The Kansas City Chiefs (1-4) will face an uphill battle in Week 6, when they travel to TCF Bank Stadium to take on the Minnesota Vikings (2-2). The Chiefs will be without Jamaal Charles for the first time this season, while Vikings running back Adrian Peterson should be fresh off a week of rest. Will Kansas City overcome the odds, or will Minnesota squash its visitors and take another step toward legitimacy?
Here are three keys to the game for both the Chiefs and the Vikings.
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1. Make Alex Smith the centerpiece now
The Chiefs lost nearly 40 percent of their team's offensive production when they lost Jamaal Charles. Smith is the only player who can combat that -- if the team lets him. They'll have to switch from Charles' conservative, run-first offense to a wide-open attack that lets Smith make quick calls.
2. Give Charcandrick West a thorough evaluation
The Chiefs thought enough of West (4.4 yards per preseason carry) to keep him around this fall. They'll quickly learn if that patience was well-founded. Either the second-year back makes the most of his new opportunity or the team leans on someone (like reserve Knile Davis) who can.
3. Worry about the other team's running back, too
The football gods didn't favor the Chiefs in Week 6. They're emotionally spent after losing Charles, and on Sunday, they'll have to slow Adrian Peterson (16 carries, 81 yards, TD in Week 4). Both tasks could steamroll a team separately; together, it's an Everest-sized mountain to climb.
1. Take advantage of Kansas City's disarray at running back
A major portion of the Chiefs' offensive firepower is missing now that All-Pro running back Jamaal Charles has suffered a season-ending knee injury. The leading candidates to be his replacement are Charcandrick West and Knile Davis, who have combined to carry the ball 23 times for 75 yards this season (3.3 yards per carry). This is a perfect game for the Vikings to break in a new starting middle linebacker in rookie Eric Kendricks.
2. Make sure the young receivers stay involved
Minnesota can't become too one dimensional on offense. The Vikings must complement Adrian Peterson's heavy workload at running back with an efficient passing attack. Before the bye, rookie Stefon Diggs (six catches, 87 yards) and second-year pro Adam Thielen (six catches, 70 yards) showed up to play against the Broncos. The Vikings have the NFL's least productive passing offense (165 yards per game); these two youngsters could provide quarterback Teddy Bridgewater with the lift he needs.
3. Put plenty of pressure on Alex Smith
Without Charles in the lineup, Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith will have to make more happen with his arm. Smith has weathered more sacks than any other quarterback this season except for Seattle's Russell Wilson (21). If he's hanging back to pass too long, defensive end Everson Griffen -- who leads the team with 3 sacks -- and the rest of Minnesota's pass-rushers should be all over him.