Coming off a fourth-place finish in the NFC North last year, the Vikings already find themselves in a a must-win situation Sunday. However, as they prepare to meet the Kansas City Chiefs, they face a team that is the defending AFC West champs that also finds itself at 0-3 and needing a win to try to salvage their 2011 season.
The Chiefs have some striking similarities to the Vikings, among them trying to install a new offensive scheme following the lockout. Offensive coordinator Charlie Weis took a job to coach the University of Florida, leaving the Chiefs to try to pick up the pieces. To date, they have struggled badly to do that.
The Chiefs have been dominated thus far this season, being outscored 109-27, numbers that represent the least amount of points scored by any team in the league as well as the most points allowed. The Vikings have dominated opponents in the first half, which could be good news, since the Chiefs have been outscored 50-10 in the first halves of their games. Their biggest issue is that they have been drilled in the second half of games, being outscored 59-17.
As difficult as the times have been for the Chiefs, they're moving forward without arguably their two biggest playmakers. In their 41-7 season-opening loss to Buffalo, the Chiefs lost safety Eric Berry for the season. In their 48-3 loss to Detroit in Week 2, the team lost running back Jamaal Charles. Both were Pro Bowlers who were viewed as the leaders of the defense and offense, respectively. Without them, the Chiefs have been scrambling to make up for their production – and not being very successful in that endeavor.
The Chiefs defense has done the best it can without Berry, but has allowed 13 touchdowns in three games (five rushing, eight passing) as well as six field goals. In all, opponents have scored 19 times in three games, while the Chiefs have scored just five times (three touchdowns, two field goals). While the Kansas City defense hasn't been brutal, the biggest issue has been time of possession.
Opponents have averaged holding the ball for 34:43 of games, almost 10 minutes more than the Chiefs (25:17). Without Charles, the Chiefs running game has ground to a halt. Flashy third-down back Dexter McCluster leads the team in both rushing and receiving – rushing for 138 yards on just 21 carries and catching 14 passes for 40 yards. An undersized speedster, he hasn't consistently found running lanes, but he has the speed to do some damage on the perimeter. The primary runner is no stranger to the Vikings – former Bear Thomas Jones. But Jones has struggled badly trying to earn hard yards between the tackles. He has rushed 28 times, but has gained just 74 yards – less than three yards per carry.
Like the Vikings, the Chiefs have had their share of woes on third down – both offensively and defensively. Often forced into third-and-long situations, the Chiefs have converted just 10 of 36 third-down opportunities (a dismal 27.8 percent), while allowing opponents to convert 20 of 43 third downs (46.5 percent). Those type of numbers typically bode poorly toward a team's odds of winning and the Vikings are sure to try to take advantage of that disparity.
The Chiefs rushing defense hasn't been hideous – allowing just 3.7 yards per carry – but the problem is that they have been behind so often that teams have been able to pound away at them, rushing 99 times in three games. Expect to see the Vikings try to replicate those numbers, looking to run Adrian Peterson and Toby Gerhart 35-40 times Sunday.
The biggest concern the Vikings will have is one of the better home-field advantages in the league. When the Chiefs won the AFC West, they did so by going 7-1 at Arrowhead Stadium. That home-field edge got blown out of the water in Week 1, when the Buffalo Bills pounded them 41-7. With four of their first six games on the road, the Chiefs desperately need this game or they could legitimately start the season 0-6 by the time they come home again Oct. 31.
On paper, this is a game in which the Vikings should dominate. So many of Kansas City's weaknesses match up to the strengths of the Vikings. They have been run on often and have found themselves behind at halftime by considerable margins in each game. If they do that to the Vikings, the chances are the Vikings won't blow a fourth double-digit lead.
There are many analysts that are convinced that the Chiefs are the worst team in the NFL. Injuries and ineffectiveness have combined to make Kansas City's nightmare 2011 season one that will likely have them in the mix for consensus No. 1 draft pick Andrew Luck next April. If the Vikings don't dispose of the Chiefs early, it could be a sign that their 2011 season is going in the tank. Something has to give and, from the looks of things, it will be the Vikings earning their first win and Kansas City's season-long nightmare continuing.
John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.
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