Can they slow Adrian Peterson & clinch home field advantage?
Much like the Colts game last week, there is a lot more on the line for the Texans vs. Vikings game in week 16 than anyone expected when the schedule was released. The Texans chances of locking up home field advantage received a huge boost thanks to the San Francisco 49ers road win over the New England Patriots and they can clinch with a win this week over Minnesota. On the other side the Vikings also have a lot on the line in terms of playoff scenarios and a chance at NFL history. At this moment they're the sixth seed based on tiebreakers, but with five teams all at 8-6, they'll likely need to win out to make the playoffs. Also on the line is the single season rushing record with Vikings running back Adrian Peterson 294 yards short of Eric Dickerson's record 2,105 yards set back in 1984 with the Rams.
Texans Offense vs. Vikings Defense
Through 14 games the Vikings rank 13th in rushing yards allowed, 12th in rushing touchdowns allowed, and 8th in yards per carry; it won't be easy for Arian Foster this week. Last week Foster rushed for a season high 165 yards; his highest total since the last game of the 2010 season against the Jaguars. One of the more encouraging signs from last week was that Foster had 92 yards on just six carries over the right tackle. The majority of the Texans runs went over the right side last year but they've struggled to get a push for most of this season on the right side. If that side of the line starts to play better with the increased playing time for rookie Brandon Brooks, we could see Foster's production return to 2010 levels. He probably won't run for 165 yards again, but I expect him to have success and be near the century mark.
The Vikings can be beat through the air. They allowed Sam Bradford (a lesser quarterback compared to Matt Schaub) to throw for 377 yards and three touchdowns last week. Andre Johnson caught 11 passes last week for 151 yards and a touchdown; he's gone over 150 yards receiving in three of his last five games. The Vikings rank 23rd in passing yards allowed and 21st in passing touchdowns allowed; expect another big game from the veteran wide out.
Owen Daniels just hasn't been the same player after suffering a back injury. Before the injury Daniels had a stretch of five touchdowns in six games and was held under 50 yards in only two of those games. In the five games since he returned, Daniels has gone over 50 yards just once and scored only one touchdown. A disappointing finish to what was a great start to the 2012 season for Daniels.
The people who claim Kubiak doesn't pass enough on early downs are just factually incorrect, but I do believe it's important for the Texans to be aggressive this week. That doesn't mean abandon the run, what I mean is I don't want to see them settle for field goals, run draw plays on 3rd and 14, and give up on drives as Kubiak is sometimes prone to do. The best defense against Adrian Peterson is to build up a big lead with your offense and force the Vikings to pass the ball in an effort to catch up. The Texans rank third in the NFL this season in first half scoring with an average of 15.8 while the Vikings allow an average 10.8; the Texans have to score early and score touchdowns instead of attempting six field goals like they did last week. If they allow the Vikings to hang around, Peterson will ruin their day.
Texans Defense vs. Vikings Offense
The game plan should be very simple. The Texans need to line up five guys right on the line and walk down Danieal Manning or Glover Quin from their regular safety spot and put eight and sometimes nine guys in the box on every play that's not an obvious passing down. I'm not suggesting they use five lineman, but they should have their linebackers and a safety up tight to the line, kind of like the 46 defense the 1985 Bears used.
I know some Texans fans will look at their rank in rushing yards allowed (5th) and believe the Texans can stop Peterson without selling out, but as I've stated many times, that rank is artificial in my opinion. The Texans rush defense is very average, but because they've blown out so many teams (rank 5th in point differential, with four wins by 20+) their opponents have had to abandon the running game and air it out in the second half to attempt to catch up. Through 14 games, the Texans have faced the fewest opponent rushing attempts in the league at 22.5 per game; by comparison the Texans run the ball an average of 33.7 times per game. The Texans rank 12th in the league in rushing yards per carry allowed this season, that rank I believe is a more accurate picture of how well they stop the run.
Houston allowed 105 yards on 5.8 yards per carry to Vick Ballard last week, 9.4 yards per carry to Joique Bell, 6.5 yards per carry to C.J. Spiller, 4.6 yards per carry to Ray Rice, 4.9 yards per carry to Reggie Bush, 5.6 yards per carry to Chis Johnson; all running backs who are inferior to Peterson to say the least. Peterson has racked up over 100 rushing yards eight games in a row including going over 150 yards six times, and over 200 yards twice during that span. Remember this, every team that has faced the Vikings this year has gone into the game knowing they need to focus on one player. The Vikings rank 32nd, dead last in passing yards and 27th in passing touchdowns. Christian Ponder has thrown for less than 150 yards in five of his last eight games and has six touchdowns to eight interceptions during that same span. Yet, despite playing with a bad quarterback and having the defense focused entirely on him, Peterson has still run all over teams. Peterson rushed for 182 yards against the Seahawks who rank 10th against the run; I'd take "holding" him to 145 yards on Sunday as a huge victory.
The Vikings Will Win If...
- Ponder throws for over 225 yards and doesn't turn it over.
- They stuff the Texans running game and hold Foster under 60 yards.
- Adrian Peterson has another monster game with over 200 yards rushing