On Sunday, the Kansas City Chiefs face the Minnesota Vikings. According to DraftKings Sportsbook, kansas City is favored to win. We welcome Christopher Gates of Daily Norseman— our sister SBNation site covering the Minnesota Vikings — for Five Questions with the Enemy.
1) Why haven’t the Vikings been able to recapture their form from last season?
A lot of it has to do with the fact that they can’t stop handing the football over to the other team. In 2022, the Vikings lost eight fumbles all season long. They already nearly eclipsed that total with the seven they’ve lost in the first four games. They also have one turnover in the red zone in each of their first four games. Given that all of their games to this point have been decided by one score, a bounce here and a bounce there could potentially have us looking at this team differently — but that’s not the way things went and the Vikings are staring down the barrel of a 1-3 record with the reigning World Champs coming to town. People thought that the Vikings were a lucky team in 2022 — and there’s probably at least some merit to that given some of the various metrics that are out there — but that definitely hasn’t been the case so far in 2023.
2) Harrison Smith has three sacks. What changed to lead to this increase in production?
Last season, Ed Donatell employed just about the softest defense you can imagine. Harrison Smith was asked to play a lot of deep safety — and while he’s capable of doing that, he’s really at his best when he’s moving around, filling different roles and making the defense have to account for him on every snap. He’s always been a very good blitzer — and with Brian Flores behind the controls of the defense this season, he’s back to getting opportunities to do that. Flores has called more blitzes in the first four weeks of this season than any other defensive coordinator in the league. I’m curious to see how that changes against Patrick Mahomes this week, given Mahomes’ propensity for tearing blitzes apart. But I’m sure that Harrison Smith will be trying to make Mahomes’ acquaintance on several occasions in this one.
3) How can the Chiefs stop Justin Jefferson, who is currently on pace for at least 2000 yards?
The best strategy against Jefferson is probably making sure you have more than one body on him on every play. Pro Football Focus — which I understand is not gospel — has Jefferson as its highest-graded receiver against single coverage, and though he had a bit of a down week by his standards against Carolina last week, he’s still gone over 150 yards twice already this season and was a yard short of that mark in a third. I don’t think there’s a corner in this league that’s capable of stopping him one-on-one, so the Chiefs are likely going to have to commit two players to him on most plays. Of course, that could potentially open things up for some other players, but Steve Spagnoulo is going to have to balance those risks out somehow.
4) Who is the unsung hero of the Vikings?
I’ll single out a guy that’s gotten praise from none other than Kirk Cousins himself recently: tight end Josh Oliver. He was brought in from Baltimore as a free agent this past season to serve as the blocking “Yin” to T.J. Hockenson’s pass-catching “Yang” in the Vikings’ offense. The Vikings have employed a lot more two tight end sets this year than they did in Kevin O’Connell’s first season as coach in 2022 — and when called upon, Oliver has been as advertised when it comes to clearing running lanes. He’s also been a pretty good pass catcher when he’s gotten the opportunity — and having a guy that stands about 6 feet 6 is always helpful, particularly in the red zone. Hockenson might get the headlines for the Vikings at the tight end spot, but Oliver is definitely no slouch.
5) Draftkings has set the over/under on points at 52.5 making it the highest points total of the week. Do you think this will be the shootout many predict — and who will come out on top?
I do think that there will be plenty of points scored in this game; I’m just hoping that some of them will be scored by Minnesota. But, in all seriousness, the Vikings appear to be hitting their stride with the running game a bit after struggling with it the first couple of weeks — and Kirk Cousins should be able to make some plays in this one. Still, the prospect of getting into a shootout with the Chiefs is never a good one, and I’m afraid that’s where the Vikings are going to find themselves. I don’t think the Vikings are going to get blown out in this one or anything, but I’m not sure if they’ll be able to keep up. I would, however, safely expect that “over” to hit in this one.
Be sure to check out the answers I gave to their questions by clicking here.