Chiefs A Different Offensive Team

With a tight end as their best receiver and a power running back, the Chiefs pose a different kind of challenge for the Minnesota defense. Find out the varying Vikings opinions on Tony Gonzalez and Larry Johnson. Plus, get Friday's updated injury report for both teams.

Kansas City tight end Tony Gonzalez is in second place on the NFL charts for three major receiving categories among tight ends and has a chance to break the record in one of those categories against the Vikings.

Gonzalez's 61 touchdowns are second only to Shannon Sharpe's 62 TDs among tight ends in NFL history. Gonzalez also trails Sharpe in receptions (815 to 730) and receiving yards (10,060 to 8,781).

"The one thing about Tony Gonzalez, I don't really have to give a scouting report. I think what he's done in this league speaks for itself," said longtime Chief and current Vikings fullback Tony Richardson, who counts Gonzalez among his best friends. "I think the guys know that he's one of the best tight ends in the National Football League and you'd better treat him like that because he makes big plays."

However, after 11 years on the league, at least one Vikings defender isn't so sure Gonzalez's skills are at the level they once were.

"Gonzalez is just another player. I don't want to say he's not in his prime anymore, but he's not the same player he was five years ago," said cornerback Cedric Griffin, who seemed to be focusing on running back Larry Johnson more than Gonzalez. "We know we can put hands on him when he's on the line and disrupt his routes and disrupt his timing. We see if we can get hands on the guy, now he's a little more tentative. He's not really the aggressive player he was five or six years ago. That's just my opinion."

So far this year, Gonzalez has nine receptions for 71 yards, and the 6-foot-5, 251-pounder has caught a pass in 101 consecutive games, the longest streak in Chiefs history and the second-longest streak by a tight end in NFL history.

You won't find linebacker Ben Leber questioning Gonzalez's ability. As a former member of the San Diego Chargers, Leber got the opportunity to face Gonzalez and the Chiefs twice a year.

"Not only is he athletic, but you look at him physically, he's a big target. He can go up and get balls. Maybe it's the basketball instinct in him, but he can position himself against the defender to where only he can catch the ball. He's always had that," Leber said. "Now that he's had more and more experience, I think you're seeing more and more savvy come out of him. People talk about maybe he's losing speed, maybe he's diminishing a little bit, but if you look at him on the field, he still runs routes hard and they're so precise. It's the little things – the head nods, the stutter steps – he's just a pro at it."

Whether it is because the Chiefs don't have highly acclaimed wide receivers or if Gonzalez is still that good, there is no question that he is still a prime target for Chiefs quarterbacks in the red zone and in clutch situations.

"You look at most tight ends and they're not looked at in key situations as much as he is," Leber said. "When there is a go-to play to be made, you're looking at your No. 1 receiver most of the time. He's always been the guy – when they need a big play they're going to him and then the receiver second."

Gonzalez might still be the primary target for Damon Huard in the passing game, but the Vikings are certainly more focused on stopping Kansas City's running game – namely power back Larry Johnson.

"Larry is a great back. He hasn't come out of the blocks really heavily this year, but I'm pretty sure he's going to pick it up this year. I'm pretty sure he's going to pick it up facing us, so if we need to put eight men in the box, seven in the box – however you defend that, we're going to defend Larry Johnson," said Griffin, who described Johnson's running style as "aggressive. He doesn't really like to shake guys, he tries to run guys over. If we can hit this guy early in the game, maybe we can wear him down and he won't be so effective later in the game."

To date, Johnson hasn't been his normal self. He held out of much of training camp – getting only three carries in the preseason finale – after signing a five-year extension worth a reported $43.2 million.

Griffin said Johnson probably held out to save the wear on his body. "He is a high-collision back … that's what he loves to do," Griffin said.

Despite Johnson's slow start this season – he has only 98 yards combined in two road games this season – Richardson said he's sure L.J. will be ready to get his attack back on track in front of his home crowd for the first time in 2007.

"We were so dominant at home and obviously we didn't always perform that well on the road, so he's going to be revved up and ready to go," said Richardson, a Chief for 11 years before joining the Vikings in 2006.

Leber agreed.

"(Johnson) seems to be running just as hard. Sometimes you have games like that. You look at L.T. (San Diego's LaDainian Tomlinson) and he was all the way through camp and he's had a couple of rough games with San Diego," Leber said. "Those great backs are always going to have those lumps, but they always bounce back."

So with a tight end as the primary receiving threat and a hard-charging running back looking to bounce back after two not-so-conventional road games, the Chiefs are an interesting offensive team, one like few others in the league.

Said Griffin: "It's definitely a change-up because you know the Chiefs are going to run the ball a whole lot because that's their offense. Their wide receivers, they don't really have a lot of tendencies so you can't really go into the game plan and look at this formation and think this is what they're going to run because they have a lot of different routes."


Vikings head coach Brad Childress said Friday that he has told his quarterbacks who will start on Sunday, but he hasn't told the rest of the team. He will probably inform them tomorrow, he said. The starter isn't likely to be Tarvaris Jackson, who is officially listed as doubtful after pulling himself in Sunday loss overtime loss because of a groin strain. "The thing is, even a guy like Tarvaris, who I listed as doubtful, continues to improve and when we talk about these guys being warriors and gladiators and all of those superlatives, like last year when he got hurt and I think it was probably misdirected that hey, he's not tough enough," Childress said. "... You don't tap yourself on the head on Monday and say, I ain't going to play next week. You may feel that way but there is a lot of work to be done until we get to Sunday. A lot of times, as a matter a fact that's what we talked about as a team out here today, just about pushing to get to Sunday, pushing to get to Sunday. Don't make any conclusions, don't make that leap, because if you step over that bridge in your mind, it's hard to bring physically." The most likely starter on Sunday appears to be Kelly Holcomb, who has yet to take a game snap with the team.

Other injuries: Along with Jackson, Richardson (forearm) is listed as doubtful. S Darren Sharper (hip), S Dwight Smith (hamstring), RB Chester Taylor (hip), and WR Troy Williamson (hamstring) are listed as questionable. S Mike Doss (calf) is listed as probable. For Kansas City, WR Eddie Kennison (hamstring) is out while T Damion McIntosh (knee) and S Jon McGraw (hamstring) are probable.

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