When the 2015 season opened, the Kansas City Chiefs were among those being looked at as a team with the potential to rise to the next step and potentially knock Denver off its perch atop the AFC West.
Not only hasn’t that happened, Kansas City has gone the other way. Following a Week 1 road win at Houston, the Chiefs have lost four straight, including both of their home games so far this season.
Adding injury to insult, the Chiefs suffered the devastating blow of losing All-Pro running back Jamaal Charles with a torn anterior cruciate ligament. Perhaps no player was more important to his team than Charles. Last year in 15 games, Charles ran for 1,000 yards, caught 40 passes and scored 14 touchdowns.
Vikings linebacker Anthony Barr will be leading the charge to shut down the new-look Chiefs running game and, even without Charles, he doesn’t expect the game plan Kansas City is coming with to Minnesota will change all that much without Charles.
“I think for the most part, they’ll be pretty similar to what they’ve been doing,” Barr said. “All of them are of similar in stature and speed. I think they’ll stay with what they’ve been doing.”
While both Asiata and McKinnon had their moments, they weren’t Peterson. Replacing a future Hall of Famer doesn’t just happen without taking a backward step.
“It’s hard to,” Barr said. “It’s hard to replace a guy who provides so much to the team, but I think all the other guys are going to step up big and we’re expecting them to do so.”
With the loss of Charles, the impression is that Kansas City’s 2015 season is on the rocks and they’re toppling waiting for the weekly knockout punch from opponents, starting with the Vikings on Sunday.
While the confidence the Vikings have coming in to play an opponent without its best offensive player, the Vikings aren’t getting too full of themselves. The talent level in the NFL is elite, whether you’re a 12-4 team or a 4-12 team and it is ignorance that would have someone thinking they can look past an opponent as an easy win on their way to the next game and next opponent.
Barr shot down that notion quickly, saying the Vikings at 2-2 haven’t proved anything yet.
“I don’t think we’re in a place where we can overlook anybody right now,” Barr said. “Each win is very important to us. Each game is very important. We’re going into each game with the same mindset – stop the run, be physical and try to get the win.”
But, the Vikings are fully aware that without Charles, the defense can focus on the other primary players in the Kansas City offense. That means bringing more heat on quarterback Alex Smith and trying to lock down his top two receiving threats – wide receiver Jeremy Maclin and Travis Kelce.
It would be naïve to think that the Chiefs offense won’t suffer without Charles. They were 1-4 with him. Can they get better without him? Probably not. Dallas has lost three straight games since losing quarterback Tony Romo, transforming from a favorite to compete for the Super Bowl to a team with a 2-3 record looking to hold on for the next four games until Romo can return from injured reserve.
A lot of teams lose key players during the course of a season. Losing Peterson last year derailed what the Vikings had planned. The loss of Charles could have a similar impact on Kansas City’s offense and the Vikings are looking to take advantage of the interim period as the Chiefs try to get their legs under them without their top offensive star.
“That goes with any team,” Barr said. “When a team is kind of struggling we want to make sure that they keep struggling. We’re going to do our best to affect them as much as possible.”