Preview: Chiefs have talent, but losing record as they face Minnesota Vikings

The Kansas City Chiefs haven’t lived up to preseason expectations and now Jamaal Charles and Dontari Poe are out.

Few teams have been a bigger disappointment this season than the Kansas City Chiefs. Predicted by many national analysts as being the team most capable of taking out Denver atop the AFC West, instead the Chiefs are 0-2 at home, 1-4 overall and on the brink of seeing their 2015 season implode in October.

The Chiefs have the talent to win and effectively handed wins to Denver and Chicago. It’s been a building trend.

On offense, Kansas City suffered a massive setback when running back Jamaal Charles was lost for the season with a torn ACL. It can be argued Charles has meant more to his offense than Adrian Peterson has to the Vikings. In his five full seasons as a starter, Charles has rushed for more than 1,000 yards and caught 35 or more passes in each of them. His value to the team was immeasurable. With Charles gone, the focus of the rushing offense now reverts to backups Knile Davis and Charcandrick West. Both of them have shown flashes of being able to make plays, but their limited experience and playing time will leave a void that will be difficult to fill.

With the running game suffering a huge blow, the onus may fall on quarterback Alex Smith to pick up the slack. Known as a game manager who doesn’t make many mistakes, he isn’t the type of quarterback known for rallying the troops from a double-digit deficit. He is what he is. When he minimizes mistakes, he helps lead his team to wins, which he has done often with both San Francisco and Kansas City. But he hasn’t proved to be the kind of QB that can put a team on his shoulders and carry it to victory. He just isn’t that type of dynamic playmaker.

Smith’s biggest problem last year was that his wide receivers weren’t playmakers or difference-makers. The Chiefs made a big offseason move to mend that problem, adding former Andy Reid protégé Jeremy Maclin. Through five games, Maclin has caught 36 passes for 483 yards and one touchdown and his role in the offense has grown significantly in recent weeks. Over the last three games, he has been targeted 36 times, catching 27 passes for 374 yards and one TD. But he remains a one-man show in the wide receivers room, joining young speedster De’Anthony Thomas, veteran and former Eagle Jason Avant and Albert Wilson.

With the lack of talent at wide receiver, tight end Travis Kelce has become more integral to the offense. Kelce has caught 24 passes for 328 yards and two touchdowns. He has become the best tight end by far in the Chiefs offense since the heyday of Tony Gonzalez and, without Charles to keep defenses honest, Kelce’s role may have to grow out of necessity.

The offensive line for the Chiefs has been a mess. While the run game has averaged 4.4 yards per carry, the pass protection has been brutal. Smith has been sacked 22 times and the biggest investments the team made in the offensive line – free agent Ben Grubbs and 2013 first-round pick Eric Fisher – haven’t lived up to expectations The team has invested heavily in the draft to improve the offensive line – of the 10 linemen on the roster, seven of them were Kansas City draft picks. Until the unit comes together, the offense will struggle – especially without Charles as a security blanket.

Defensively, the Chiefs have the individual stars to be an oppressive group, but it hasn’t translated on the field. They have the 26th-ranked defense and have been shredded through the air, allowing almost 300 yards a game. Despite having talent at all three levels, it simply hasn’t come together for them this season.

Up front, the Chiefs have two of the league’s better run-stuffing nose tackles in 2012 first-round draft pick Dontari Poe and former Seahawk Jaye Howard, but Poe has been ruled out with injury. The defensive tackles are capable of plugging up middle running lanes, which opens things up for pass-rushing linebackers Justin Houston and Tamba Hali. Over the past three seasons, the two have combined to register a whopping 69 sacks and those two will be bringing the heat to Vikings offensive tackles Matt Kalil and T.J.Clemmings as much as DeMarcus Ware and Von Miller did in the Vikings’ last game. They are the two biggest difference-makers on the Kansas City defense and will have to be accounted for at all times because they have the capability of blowing up a drive on any given play.

The secondary has been the biggest anomaly of the Chiefs defense because it is laden with talented players, but the results simply haven’t been there. Opposing quarterbacks have a combined passer rating of 102.3, throwing 13 touchdowns with just two interceptions and are averaging 299 passing yards a game.

The best hope for the future is first-round rookie cornerback Marcus Peters, who has already made two interceptions and has proved he can be a solid man-on-man cover corner. Former Dolphin Sean Smith is the other starter and, while he doesn’t have Peters’ innate cover ability, he can get the job done more times than not. At safety, the Chiefs have extremely good depth with Eric Berry, Husain Abdullah, Tyvon Branch and Ron Parker, but, like so many other elements of the defense, the whole simply hasn’t lived up to the sum of its parts.

Kansas City was a team that many tabbed as a playoff contender at the start of the season. Five games in, the Chiefs are on the brink of collapse and there seems to be little they can do to stop the bleeding. As they face the Vikings, they are a desperate team in dire need of a win. A loss to the Vikings may be the death blow that puts an end to any postseason aspirations. Desperate teams are dangerous, but this is a team that has the look of a stunned boxer ready to get knocked out and the Vikings could be the team that delivers the punch that puts them out.

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