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.
The Chiefs rank 6th in the league with 47 QB pressures through four games.— Caleb James (@CJScoobs) October 5, 2023
The Vikings have been pressured 47 times when passing which is tied for 5th in the NFL.
The Chiefs' pass rush will have chances to get home this week.
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.
Gross-Matos in the 4i against Ed Ingram. He uses a hand swipe and rip move to win the B gap and hits Cousins just as he is throwing. The ball flutters in the air and is intercepted. pic.twitter.com/wCXBMSm1QB— Caleb James (@CJScoobs) October 6, 2023
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.
Yetur Gross-Matos lined up as a 4i against Ezra Cleveland. Swats the hands and redirects into the A gap pushing the pocket on Cousins. pic.twitter.com/nXgokqBSjF— Caleb James (@CJScoobs) October 6, 2023
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.
Mike Danna aligned at the 3tech. He forklifts the LG's outside hand and then presses with his inside hand to create separation. As Goff looks to work up in the pocket he sticks with it and finishes the play with a sack. I also like GK fighting off Sewell's hands to close out. pic.twitter.com/RJnmTxxMsw— Caleb James (@CJScoobs) September 9, 2023
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.
Chris Jones is on a tear right now. He continues to generate pass rush from the outside, and here against Becton he wins the hand-fight battle and slips around the edge to close in on Wilson. pic.twitter.com/Iif0AoQ3pI— Caleb James (@CJScoobs) October 6, 2023
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.
Morgan Fox walked the Center into the backfield with a modified hump move. The pressure up the middle causes a poor pass from cousins. LAC is trying a N/T twist but Ingram does a nice job of taking care of the looper. pic.twitter.com/KXnpenMKj3— Caleb James (@CJScoobs) October 6, 2023
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.
LAC showing six bodies on the LOS and then dropping two at the snap. Fox works Ingram wide and the edge rush from Tuipulotu puts them on different levels. Joseph-Day slow plays it, but powers through the double team as the pocket collapses. pic.twitter.com/bcfBVIslAu— Caleb James (@CJScoobs) October 6, 2023
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.