GAME OVERVIEW ::
By Mike Johnson >>
- Hard to draw up a more exciting on-paper matchup than this one between the first- and third-ranked teams in the NFL in Pass Rate Over Expectation (PROE).
- Both teams enter this game off “close calls” against lower-tier competition in Week 5. Kansas City is still in control of its division, while Minnesota is trying to avoid being left in the dust.
- Minnesota’s defense has had an up-and-down season, but it has struggled against teams with higher-end quarterbacks – which Patrick Mahomes probably qualifies as.
- Kansas City’s defense has only surrendered 52 points through four games (13 points per game) and has yet to allow an opposing offense to score 20 points in a game.
- Explosive players on both sides of this game possess the ability to take the lid off this one at any point.
How KANSAS CITY Will Try To Win ::
Despite leading the NFL in PROE again this season, the Chiefs offense seems to be evolving somewhat, particularly in its usage of their skill players. First of all, they had FIVE different wide receivers play at least 24% of the snaps in Sunday night’s win over the Jets, with none of them playing over 61% of the snaps. Meanwhile, tight ends Travis Kelce and Noah Gray combined for a 40% target share. Finally, the Chiefs had 65 “opportunities” (carries plus targets) available in that game and their running backs accounted for 31 of them – roughly half. Looking back at their previous game against the Bears you can see a similar usage pattern, with running backs accounting for 17 of the team’s 34 (50%) “opportunities” prior to taking a 21-point lead. These numbers are particularly interesting when you look at their Week 2 game against the Jaguars. In that game, the running backs accounted for only five of the 27 (18.5%) “opportunities” in the first half and only 11 of 29 (39%) in the second half prior to their final, game-killing drive when they were trying to run out the clock.
The reason I bring up all of those statistics is because when you put them together you can see where the confidence of Andy Reid and the coaching staff lies. By affording so many different receivers significant snaps but not allowing any to have a full-time role you can tell they view them very interchangeably. Taking that a step further, the wide receivers have a very low cumulative share of the team’s usage – which shows that their “interchangeable” group is not one that they think is playing at a very high level. You can also see how after a rough start to the season offensively, the Chiefs made it a priority to get their backfield more involved as evidenced by the increase in the running backs’ usage numbers. Kelce is obviously the centerpiece of this offense, but Isiah Pacheco’s role has grown into the clear second option as a skill player behind Kelce and the team is using its backs enough that Jerick McKinnon and Clyde Edwards-Helaire are also involved on some level every week.
Those are all interesting tidbits to consider for this week when the Chiefs face a Vikings defense surrendering the most wide receiver fantasy points per game in the NFL through the season’s first four weeks. On the surface, that statistic may make you think the Chiefs will attack their opponent’s perceived weakness and make it a priority to get their wide receivers more involved. Digging deeper, however, you can see that the Vikings have played three games against teams with elite wide receiver duos in the Bucs (Mike Evans and Chris Godwin), Eagles (AJ Brown and Devonta Smith), and Chargers (Keenan Allen and Mike Williams). Considering the lack of trust they have been showing in their wide receivers and the huge talent gap between theirs and the units that have diced up the Vikings, it is easy to see how this matchup could be more difficult for their offense than it appears on the surface. Their opponent’s “path of least resistance” lines up with the personnel in their offense that is the least efficient and least preferred at the moment.
There are some very positive data points for the Chiefs as well, however. The Vikings lead the NFL in blitz rate by a wide margin, yet are near the bottom of the league in QB-pressure rate. Patrick Mahomes has many strengths, but avoiding sacks is one of the things he is truly different from everyone else in. Due to the combination of Mahomes’ ability to avoid sacks and the horrible efficiency of the Vikings in creating pressure, the Chiefs should be able to avoid making negative plays and have opportunities for some explosive ones. A team that sends pressure but can’t get home is especially vulnerable against an elite quarterback like Mahomes. Keep in mind that the Vikings defense held the Bucs and Panthers (i.e. – Baker Mayfield and Bryce Young) to 16.5 points per game while surrendering 31 points per game to the Eagles and Chargers (i.e. – Jalen Hurts and Justin Herbert).
There are very clearly some red flags about how the Chiefs could struggle this week, yet there are also some very clear exciting data points that point to a smash spot. I don’t have the data myself, but I would venture to guess if over the last five years you blindly bet on the Chiefs scoring a lot of points against teams who blitz a lot but don’t get sacks you would have done very well. The receivers for the Chiefs have struggled this season and it will be hard to pick out which one, if any, will have a solid game, but it stands to reason that the Vikings will likely be undermanned in the secondary often and Mahomes’ escapability will give his mediocre receivers the time and space needed to break open. Putting it all together, it seems likely that the Chiefs continue their recent usage patterns but that their wide receiver corps combines for a much more productive and efficient game than what it’s shown to date.