Explosive Plays the Difference Maker in Vikings' Loss to Chiefs

Photo Credit: Denny Medley (USA Today Sports)

KANSAS CITY — The Minnesota Vikings had been marvelous through the first half of the season in one particularly important offensive category: yards per play. Only two clubs ranked higher, the Houston Texans and Sunday’s opponent, the Kansas City Chiefs.

Sunday’s razor-thin margin of defeat on a last-second field goal can be traced to several specific plays, but on the whole, Kansas City was able to climb back in the game thanks to their ability to make explosive plays with backup quarterback Matt Moore at the helm.

The Chiefs’ 6.5 yards per play against the Vikings was right in line with their season average of 6.6, and they showcased big-play potential throughout. The Vikings sputtered down the stretch and ended at 4.7.

“I think their coverages did a good job of taking away some of our bigger shots,” said Kirk Cousins afterward. “Probably didn’t have as many as we’ve had in past weeks. To say why? I’d say a combination of coverage, couple missed throws in the flat, nothing big.”

Including Detroit in Week 7, it was the second time in three weeks that a Vikings opponent moved the ball so effectively from a yards-per-play standpoint, even though the Chiefs were feast or famine at times.

Kansas City had four three-and-outs and another drive that lasted just four plays. Take Damien Williams’ 91-yard scamper out of the equation, and the Chiefs ran the ball at just 3.3 yards per carry. Take away the three long connections to Tyreek Hill, and Matt Moore had a minuscule 5.1 yards per attempt.

But those plays happened, and the Vikings will have to reckon with the consequences.

The Williams run was perhaps the most uncharacteristic blunder. Coming into the game, the Vikings had only allowed one run of over 20 yards on the season (Week 8 to Adrian Peterson).

Trailing 16-10 in the third quarter, the Chiefs had their backs against a wall of purple-clad fans screaming in the east end zone. Two plays and 97 yards later, they were in the end zone.

The first play of the drive shouldn’t be overlooked. Sammy Watkins made a spectacular juggling catch for six yards that made the Chiefs’ second-down play-call more unpredictable as they gave it to Williams.

Kansas City’s offensive line wiped out the Vikings’ front seven, leaving Minnesota’s safeties as the last line of defense. Harrison Smith and Anthony Harris, two of the top-tackling safeties in football, both took bad angles and whiffed, letting Williams free to sprint to the end zone.

“We misfitted a little bit,” said Zimmer. “We had pressure coming off the outside. We got a little wide and missed two tackles.”

In the passing game, Hill’s three long completions showcased Hill’s ability to route-run, make contested catches and make his quarterback look good in the process. Hill struck for three catches of 30-or-more yards after the Vikings had only given up eight in eight weeks. He’s a big reason why Kansas City is now 2-1 in the three games Moore has quarterbacked.

All three of his grabs came at the expense of Trae Waynes. Hill simply outran Waynes on his 40-yard touchdown in the first quarter, perhaps benefiting from play-action as Smith was late to help on the throw, but Hill’s diving grab also saved what might’ve been deemed an overthrow to most receivers.

His 30-yard catch in the third quarter looked like a defensive miscommunication in real time because he was so wide open, but Hill just beat Waynes on a double move.

Waynes’ coverage was sound on Hill’s biggest grab of the game, a 41-yard 50-50 ball that Moore through while getting crushed.

“I thought we should have made the play,” Zimmer said. “We were there.”

In the end, the Chiefs’ top playmakers made more plays than the Vikings’. Minnesota didn’t record a 10-yard run until the fourth quarter, and Stefon Diggs was held to one catch for four yards without Adam Thielen on the field to absorb attention. Cousins overthrew Diggs near the end zone on their one downfield opportunity in the first half. And the Vikings were unable to generate anything with their playmakers on their last two possessions, which amassed -7 total yards.

“You want to go in with the mindset of, ‘We’ve gotta just go get points,'” Diggs said of the final sequence. “We go get points, end the game and come out with a victory.’ But things happen.”

The Vikings had to scheme together big plays instead of striking deep downfield. C.J. Ham took a dumpoff for 32 yards, Dalvin Cook had a 22-yard screen, and Ameer Abdullah scored on a 16-yard swing pass.

But otherwise, the passing game was uneven without Thielen, Cousins was a fraction off, and Cook didn’t provide the same threat as usual.

“Game of big plays,” Mike Zimmer said to start his press conference.

It certainly was.