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Know the KC Chiefs' Week 5 Opponent: Key Facts About the Minnesota Vikings

The Chiefs hit the road once again and are looking for a win in Minnesota. What's important to know about the Vikings in Week 5?

One week after narrowly surviving to avoid an 0-4 start, the Minnesota Vikings — 2022’s luckiest team and 2023’s most unlucky — prepare for the reigning champion Kansas City Chiefs.

The Chiefs’ previous two matchups failed to live up to the “offensive fireworks” preseason hype, but a Minneapolis trip to battle Justin Jefferson, T.J. Hockenson and Kirk Cousins could provide the offensive urgency Kansas City needs.

Entering as 4.5-point underdogs, here’s what’s worth knowing about the talented-yet-flawed Vikings.

The dead zone

How exactly does a team with top-three statistical players at QB, WR and TE rank just 16th-best in points per game? The short answer: offensive brilliance, up until the moment it’s time to, well… score.

For four weeks, a Vikings fan’s worst nightmare was seeing their team on Scott Hanson’s NFL RedZone. The only thing worse than having an NFL-high 11 giveaways? Losing six of those inside an opponent’s 30-yard line. No team over the last 16 seasons has had that mixture of poor luck and ineptitude with opponent-territory turnovers.

Despite athletic upgrades at receiver, Minnesota has struggled to replace Adam Thielen, perennially a top-tier red zone threat; Alexander Mattison, who entered 2023 with just two fumbles on 474 touches, has fumbled once and nearly lost two others. Even Cousins has a 44.3 passer rating inside an opponent’s 10-yard line.

An offense this well-coached and multifaceted figures it out, but for now, the Chiefs’ defense has some bend-but-don’t-break appeal.

Blitzes, blitzes and more blitzes

Watch a snap or two of Minnesota’s defense, and it won’t take long to uncover their principle tenet under Brian Flores: they love to blitz.

Minnesota has blitzed on 57% of their defensive looks; no other team is above even 50 percent. Even so, the Chiefs should feel bullish, largely for three reasons:

  1. Um, Patrick Lavon Mahomes II.
  2. Despite the tendencies, the Vikings rank bottom-10 in hurries and knockdowns.
  3. Two Sundays ago, Justin Herbert saw it at a historic rate and went 40-of-47(!)

The cool thing about Mahomes — to pick just one — is how quickly he can make defensive-minded coaches second-guess utilizing their strengths, as evidenced here and here.

Flores, a zero-blitz frequent and defensive aggressor, likely won’t deviate. In three games against Mahomes — one as Miami’s head coach and two as the Patriots’ LB coach — Flores-led defenses have fared as such as against Mahomes:

  • 63-of-101 (62.3%), 1,040 yards (346.6/game), 10.2 yards/target, 9 TD, 5 INT, 106.4 rating
  • 31 blitzes (10.3/game), 17 hurries, 10 hits

Mahomes’s big-play potential is heightened against Flores’s safety-less looks, but turnovers increase. In the aforementioned 2018 game, the Patriots showed single-high, one safety creeping into a loaded box, forcing Mahomes to anticipate the blitz’s location. Eyeing Travis Kelce on a crosser, Mahomes misses linebacker Dont’a Hightower sneaking back into the middle hole for a pick.

Mahomes’ recent versions are more cerebral, and the style of play in which Flores wants to force QBs into — a league-low “time to throw,” blitzes at every angle, forcing odd-angled throws — fits into No. 15’s toolhouse.

A portion of minute Rice

Given the previous point, the Chiefs may need something they haven't consistently gotten: a big-time WR performance. Five weeks in, it remains a point of contention.

Minnesota is tied for an NFL-best in limiting TEs — they’ve only allowed them 20.5 yards per game — and just 12.1 fantasy points allowed (11th-fewest) to running backs. By process of elimination, production has to come from somewhere.

Keenan Allen provided some blueprint in his 18-catch, 215-yard outing in Week 3; Terrace Marshall had a career-high nine-reception game last week. DeVonta Smith needed only four catches for a 131-yard game in Week 2. Minnesota has given up the most receptions (74) to WRs, third-most yards (882) and seventh-most TDs (7).

Minnesota's defense plays their cornerbacks and safeties often at similar depths — a picket-fence defense — prevent-like, focusing on keeping everything underneath. Who in Kansas City, outside of Kelce, is most equipped to overcome it?

Personally, the money’s on Rashee Rice, the Chiefs’ target and reception leader at WR. His short-route IQ, early chemistry with Mahomes and rising snap count compared to Weeks 1 and 2 bode well. 

The Vikings’ “safety hazard”

Only three players have 30-plus blitzes in 2023-24; Minnesota has all of them. Week 4 offered a turn-back-the-clock game for Harrison Smith, tied for the NFL-high in sacks among safeties (3).

In a play breakdown from Smith’s fourth-down sack, head coach Kevin O’Connell discussed the choice of having Smith, a safety, in essentially an edge-rusher role. O’Connell acknowledged his tendencies; all year long, they’ve threatened seven-man rushes, this time using that “illusion” to only send four. It does its job, causing indecisiveness.

Jawaan Taylor, Donovan Smith, and the Chiefs’ pass protection communication will need to be sound. Everything from A-gap mugs to simulated pressures will be in the Vikings’ toolbox. Smith, for instance, had a career-high 14 blitzes against Carolina.

Six other stats to note

— Minnesota needed three weeks for their first 10-plus-yard run. Over the last two weeks, Mattison and Cam Akers have combined for 42 carries for 228 yards (5.4/carry).

— 35-year-old Cousins ranks No. 1 in QB hits (24). Kansas City's defense ranks top-10 in: blitzes (55), hurries (23) and pressures (47).

— There’s the case that Minnesota is better than its indicated 1-3 record. Last week, though, they had a 79.5% chance of losing in the third quarter against another winless team.

— In Week 3, Herbert didn’t throw a single pass 10-plus yards downfield until attempt No. 27. 

— The game’s most statistically brilliant wideout, Jefferson is on pace for 2,308(!!) yards. There’s no “blueprint” to stop him, but Kansas City has performed well against WR1s (Wilson, Moore, Ridley, St. Brown): 37 targets, 20 receptions (5.0/game), 204 yards (51.0/game), 2 TDs.

— Flores’s defenses play dime or quarter on 19.6% of their snaps. Given Isiah Pacheco’s big Week 4 and how often the Chiefs’ line reaches the second level, the potential size advantage is of intrigue.

Score Prediction: Chiefs 27, Vikings 22