The Chiefs have an exciting contest against one of the hottest teams in the NFL on Sunday in the Minnesota Vikings. They come into Kansas City with the Chiefs hoping to break a streak of three straight losses at home. The Vikings were 2-2 before this four-game winning streak began, when quarterback Kirk Cousins was called out by teammate Adam Thielen about taking shots down the field. Well, he has responded nicely in the four games since, putting up MVP-type numbers for the Vikings, even if it hasn’t been against the best competition. This is a big game for both teams, really, the Chiefs don’t want to drop four out of five games even if they are dealing with a large number of injuries and the Vikings, particularly Cousins, have struggled in big-time games on the road with the nation watching. This game will have a lot of eyes on it, and the Chiefs will need to find a way to beat this defense.
The Vikings boast one of the top defenses in the NFL, particularly in the run department. They rank eighth in DVOA overall when it comes to defense but what is interesting is their “dave” ranking, which combines the preseason projection of the defense with the performance this season. That has them at sixth-best in the league. The run defense is where they make their money, only allowing one 100-yard rusher this season, to the Green Bay Packers’ Aaron Jones.
Their front seven is very disciplined and they do their jobs well. The linebackers fill gaps and running lanes well, forcing running backs to find different ways to move forward. This gives the defensive front time to shed blocks and make tackles. The aggressiveness of these linebackers in the run game makes it difficult to get the ground game going, so the Chiefs might have to get creative this week to find the success they have been searching for.
Not only are the Vikings disciplined, but they are also difficult to move up front. They have some powerful bodies in Everson Griffen, Linval Joeseph, and Danielle Hunter on the defensive line and Hunter is easily the best of the bunch. On this play, you can see each player get to the gap they are responsible for quickly with the strong side linebacker shuffling his way into the running lane. This forces the back to look to bounce it outside and as soon as that happens, Hunter sees it, throws off his blocker, and makes the tackle.
They rally to the ball carrier once the defense recognizes it’s a run, as well, and safety Harrison Smith is one of the best in the game in run support and tackling. Here we see the gaps get plugged up and the linebacker shoots the running lane quickly. Johnson is forced to cut inside, then tries to get back into the original hole with the lane opening back up but Smith recognized the run and collapsed to the right B gap and wraps up Johnson before he gets into the open field.
That’s what makes this defense so stout against the run, smart linebackers and safeties that know exactly where they are going and have to be in run defense. These linebackers are no joke either, when it comes to Anthony Barr and Eric Kendricks. But there is one thing that the Chiefs might be able to do to help get some yards on the ground. Speed. The Vikings play a lot of zone coverages and this can leave them susceptible to jet sweeps or touch passes across the formation as we saw with Mecole Hardman last week.
When in zone coverage the defense passes off players being motioned from one side to the other. So as an offensive player comes from the right to the left, depending on where they stop, any number of defenders could be responsible for them. This becomes a problem on jet sweeps. Here we see the Lions motion McKissic from the right and he’s screaming across the formation. Immediately after the ball is snapped he takes the handoff from Stafford, and is off to the races. Because of the zone coverage, the responsibility shifted from a corner to a linebacker who was standing still. McKissic was already on the move and too fast for the linebacker to catch up to. He gets to the edge and takes it for a nice gain.
With the Chiefs’ speed at wide receiver in Tyreek Hill, Sammy Watkins, and Hardman they might be able to manufacture some running success with these types of plays and using the motions to force the linebackers into tough situations that could theoretically help the running backs, as well.
The Vikings run a traditional 4-3 defense out of their base and the linebackers move to the strength of the formation based on the tight end or fullback. Next, as we get to their secondary, they play a lot of Cover 2 and Cover 4, and as we all know, the Chiefs and Patrick Mahomes eat up zone coverage. We might see a more “manly” approach to the secondary in this game and they have corners to do it.
I will preface this by saying that the Vikings have yet to play a team with as much speed as the Chiefs possess at receiver and that can make a huge difference when it comes to man coverage. But the Vikings can be sticky in coverage and they have the closing speed to break up short passes if they are in the position to do so. Look across the field when the clip is paused, either the defenders are right in the hip pocket of the receivers or they are in the position to break on the throw and make the play. At the top of the screen, Tre Waynes is in coverage on Alshon Jeffery. Keeps Jeffery in front of him and breaks on the throw, gets there just in time to break up the pass and get the incompletion.
This is a good group in the secondary and they have played well this year, but they can be thrown on. Using the knowledge of the linebackers being more aggressive in the run game, the play-action game comes to the forefront. Multiple teams found success using this, even if they couldn’t find many running lanes. The Vikings pride themselves in the ability to stop the run and even the Washington Redskins were able to use that against them, a little at least.
The intermediate part of the field is an area the Chiefs will look to exploit in this game and if you watch the clip above you will see why. The Redskins use a play-action fake, this draws in the linebackers for a moment and the Redskins find two receivers open down the seams of the field in the intermediate part. No one around them, and they get the pass complete to McLaurin for a big gain.
This is the kind of thing the Chiefs will have to find success in and give Moore or Mahomes a little bit of time to find those receivers that will come open. The Vikings will try to counter that though, they love to blitz their safeties and they are good at it. Being that aggressive comes with a price as well. The play-action game can manipulate those plays as well.
Smith comes as the blitzer and attempts to tackle the running back for a loss on the play but Wentz still has the ball. He gets it away to his tight end quickly for a nine-yard gain on the play. There were better options on the play but thanks to Hunter Wentz had to go with his quick read but still a good gain on the play.
That brings me to my key for the game on offense: Stopping the edge rushers of Minnesota. These guys are very good and combine for half the total sacks that the Vikings have on the season. Hunter is one of the best overall edge defenders in the game and Griffen is an extremely strong individual that could have a field day with Cam Erving at left tackle. The following play neither gets a sack but that just shows they can impact the passing game in more than one way.
Hunter sets up the tackle with an inside step and then gets outside quickly and around the tackle to Stafford’s throwing arm. Griffen on the other side takes a bit longer to get going but when he does he bullies the tackle nearly into the lap of Stafford before he attempts the throw. Hunter gets his hand on the arm of Stafford and affects the throw, causing it to fall short of its target.
If the Chiefs offensive line can hold up against these edge rushers and keep the quarterback clean, they will have a good chance to put up points against the Vikings. It hasn’t happened much this year, teams putting up points on the Vikings, but they haven’t faced an offense as explosive as the Chiefs all year, either. The Lions tried to keep pace with them and put up 30 points, so it can be done.
This game is at home and the Chiefs need a win at home to keep spirits up. I half expect Mahomes to return against the Vikings and if he does the Chiefs could put up over 30 on this defense with his ability to read defenses and get the ball to where it needs to go quickly. I also think we will see more Mecole Hardman in this game as compared to the nine snaps he saw against the Packers. The Chiefs have the speed to burn and it’ll be on full display this Sunday. I assume the Vikings will counter with more man coverage than they usually play. It’s going to be a fun game to watch. Look for another game with a lot of points scored on both sides.