For years, one of the biggest advantages the Vikings have been able to exploit is the deafening noise that the fans create. Opponents have gone so far as to pipe simulated fan noise into offensive practice sessions to work on silent counts and have even accused sideline personnel at the Metrodome of piping in artificial crowd noise through speakers to make problems even more difficult.
For the Vikings offensive line, Sunday might be payback time. After hearing from the counterparts on other teams about how disconcerting it can be when the Metrodome gets rocking, they'll face the same challenge Sunday as they head into Kansas City to face an Arrowhead Stadium crowd that is known for being the loudest in the league when cheering on their defense.
"It's a very difficult place to play," center Matt Birk said. "It's always loud. You wouldn't think so because it's an outdoor stadium and it's bowled out. But they put a lot of people in the seats in there and have fantastic fans. It's a tough place to play on the road."
Guard Artis Hicks has become familiar with how loud the Metrodome can get but, with apologies to Vikings fans, K.C. does it better.
"Those are the loudest fans in the NFL – no doubt," Hicks said. "They get 80,000-plus people in their screaming. It's going crazy every time something good happens for them. It's a great atmosphere to play in – if you're the home team."
The Vikings struggled last week against the Lions with crowd noise implications for their home opener. The decibel level may be doubled when they head to Arrowhead this Sunday. As if there weren't enough questions surround the quarterback situation, the team will be forced to change up how it operates – working on silent counts and effectively rejecting too many audible attempts.
"You have to simplify things a little in that environment," Birk said. "There are things you're not able to do there that you can do at home communication-wise."
As a result, the offense might subscribe to the KISS Doctrine – Keep It Simple Stupid.
"It may sound stupid, but you just have to keep reminding yourself that it's going to be loud," Birk said. "Sometimes you're going to be late off the ball. That's the way it is. But it's probably better to be a little late off the ball than be early and get a 5-yard penalty."
The Vikings will need to avoid the types of penalties that crowd noise creates. Last week, the Vikings had four different players flagged for false start penalties and a holding call that was the result of getting a late jump off the snap. To eliminate those types of mistakes, concentration will be critical.
"The biggest thing we have to do is tighten down – focus in the huddle," Hicks said. "It's a lot tougher for the tackles in that situation. The guards are closer to the ball and can see it and have the quarterback yelling over one of our shoulders. They don't. That's why tackles make the most money. They have to take on the most athletic player on the defense, they can't see the ball and they can't hear the snap count. Tackles earn their money on days like that."
As one of those players, Ryan Cook knows of what Hicks speaks. Hicks played a game at left tackle for the Eagles when Tra Thomas went down to injury in a loud Monday night affair with the Giants. Cook is learning the hard way that crowd noise can be a huge deterrent for young tackles.
"There are times when you think you've heard the call and you jump and nobody else moves," Cook said. "Those are the worst times for a lineman. It's something else to think about when you're lining up and you really don't want to be thinking about too much other than the guy across from you. It can be a big disadvantage."
Sunday will likely be a little payback for the Vikings linemen who have helped whip their own crowd into a frenzy to get false-start or delay-of-game penalties. They're going to have to face what visiting O-linemen have endured at the Metrodome for years. But the good news for the Vikings is that the Chiefs don't play in a dome. Then again, with the noise they already generate, maybe a dome in Kansas City would be forbidden.
"I don't know if a dome would stay on that place if it had one," Hicks said. "It might lift off. With all the noise they make, it might crack and shatter. I don't think they have a choice with their stadium. They might say it's illegal to put a dome over those fans."
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