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Vikings-Chiefs matchup of the day: Wednesday

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By Christian West

Here's a key matchup to watch in Sunday's Chiefs-Vikings game:

Vikings linebackers vs. Chiefs running backs

The linebackers have been strong through the early part of the season, especially against the run. MLB E.J. Henderson, even though he had some difficulties covering Lions TE Brandon Pettigrew down the seam, was stout against the run and plugged the gaps in the middle that slowed RB Jahvid Best. OLBs Chad Greenway and Erin Henderson also were strong against the run. All of them played downhill and met Best and the other Lions running backs in the hole.

The strong play of the linebackers is one of the reasons the Vikings are fourth in the league defending the run, allowing only 67.3 yards per game.

That's important because they are playing a Chiefs team that needs to run the ball effectively to have success on offense. They were at their best last season when they could establish the run with Jamaal Charles and Thomas Jones to take pressure off of Matt Cassel. This season, with Dexter McCluster replacing the injured Charles and Jones losing effectiveness because of age, the running game hasn't had the same success, gaining 51 fewer yards per game than it did in 2010. As a result, the offense has struggled.

The linebackers need to continue their strong play and not allow the Chiefs' running game to get going if the Vikings want to win this game. Cassel is far less effective when he doesn't have the luxury of a running game and play-action off of it to assist him. If the Vikes continue to stop the running game, they can put the game on the shoulders of a struggling Cassel.

 

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