As Vikings fans watched the Packers toss the Rams to the side, the Bears rally from behind to beat the Chiefs at home, and the Lions implode against the Cardinals last week, we were reminded of how lonely a Sunday without professional football in Minnesota can be. The Vikings, who sit at 2-2 entering Week 6, are three games behind the Packers in the NFC North and currently find themselves as the sixth seed in the NFC playoff race — if, of course, the season ended today.
Unfortunately, it doesn’t, but the Vikings begin a four-week stretch of winnable games on Sunday, starting with the Kansas City Chiefs at home. Following this week’s matchup, the Vikings hit the road to play the Lions and Bears before returning to TCF Bank Stadium to host the St. Louis Rams in Week 9. Combined, the teams are 5-15, and two of those games involve division opponents, giving the Vikings a prime opportunity to separate themselves in the NFC North.
Maybe projecting a 4-0 record in those games is a bold prediction, but I’m in the mood to make bold predictions. I’ve missed watching the Vikings on Sundays, and I’m ready for Mike Zimmer’s team to redeem themselves after a close loss to the Broncos two weeks ago. My predictions after the jump may be improbable, but the statistics tell a different story — will any become a reality against the Chiefs?
Cordarrelle Patterson takes a kickoff “to the House”
Two years ago, this wouldn’t have been a bold prediction — Patterson returned two kickoffs for touchdowns in 2013 and led the league with 32.4 yards per return as a rookie. Thanks to sound blocking from the ten other players on the field, Patterson was able to turn his straight-line speed and elusiveness into special teams production, making up for his deficiencies as a receiver.
Since then, Patterson has struggled returning kicks, averaging 25.6 yards per return in 2014 and 24.3 yards per return through four games this season. Whether it’s poor blocking up front or hesitation on Patterson’s part, the unit hasn’t scored a touchdown since 2013, and they’re long overdue for a breakthrough.
Statistically, the Chiefs are an average kick coverage team, allowing 23 yards per return with a long of 36 yards on the season. Those numbers put them almost smack-dab in the middle of league, while Football Outsiders ranks them 7th-most efficient special teams unit in the NFL.
Patterson’s best chance for a trip “to the house” may come against the Bears in two weeks, who have already allowed two touchdowns, but the Chiefs — whose touchback rate is just over 65 percent — will give him opportunities to find a crease and get “loose” on Sunday.
The Chiefs WILL NOT sack Teddy Bridgewater
You’d call me crazy making a prediction like this, but hear me out. Yes, Teddy Bridgewater was sacked seven times against the Denver Broncos, but that was in the face of the league’s best defense and most ferocious pass rush. Before that game, the Vikings had allowed just six sacks all season despite turnover on the offensive line and an anemic passing attack.
The Chiefs, meanwhile, have just 11 sacks through five games, with three of those coming by the hands of All Pro defensive end Justin Houston. Outside of Houston, the Chiefs’ pass rush isn’t hitting home, even with a number of talented defenders and blitzers on the field. Given their struggles against the pass this year — the Chiefs have allowed the most passing touchdowns to opposing quarterbacks — Andy Reid has been forced to play conservatively on defense. More blitzes lead to more one-on-one opportunities in the defensive backfield, and that’s a situation the Chiefs want to avoid at all costs.
With two weeks to prepare for the Chiefs, the Vikings’ offensive line should have no problem handling twists, stunts, and blitzes from a Chiefs front-seven that’s off to a slow start in 2015. Communication issues that cropped up against the Broncos won’t show up on Sunday, and with that, Teddy Bridgewater won’t hit the turf.
The Vikings’ defense forces 4 turnovers
One way to force turnovers is to hit the quarterback, and the Chiefs are one of the worst teams in two major categories — turnover differential and sacks allowed. An offensive line that features Eric Fisher, Donald Stephenson, and Zach Fulton is getting beat up week-in and week-out, allowing 22 sacks through five games this season. Their leaky play is exasperating Alex Smith’s tendency to leave the pocket early, which can lead to broken plays and turnovers. On top of that, the offense stalled after the loss of Jamaal Charles, putting even more weight on Smith’s shaky shoulders.
#Chiefs Film: Smith was also over-reactive to pressure. He compromised his throwing readiness when moving , no subtly in pocket at all.
— Andy Benoit (@Andy_Benoit) October 13, 2015
More than Alex Smith’s erratic play, turnovers have contributed to Kansas City’s 1-4 record. The Vikings, who have done an excellent job protecting the football, are enjoying a +4 turnover differential. That puts them in the top-10, while the Chiefs are 21st in the league with a -3 turnover differential (4 fumbles and 2 interceptions.) Mike Zimmer’s defense has been especially opportunistic as of late, forcing two Peyton Manning interceptions in Week 4 that kept the Vikings in the game until the very end. If they can force a future Hall-of-Famer like Manning into those types of mistakes, they can definitely do the same to a player like Smith.
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