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5 things to watch as the Chiefs play the Vikings in Minnesota

A matchup between 2023 playoff teams could be one of Week 5’s most fun to watch.

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NFL: AUG 27 Preseason - Vikings at Chiefs Photo by Scott Winters/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

In Week 5, the 3-1 Kansas City Chiefs are on the road to face an opponent they play only rarely: the 1-3 Minnesota Vikings. It’s the first time Kansas City will play in U.S. Bank Stadium, which opened in 2016. The game kicks off at 3:25 p.m. Arrowhead Time on Sunday.

Entering the weekend, the Chiefs are 3.5-point favorites — a decrease from the line of 5.5 points with which DraftKings Sportsbook opened the week.

The oddsmakers are projecting Chiefs’ quarterback Patrick Mahomes to complete his career cycle, defeating all 31 of the other NFL teams before his seventh season ends. It’s taken this long because he was injured when the Vikings traveled to Kansas City in 2019. Quarterback Matt Moore captained the Chiefs to victory, leaving Mahomes with some unfinished business in Sunday’s game.

I have five things to watch in a fun matchup:

1. Beating the blitz

Kansas City Chiefs v New York Jets Photo by Kevin Sabitus/Getty Images

This season, no NFL team has blitzed more than the Vikings. Under Brian Flores, the team is sending five or more pass rushers on 57% of opponents’ dropbacks — more than 7% higher than the team ranked second.

Speaking with reporters on Thursday, Kansas City offensive coordinator Matt Nagy sounded prepared for that style of defense.

“When you look at the DNA of Coach Flores as a defensive coordinator,” he said, “he has always wanted to present some type of challenge with pressure — whether it’s bringing a lot of people or not bringing many people.”

That works into Mahomes’ favor. This season, the reigning MVP has faced blitzes at the lowest rate (15%) among starting quarterbacks. If he is consistently forced into quick throws and hot routes, it will be interesting to see which receivers he targets. It could be a trial by fire that might help develop some chemistry between himself and his young wide receivers.

2. Covering Justin Jefferson...

Los Angeles Chargers v Minnesota Vikings Photo by Adam Bettcher/Getty Images

Jefferson is the league’s leading wide receiver. He’s amassed 543 yards in a variety of ways, arguably making him the NFL’s most complete receiver. Taking his turn with the media on Thursday, defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo made note of it.

“He’s the real deal,” he said of Jefferson. “When he catches the ball, if you’re not really good at angles to the completion point, he can make everyone look bad — and take it to the house.”

This season, the Chiefs have trusted cornerback L’Jarius Sneed to shadow opponents’ No. 1 wideouts — and that will likely continue on Sunday. But everyone will have to be ready to defend against the Vikings’ elite pass-catcher.

“We won’t always be able to get L’Jarius on him,” warned Spagnuolo. “They move him around enough — and get him inside where sometimes it won’t happen. But it will be a good battle if [Jefferson and Sneed] line up across from each other at the line of scrimmage.”

3. ...and Jefferson’s friends

NFL: OCT 01 Vikings at Panthers Photo by John Byrum/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

While Jefferson is the headliner, tight end T.J. Hockensen (and rookie wide receiver Jordan Addison) are additional offensive playmakers.

“I think they have more than just [an elite wide receiver],” noted Spagnuolo. “The young kid — No. 3 — he can go. We’ll have to be concerned about that.”

He’s referring to Addison, who has caught two touchdowns this year — both coming on deep passes gaining at least 39 yards. When Sneed is locked up with Jefferson, Addison will likely be matched up against Chiefs’ cornerback Trent McDuffie — someone who has shown the athleticism needed to keep up with Addison’s superb route-running.

Hockenson is quarterback Kirk Cousins’ second-favorite target. He will likely be the responsibility of Kansas City safety Justin Reid, who has primarily focused tight ends on passing downs. If Reid can slow down the connection between Cousins and Hockensen, it’ll make the Minnesota quarterback much more uncomfortable in crucial moments.

4. Rotation of running backs

NFL: Minnesota Vikings at Kansas City Chiefs Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

It’s been quite a while since we’ve seen a Chiefs running back be featured as much as Isiah Pacheco was during Week 4. His 23 touches were a single-game career high — and while returning to his home state of New Jersey, he took full advantage of them: he set career highs in both rushing and receiving yards.

In Week 5, another homecoming could play into how the running back rotation shakes out: veteran Jerick McKinnon will playing the team that drafted him in 2014. That could lead to some extra juice — but he may be more involved for other reasons, too.

If the Vikings’ defense continues to blitz heavily, McKinnon’s pass-protection skills will be important — along with his ability to catch checkdowns and screens that can burn those blitzes.

5. Winning the turnover battle

Minnesota Vikings v Buffalo Bills Photo by Isaiah Vazquez/Getty Images

This year, no team has turned the ball over more than the Vikings. With 11 giveaways, the team has a turnover differential of -8. Only the Las Vegas Raiders have a worse mark.

Even worse, these turnovers have come at terrible times. Multiple Vikings drives have ended on a red-zone fumble. That could change at any time — and Spagnuolo knows not to bank on that factor.

“I’ve always been a Kirk Cousins fan,” noted to defensive coordinator. “He’s a cerebral quarterback that is very accurate. Really, other than the turnovers that they have had, this has been a really highly-productive offense; they’re pretty tough to stop. That’s what we’re focused on. We can’t guarantee that we’re going to get turnovers.”

Spagnuolo was right. The Chiefs have been unable to count on forcing turnovers, creating just five takeaways so far — including just one interception through four weeks. If Kansas City can’t make Minnesota continue to turn the ball over, it could be a long day for the defense.

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