Keys to the game: Chiefs @ Vikings

Oct. 11, 2015; Kansas City, MO; Chiefs coach Andy Reid in a discussion with head linesman George Hayward during the second half against the Chicago Bears at Arrowhead Stadium. (AP Photo/Ed Zurga)

Oct. 11, 2015; Kansas City, MO; Chiefs coach Andy Reid in a discussion with head linesman George Hayward during the second half against the Chicago Bears at Arrowhead Stadium. (AP Photo/Ed Zurga)

Here are the offensive, defensive and special teams keys for the Kansas City Chiefs (1-4) in Sunday’s game against the Minnesota Vikings (2-2), starting at noon at TCF Bank Stadium in Minneapolis.

OFFENSE

The best player on the Chiefs offense will be at home watching this game against the Vikings with his right leg up and ice on his injured knee. How does a team replace a guy like Jamaal Charles?

They can’t.

Head coach Andy Reid says the Chiefs will go with a running back-by-committee in the running game, with everyone from Charcandrick West, Knile Davis, Spencer Ware, even De’Anthony Thomas or seldom used fullback Anthony Sherman getting opportunities.

No matter who has the ball in his hands, one thing is certain – the Chiefs must still find a way to run the ball. There must be some threat from the ground game; they cannot become an unbalanced offense relying entirely on throwing the ball. Reid does love the passing game, but the veteran head coach knows he must have a hint of the run game or the Vikings will tee-off against quarterback Alex Smith with the pass rush.

There has been gradual improvement from the offensive line, but there remains much room for that group to reach a level of consistency. For the Chiefs offense to make a contribution in the run game, the blockers have to get to the second level, where the Vikings talented linebackers live, Anthony Barr and Chad Greenway on the outside and Eric Kendricks in the middle. They all have made big plays so far this season, with interceptions, sacks and touchdowns scored.

The offense would be helped if the ball can get in the hands of tight end Travis Kelce more often. In five games, Kelce has 24 receptions for 328 yards and two touchdown catches. In the last two games, Kelce has caught eight passes for 84 yards, and he’s not been in the end zone since scoring twice in the season opener against Houston.

One reason his numbers are down has been an increase in the number of obvious passing plays where he’s been kept in to help the pass protection of Smith.

With Charles gone, Reid must get one of his few offensive weapons back in the flow of the scheme.

DEFENSE

While the Chiefs best offensive player is sidelined, their best defensive player is still available, and it’s time for outside linebacker Justin Houston to become the unstoppable force he’s shown over the last three seasons. In the season’s first two games, Houston had nine total tackles and three sacks.

But in the last three games, he’s managed nine tackles without a sack. Last year’s NFL sack leader is getting paid way too much to go three games without getting a quarterback on the ground. The Vikings have a rookie at right tackle, in fourth-round choice T.J. Clemmings who has allowed two sacks this season and two other hits on his quarterback Teddy Bridgewater.

Obviously with a guy like Adrian Peterson available, Minnesota is going to use him, whether as runner or receiver. After missing 15 of 16 games last season, Peterson has come back strong; he’s averaging 5 yards a carry and 10 yards a reception. Bridgewater has not played poorly, but the Vikings are not asking him to win games.

He does look comfortable in the scheme of offensive coordinator Norv Turner, and has weapons like tight end Kyle Rudolph (14-104-1) and speedy wide receiver Mike Wallace (20-233-1.) Pass protection has been ordinary for Bridgewater (13 sacks in 128 passing plays), and it’s an area where the Chiefs need production improvement after averaging just one sack for every 36 passing plays over the last three games.

SPECIAL TEAMS

Last week’s loss to Chicago started when a 27-yard field goal attempt by Cairo Santos was blocked by the Bears. Playing on the right side of FG protection, Donald Stephenson blew his block and the kick was knocked down. That just can’t happen for a successful special teams, and it was just the most obvious problem in what was not a good day for the Chiefs.

They’ll need to be better playing the Vikings. Minnesota punter Jeff Locke’s stats do not matchup with those of Dustin Colquitt of the Chiefs. But Minnesota leads the league in punt coverage, allowing just four yards on five returns, a 0.8-yard average. They’ll try to kick away from De’Anthony Thomas all day.

In the return game, the Vikings haven’t broken anything yet, with an average of 10.3 yards per punt return and 24.3 on kickoff returns. It’s important that the Chiefs coverage teams do not allow Minnesota better field positions due to long returns.

What’s been lacking on special teams for the Chiefs in 2015 has been a return for touchdown. They’ve gone five games without a score, the longest stretch in the 38 games that Andy Reid has been the club’s head coach. To say they are overdue is an understatement for coordinator Dave Toub’s squad.

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Bob Gretz is the senior editor for ChiefsDigest.com. Use the contact page to reach him or find him on Twitter: @BobGretzcom.

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