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Chiefs/Vikings preseason game now offers more intrigue for KC

The Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith has felt the pressure of an underachieving offensive line the first two preseason games.  He should have an easier time against the Minnesota Vikings on Saturday.
The Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith has felt the pressure of an underachieving offensive line the first two preseason games. He should have an easier time against the Minnesota Vikings on Saturday.
Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images

Saturday night’s preseason game between the Kansas City Chiefs and the Minnesota Vikings at 7 pm CT at Arrowhead Stadium takes on much more importance for Chiefs head coach Andy Reid and his staff now for several reasons.

The third preseason game is the all-important match-up where the starters will play into the second half and the coaching staff develops a real-live game plan. Despite the absence of injured starters like Dwayne Bowe, Jamaal Charles and Eric Berry, this will be the final dress rehearsal for the starting units before the season starts for real on September 7 against Tennessee. No one important to the team’s 2014 success will play much – if at all – next week in the preseason finale.

On offense, it would be nice to … I don’t know … score a touchdown for the first time this season? The #1 unit didn’t show up in the first game against Cincinnati but moved the ball well in the first quarter last week against a tough Carolina defense on the road. However, they could not cross the goal line in either game. The Vikings defense hemorrhaged points last year, so quarterback Alex Smith and company must get touchdowns this game, not field goals.

The starting offensive line needs every preseason snap they can get to try to jell as a unit. It’s well known that they were the youngest offensive line in the NFL last season and they lost what little age and experience they had with the off-season free agent defections of Brandon Albert, Geoff Schwartz, and Jon Asamoah. Now they’ve lost their best performer so far, right tackle Donald Stephenson, for the first four games of the season due to a league suspension.

The left side of the line in particular, tackle Eric Fisher and guard Jeff Allen, have had a terrible preseason so far. This week, they get the chance to play against a lesser quality defensive line in Minnesota and not against two of the best in the Bengals or Panthers. If Smith is running for his life this week, or running back Knile Davis can’t find running lanes in the rushing game, the offensive line situation officially moves to DEFCON 5.

Defensively, the Chiefs must fix the penalties they racked up last week, and get back to pressuring the quarterback and causing turnovers like they did in the Bengals preseason game. Until the non-performance of the offensive line became the biggest issue of training camp, it was the potential disaster of the secondary’s play (and All-Pro safety Eric Berry’s foot injury) that occupied most fan’s thoughts. Unfortunately, it doesn’t look they the Chiefs have solved their defensive backfield problems.

There have been several “WOW!” moments for the defense in the first two preseason games – both good and bad. On the plus side have been some sacks, quarterback pressures, turnovers forced, and defensive scores. On the bad side are opposing offensive players roaming free in the secondary or quarterbacks that have time to eat a sandwich in the pocket due to the lack of a pass rush. The defense must get some positive “Wows!” on Saturday.

The Vikes are led by former Chiefs QB Matt Cassel. Cassel is a great guy and played his heart out for the Chiefs when he was their starter, but c’mon … it’s Matt Cassel. The Chiefs defense won’t have to worry Adrian Peterson at running back, so they need to tee off on Cassel. There should be chances for turnovers.

For fans watching the game, some players to keep an eye on are:

  • Left tackle Eric Fisher, of course
  • Ryan Harris and Jeff Linkenbach, one of whom will be asked to replace Stephenson during his suspension
  • Receivers Frankie Hammond and Albert Wilson, can two unheralded players sneak into the starting receiver spots for Game #1 when Dwayne Bowe will be out with his suspension?
  • Linebackers Josh Mauga and James-Michael Johnson, one of whom will have to play for the injured starter, Joe Mays, who just underwent wrist surgery and will miss a few weeks.
  • Cornerback Ron Parker – can he play worse? Then again, no one else is exactly stepping up to claim that spot.

With the first roster cut-down day just a day away, several Chiefs players need to step up Saturday night.

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