The Vikings return from their bye week and host the AFC West’s Kansas City Chiefs on Sunday. The game will mark the third consecutive AFC West opponent for the Vikings and kicks off an important quartet of the season where the Vikings will play three of four games against NFC foes, including back-to-back division games on the road against Detroit and Chicago.
Here are five Vikings-Chiefs storylines we’ll be chasing this week in the buildup to Week 6…
1. Chiefs look to respond after loss of Charles
The Chiefs lost their game against the Chicago Bears last week, and in so doing lost a big piece to their puzzle. Four-time Pro Bowler and two-time First-Team All-Pro RB Jamaal Charles tore his ACL and is out for the rest of the season. Charles is Kansas City’s best offensive player, as he’s accounted for 30.3% of the Chiefs offensive yardage and has five of their 10 offensive TDs on the season. His loss means several others, including QB Alex Smith, must step up to the plate. The bad news is the loss of Charles, but the good news for Kansas City is that now several other playmakers on the roster have an opportunity. You can be sure this Andy Reid-led Chiefs team will not let the loss of Charles deflate their morale.
2. Will defensive changes be subtle or significant?
Coming out of the bye, it will be interesting to see what if there are any changes to the defensive personnel and what impact those changes have as the season progresses. The Vikings traded LB Gerald Hodges to San Francisco, meaning approximately 30 defensive snaps are up for grabs. Many assume it’ll be rookie Eric Kendricks who sees the bulk of those reps, and if that’s the case the Vikings will get a great look at how far their second-rounder has come early in his career. Another spot to watch is the starting safety position next to Harrison Smith. Robert Blanton started 13 games there last season and has one start this season, while Andrew Sendejo has three starts at the position. The Vikings also have a pair of young safeties in Anthony Harris and Antone Exum they could insert into the lineup and they signed former University of Minnesota Golden Gopher standouts Brock Vereen to bulk up the depth, too.
3. Which WRs will play?
It is confirmed: the Vikings have depth at WR. Confirmation manifested itself in the Vikings Week 4 game at Denver, where injuries rendered Charles Johnsoninactive and Jarius Wright limited. Opportunity knocked, and Stefan Diggs answered. The rookie made his NFL debut and impressed, hauling in 6 receptions for a team-high 87 yards. A few of those receptions were of the highlight variety, something he’s been showing Vikings coaches ever since stepping foot on the Winter Park practice fields in May. Injuries may continue to force the Vikings hand at the position on game day this week, but once all six receivers are healthy it will be interesting to see how the situation is handled. Will all six be active on game day? If not, who sits? Is it the same active receivers each week or does it change week-to-week? These are all good (because it means there is depth) and important questions and they’ll have to be answered each week the group is fully healthy.
4. Eyes on OL play, Walsh coming out of the bye
Vikings fans have a lot of reasons to be optimistic about their team coming out of the bye.Adrian Peterson had a pair of 100-yard rushing games as well as two 40-yard rushing TDs in the first two games, the defense continues to make strides and is going in the right direction, andTeddy Bridgewater and the passing game flashed a lot in a close Week 4 loss to the undefeated Denver Broncos. But in terms of opportunities for improvement, all eyes will be on K Blair Walsh and the offensive line. Walsh has missed two FGs and one PAT in the first four games, and those struggles come on the tail of a 2014 season in which Walsh was just 74.3% on FG tries and on a 2015 preseason in which he was just 5 of 11 on FG attempts. The offensive line has been great at home, allowing just one sack to Detroit and Denver while paving the way for Peterson to rush for 260 yards on 49 carries (5.31 yards per carry) with 2 TDs. On the road, though, Bridgewater has been sacked 12 times and aside from a 48-yard TD run in Denver, Peterson has been held in check. With a week off to rest and recharge and analyze and correct, expect improvements from both Walsh and the OL against the Chiefs.
5. Mismatch Makers at TE
Do you like sure-handed pass-catching TEs who pose mismatch problems for opposing defenses? Well then, Sunday’s Vikings-Chiefs game is for you. Both teams have this weapon in their arsenal. For the Vikings, it’s in the form ofKyle Rudolph. The 2012 Pro Bowl MVP, who stands 6-6, 265 pounds, can be a game-changer but has been held in check through four games this season with 14 receptions and 1 TD. With the passing game showing some flash in the game before the bye, though, it wouldn’t be surprising to see Rudolph’s production on the uptick. For the Chiefs, Travis Kelce (6-5, 260 pounds) can pose problems for defenses. Since his 2-TD performance in the season-opener, Kelce has been held out of the end zone but he does have 24 receptions for 328 yards on the season. He lines up all over the formation and can run a variety of routes; the Chiefs even like to use him in the screen game. With Charles out of action, Kelce (and WR Jeremy Maclin) become even more paramount to Kansas City’s offensive plan of attack.