating to the Chiefs. You can see my answers to his questions right here, and here are the answers he provided to the questions I sent his way.
1) Obviously, the big question surrounding the Chiefs is the status of quarterback Patrick Mahomes. In the event that he doesn’t play, what strengths does Matt Moore bring to the table that could give the Vikings’ defense problems?
I have to disagree a bit with the premise of your question, which is that Patrick Mahomes is the driving force of the Chiefs offense. The Chiefs offense was excellent under Alex Smith before Patrick Mahomes arrived; Mahomes just made it spectacular. So a better question might be whether the Vikings secondary can handle receivers like Travis Kelce, Tyreek Hill, Sammy Watkins, Demarcus Robinson and Mecole Hardman. The key issue with regard to Moore — who is a savvy veteran — will be whether he will have adequate protection in the pocket; the Chiefs will be without two (or possibly three) of their starters on the offensive line.
2) The Chiefs’ defense is one of the worst in the NFL against the run at the midway point of the season. Given the way the Vikings have run the ball this year, how do you think the Chiefs will attempt to stop the Minnesota rushing attack?
It’s true. For the season, the Chiefs rank 31st in rushing yards (1,160) and are tied at 29th in rushing yards per attempt (4.9). But something happened in the game against the Denver Broncos two weeks ago: because of the return of linebacker Anthony Hitchens, a difference in game planning — or perhaps because the players are finally getting comfortable in Steve Spagnuolo’s new 4-3 scheme — the defense turned in their best two performances of the season against the run, allowing just 4.0 yards per attempt. More importantly, they allowed just 189 rushing yards in those two games — the kind of yardage they were giving up in single games earlier in the season. So to answer your question: the same way they’ve been succeeding in the last couple of games: with aggression and gap discipline.
3) Arrowhead Stadium has a reputation as one of the toughest places in the NFL for opposing teams, but so far this year the Chiefs are just 1-3 at home. In your opinion, what are the reasons for this?
The reputation is well-deserved. And it still is a difficult place for opposing teams to play. I think there are two issues at work. One of them is that across the league — for reasons no one has yet adequately explained — this season, home teams have a worse record than they’ve had since the Chiefs defeated the Vikings 23-7 in Super Bowl IV. (Surely you didn’t think I would fail to bring that up, did you?) Specifically, with regard to the Chiefs, their most difficult opponents have just happened to be at home; perhaps that’s been true for other teams, too. From our perspective, the Vikings will be yet another difficult opponent the Chiefs will just happen to play at Arrowhead.
4) The Chiefs, at this point, appear to be in control of the AFC West, despite their recent struggles. Has any sort of panic set in with Chiefs fans between those struggles and the Mahomes injury?
I can’t speak for Vikings fans, but among Chiefs fans, there are always those who are ready to give up on the season after a single loss. After three losses in four games, those fans are pretty much ready to call off the season. But I think it’s fair to say that most Chiefs fans see the truth: it’s still likely that the Chiefs will win their fourth consecutive AFC West crown, which will give them a home game to open the postseason. The only question is whether the team can pile up a lot of wins in the second half of the season, which would give them a shot at a first-round bye. Many fans already think that’s impossible — even though it isn’t quite impossible — but still remain confident the team will make the playoffs.
5) Give us one “under the radar” player on each side of the ball that Vikings fans might not know about that you feel will be a big factor in Sunday’s game.
On defense, I’d go with rookie cornerback Rashad Fenton. He only saw special teams action before starting slot cornerback Kendall Fuller injured his thumb a couple of weeks ago. Fenton has filled in admirably. Fuller may be back for Sunday’s game — but if he struggles, you’ll probably see Fenton in the secondary.
On offense, I’d have to say it depends on how injuries play out. If some of the questionable Chiefs players end up being active for the game, rookie running back Darwin Thompson probably won’t dress; the Chiefs have plenty of running backs. But if he gets a chance to play, watch out! It’s hard not to love this kid. He’s small but powerful. He’s agile and has great vision. But most of all, he wants it. He’s had few opportunities thus far, but I’m convinced this young man is going to leave his mark on the NFL.
Otherwise... you’d better keep an eye on rookie wide receiver Mecole Hardman — because if you don’t, he’ll run right past you.
Chiefs 24, Vikings 21. The identity of this Chiefs team is slowly changing. Thought at the beginning of the season to be an overpowering offense combined with an unproven (and probably subpar) defense, the tables are starting to turn. Without Patrick Mahomes — or when he has been less than 100% — the offense has just been good instead of overwhelming. While there are still some dark corners, the defense is finding its way to the light. I believe that combination will be enough to give the Chiefs a narrow victory on Sunday — and I can’t wait to see what the team looks like when Mahomes is back at 100%.
Once again, thanks to John for taking the opportunity to sit down and answer our questions for this week.