On Sunday, the Kansas City Chiefs will once again be facing off against a potential NFC North playoff team as they host the Minnesota Vikings.
Like last week’s game against the Green Bay Packers, the Chiefs will be without MVP quarterback Patrick Mahomes, so the burden for offensive success will fall at head coach Andy Reid’s feet. Until the last few minutes against the Packers, Reid coached a marvelous game; the Chiefs were able to frequently get their offensive weapons in space.
With the extra film available, expect head coach Mike Zimmer and the Vikings to have a much more surgical approach in attacking Matt Moore. The Packers appeared to be content with just lining up and playing, rather than trying to make Moore feel uncomfortable or work much beyond his first read. It’s likely the Vikings won’t be as passive, focusing instead on making Moore move and progress through his reads. For Reid, this adds an extra element of difficulty; he’ll have to out-scheme a good defensive coach who has already seen what the Chiefs offense looks like with Moore at quarterback.
So let’s dive into the Vikings defense — and how the Chiefs can try to exploit them.
The Vikings defensive line is their bread and butter — and where their success starts. Danielle Hunter is a rising NFL superstar — one of the more explosive defensive ends in the NFL. He terrorizes opposing tackles with his speed and explosive ability. Meanwhile, his running mate Everson Griffen is working back to top-tier shape and gives the defense some stellar power-rush moves. Defensive tackles Linval Joseph and Shamar Stephen are extremely stout and go a good job of crushing the pocket, forcing quarterbacks back to the depth of the defensive ends. The defensive line plays aggressively, looking to get penetration against both the pass and run — which does leave them open to some back side cuts in the running game.
The second level of the Vikings defense is all about athleticism with Anthony Barr and Eric Kendricks, who are both are three-down linebackers. Barr provides a bit more versatility in the pass rush, while Kendricks locks down traditional linebacker coverage assignments. Both of these linebackers play aggressively — and can make game-changing plays. Minnesota also trusts them in a fair amount of man coverage with safety help over the top. Some teams have nonetheless been able to take advantage by putting wide receivers or tight ends against them.
There are many familiar names in the Vikings secondary, but they haven’t been playing up to their name recognition. Safety Harrison Smith is still an elite player; alongside him, Anthony Harris is solid. Cornerbacks Xavier Rhodes, Trae Waynes, Mackensie Alexander and Mike Hughes have a lot of name value, but their play hasn’t matched the draft capital spent on them. Even so, the Vikings often do entrust them with man coverage — but against the speed and talent of the Chiefs’ offensive weapons, that may prove to be extremely dangerous.
West Coast offense
The Vikings secondary is likely to play a lot of man coverage against the Chiefs. But without Patrick Mahomes on the field, the Chiefs offense likely won’t be able to consistently attack the Vikings in the intermediate and deep zones. Enter Andy Reid’s bread and butter: the West Coast offense.
With Mahomes unlikely to play, the Chiefs will have their hands full with a defensive minded coach (Zimmer) planning to attack the Chiefs an Matt Moore this week.— Matt Lane (@ChiefinCarolina) November 2, 2019
Reid returning to his WCO, quick passing roots could help the Chiefs speed take advantage of the Minn secondary pic.twitter.com/4jfscpAAOP
The definition of West Coast offense is often muddied; many don’t understand what specifically goes into it. Basically it’s a spread offense that emphasizes quick timing passes that are often found in the underneath seven — the first seven yards past the line of scrimmage.
In this play, this quick out from the slot challenges the pass-off rules of the Vikings four-read defense; as the cornerback briefly carries the first wide receiver vertically, the slot receiver comes free underneath. The ball comes out of the quarterback’s hand as soon as he hits the back of his drop, which prevents the defense from driving on the open player.
Level concepts (as well as mesh and various spot/stick combos) can be used to spread the Vikings defense horizontally. They will respect the vertical speed of the Chiefs offense but for Moore to consistently beat an aggressive Vikings pass rush, the ball will need to be out quick pic.twitter.com/F5DixA4KGP— Matt Lane (@ChiefinCarolina) November 2, 2019
Some WCO concepts — like mesh, Y-iso, or levels — have grown more famous. Whether they are used against man or zone coverage, these combinations are designed to threaten specific defenders (or help defenders) with multiple options.
On this levels concept play, not only is it hard for the defense to run horizontally with three different receiving options, but every one of them threatens the same fourth of the field around the left seam.
Concepts like these give the quarterback the option to deliver the ball at the back of his drop — but if the receiver is covered well, there will be another option opening up in a vacated space on the field. Whether it is a levels concept or another quick passing combination, these concepts can get players open, and also help get the ball out of Moore’s hands quickly — before the pass rush can alter his play.
Minn has an incredibly aggressive defense which can result in over-committing to the run or a flash into the flat. A blown coverage with an underneath route puts a lot of space between receiver and defender in coverage that Chiefs offensive weapons should be able to find YAC opp pic.twitter.com/Nzh0vY7VMA— Matt Lane (@ChiefinCarolina) November 2, 2019
Since the Vikings defense is so aggressive, they have a tendency to take the cheese on ball fakes — which can result in players being out of position.
This play is a good example. The route combination is designed to get the ball out quickly (with the potential of a rub route) but is much more effective because the quarterback doesn’t have to avoid a dropping linebacker. While blown coverages like this could provide Moore with some easy completions, giving this much open space to the Chiefs weapons rarely ends up well for opposing defenses.
Against the Packers, the Chiefs had a lot of success scheming their offensive weapons open. While the Vikings should be able to do a better job, opportunities will still present themselves — as long as Matt Moore’s protection can hold up,
Even though the Vikings defense is quite similar to the Packers defense the Chiefs faced last week, the offensive matchup this week should be more difficult.
The Packers’ pass rush definitely had an effect on last week’s game — but they didn’t go out of their way to specifically attack Moore the same way Minnesota is likely to do. You should fully expect to see lots of different looks and extra pressure packages — all intended to force Moore to hold the ball beyond his first read.
The Chiefs can counter that by falling back to their familiar quick passing game, aggressively attacking Minnesota cornerbacks early in the game. Kansas City receivers are a major mismatch for the Vikings secondary, but rather than relying on them to win vertically, the Chiefs should threaten the field horizontally in order to help Moore.
But even if they’re able to take advantage of the Vikings defense in the underneath seven, this game has all the potential to be one of the Chiefs’ worst offensive outputs of the season — that is, if the Vikings defense gets an early bead on the offense.