Preview: Vikings must use playmakers to mitigate noise, control game
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Who: Minnesota Vikings (0-3) at Kansas City Chiefs (0-3).
When: Noon Sunday.
Where: Arrowhead Stadium (capacity: 76,416), Kansas City, Mo.
Line: Vikings by 3.
Coaches: Vikings -- Leslie Frazier (1st season, 3-6); Chiefs -- Todd Haley (3rd year, 14-21).
Series: Chiefs lead 6-4.
Last meeting: Then-Chiefs end Jared Allen returned from a suspension and had eight tackles, two sacks and a forced fumble and Dwayne Bowe's 16-yard touchdown catch capped Kansas City's rally for a 13-10 win over the Vikings on Sept. 23, 2007, at Arrowhead Stadium.
At stake: The winner gets off the schneid. The loser goes further into the winless abyss.
Vikings: MLB E.J. Henderson (knee) and SS Jamarca Sanford (thigh) are questionable. Henderson is expected to play reduced snaps because of persistent swelling and soreness in his left knee. Sanford was added to the injury report on Thursday but was a full participant in practice all week. CB Asher Allen (toe), CB Chris Cook (groin), SS Tyrell Johnson (hip), TE Jimmy Kleinsasser (elbow), HB Adrian Peterson (calf) and DT Kevin Williams (foot) are probable.
Chiefs: WR Jon Baldwin (thumb) is out. CB Brandon Flowers (ankle) and S Jon McGraw (shin) are questionable. DL Brandon Bair (illness) is probable. DB Eric Berry, HB Jamaal Charles and TE Tony Moeaki are among six players on injured reserve.
Five things to watch
Turn down the volume: The Vikings played canned crowd noise through speakers during practice week, but nothing can simulate the atmosphere if Arrowhead gets rocking. The noise level inside the stadium once was measured at 116 decibels -- more than the ground-level volume of an airplane taking off. The best way the Vikings can counter that environment is by getting off to another fast start against a Chiefs team reeling as badly as any in the NFL. If they don't, it could be a tough day for a Vikings protection unit that had at least one glaring assignment mistake while hemorrhaging 20 quarterback pressures in last week's loss to Detroit.
Get coordinated: Throughout training camp, players raved about the way coordinator Bill Musgrave's offense would highlight the strengths of his playmakers. Yet what has been the primary criticism lobbed at Musgrave after three collapses in which the Vikings averaged only 82.7 yards and five first downs after halftime? In the first two games, it was WR Percy Harvin's limited snaps (57 of 111, 51.4%). Against Detroit, it was a lack of involvement for HB Adrian Peterson, who carried only five times for 5 yards after halftime. Game flow dictates play calling to an extent, and the Vikings' inefficiency in the run game, coupled with a series of second-and-medium situations, makes Peterson's limited workload defensible. But for the Vikings to be successful, they must ride Harvin and Peterson -- the only two offensive players on the roster capable of taking over a game. It's on Musgrave to find a way to get that done.
Muddled in the middle: It remains to be seen how many snaps Henderson will play. Healthy or not, though, he's better than anyone the Vikings can put in his place. Brother Erin Henderson has gotten the vast majority of his reps on the weak side and would struggle to play the deep middle in the Tampa-2 defense. LB Xavier Adibi is athletic, has good speed and can cover. But he's built to play the will, not the middle, and he's been in the system less than a month. The Vikings only played nine snaps of base defense last week (12.7%), but that was against a Lions team that likes to spread the field. The Chiefs like to use the run to set up the pass, and they figure to test the interior on the ground whenever Henderson is sidelined.
End game: Of all the positives to come out of the Vikings' three losses, none rank higher than the play of RE Jared Allen and LE Brian Robison, who already have combined for seven sacks and 21 quarterback hits. That heat has forced three consecutive opponents to go to an almost exclusively third-down offense -- and that adjustment has had success, in large part because the short middle of the field perpetually has been open. Look no further than last week, when Lions QB Matthew Stafford's average release time in the second half was 2.14 seconds and he still threw in those 30 minutes for 314 yards, including nine completions for 88 yards to TE Brandon Pettigrew. If the Vikings can find a way to shut off that safety valve, this has the potential to be a big day for Robison and Allen, who won't be hurting for extra motivation against the team that traded him away 3½ years ago.
Downfield attack: Through three games, QB Donovan McNabb's longest completion to a receiver is 24 yards, and the two players the Vikings want to stretch the field in different ways -- WR Bernard Berrian on the perimeter, TE Visanthe Shiancoe up the seam -- have five catches for 53 yards combined. If there were ever a week for the Vikings to finally stretch the field vertically, this probably is it. The Chiefs were playing a lot of man coverage on the outside before Flowers suffered a high ankle sprain, and they're already without SS Eric Barry. Backup SS Jon McGraw struggles in coverage and the Chiefs like to play a lot of single-safety concepts -- which could tempt McNabb to take more downfield chances than usual. There's no better way to get that eighth man out of the box than to show there's reason to respect the vertical element in the offense.
Both teams have a lot of problems and their playoff aspirations hang by a thread. The guess here is the healthier team with more playmakers prevails -- but only if the Vikings get things going early. They're sure not built to come from behind.
Prediction: Vikings 24, Chiefs 20.