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The Chiefs’ pass rush must dominate the Vikings on Sunday

Kansas City’s defensive line needs to have a huge day in Minnesota.

NFL: Chicago Bears at Kansas City Chiefs Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

On Sunday, the 3-1 Kansas City Chiefs will head north to take on the 1-3 Minnesota Vikings in the NFL’s Week 5. Now tied for fifth in scoring defense, the Chiefs will face a test from the Vikings’ high-powered passing attack.

Minnesota boasts the league’s most passing touchdowns (11) and is fourth in passing yards (1,149). With quarterback Kirk Cousins leading the charge, the team’s pass-catching unit is stacked. It includes superstar wideout Justin Jefferson, Pro Bowl tight end T.J. Hockenson and two rising wide receivers: K.J. Osborn and rookie Jordan Addison.

While the Chiefs' secondary will have its hands full, the defense will have an advantage in one key area: the defensive line.

Creating pressure

While Cousins is middle of the road with sacks taken (10) as well as sacks taken on pass attempts (6%), he has faced pressure at the league’s fifth-highest rate.

The Chiefs’ defense has been a middle-of-the-road unit in total sacks — 10 through the first four games — but its pressure rate of 29.9% is the league’s third-best mark.

Sacks draw all the attention and get all the glamor, of course. But pressure on Cousins could very well be a key factor in the game.

Attacking the middle

Let to right, the Minnesota offensive line has been manned by Christian Darrisaw, Ezra Cleveland, Austin Schlottman, Ed Ingram and Brian O’Neill. Usual starting center Garrett Bradbury has been down with an injury — but this week, he returned to full practice participation. He is expected to play.

Darrisaw and O’Neill are both quality starting tackles — but to say the least, the Vikings’ interior offensive line has been subpar.

Carolina Panthers defensive lineman Yetur Gross-Matos is a tweener — a player who is too small to play the interior on every down, but not quick enough to be an every-down player from the edge, either. Where he does find playing time is as an interior pass rusher.

On this play, he uses his superior length and quickness to beat Ingram in the B gap. He hits Cousins, whose offline pass is intercepted.

In a similar situation earlier in the game, he picked on Cleveland.

Here, Gross-Matos uses a quick hand-swipe off the snap to win the B gap and out-leverage Cleveland, pushing him into the backfield and forcing Cousins into a quick checkdown throw.

In this instance, the defender didn’t do enough to force a sack (or even a quarterback hit). It was, however, enough to prevent Cousins from looking deep downfield and force him into a short completion.

While Gross-Matos is having a fine year, Kansas City will have better options for creating pressure in the middle of the field. It is likely the Vikings will base their entire protection plan on where Kansas City defensive tackle Chris Jones lines up — which could create a chance for Mike Danna to continue his hot season.

Danna has been excellent rushing from the interior, recording two and a half sacks and six pressures through the first four games. His combination of power, leverage and quickness has allowed him to feast on slower, stockier guards. While he will have an advantage of quickness over Ingram, it is also likely he can overpower Cleveland.

Danna won’t be alone. Defensive tackle Tershawn Wharton will also be in the mix — while defensive ends George Karlaftis and Felix Anudike-Uzomah could also shake things up by rushing from the interior, throwing a wrench in the Vikings' pass protection.

It will be hard for Jones to find many one-on-one situations, but he will have a few chances.

Finding the matchup

In just 53% of the defensive snaps, Jones has amassed 3.5 sacks and seven pressures. To make things even more interesting, his sacks (and the majority of his pressures) have come from the outside.

So far, Kansas City’s plan for Jones has been simple: find the matchup Jones likes and let him go to work. It would be tempting to let Jones go after Ingram and Cleveland — but almost without question, those will be situations where Minnesota will slide their protection toward Jones, making him less effective.

So some creativity will be in order.

Jones has shown he can beat some inexperienced tackles — but on Sunday, it is likely that the Chiefs will look for ways to isolate him in one-on-one situations where he can match up against Bradbury (returning from injury) or bully the Vikings’ tackles with power.

If the Chiefs can get Jones into such a situation, it would probably involve players walking up on the line of scrimmage to keep the offensive line guessing.

That’s what the Los Angeles Chargers do on this play. On the snap, defenders drop — and the Chargers’ rush comes from different angles.

Sebastian Joseph-Day walks Schlottman and Cleveland into the backfield and Tuli Tuipuloto drives O’Neill into the pocket — while Morgan Fox turns the corner on Ingram and finishes the play with a sack.

If Spagnuolo can implement creative fronts and pressure looks, Kansas City should be able to unleash Jones whenever it wants.

The bottom line

On Sunday, the Vikings will be in desperation mode, trying to keep their season alive. They will give the Chiefs their best (and hardest) shot. Getting pressure on Cousins will be one of Kansas City’s primary keys to victory. While Minnesota’s offensive weapons will challenge the Chiefs’ blossoming secondary, an absolutely dominant effort from the defensive line could drastically simplify this game.

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