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. Now that the scene is set, here are a couple of keys to the game.
Load The Box:
The Texans game plan on defense should be pretty simple, put eight and sometimes nine guys in the box to play the run and dare the Vikings to try to beat them with the passing game. I'd like to see them put five defenders on the line and walk a safety up on nearly every play. Also, I don't think they should blitz as much this week unless it's an obvious passing situation because that's how Peterson has broken several of his long runs this season. If they blitz, and he gets past the first level, there's no one left to attempt a tackle and I doubt anyone will catch him from behind. 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, 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.
They 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. Christian Ponder is throwing for under 190 yards per game and has only two more touchdowns than interceptions (14/12), no one is worried about him making big plays to win games. Peterson rushed for 182 yards against the Seahawks who rank 10th against the run; I'd take holding him to 125 yards on Sunday as a victory.
Be Aggressive On Offense:
Some of 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 and run draw plays on 3rd and 14 and give up on drives. 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 last week. If they allow the Vikings to hang around, Peterson will ruin their day.