USA TODAY Sports
The Houston Texans, coming off of a 2011 season that saw them get the first playoff victory in franchise history despite being down to their third-string quarterback, had high hopes and expectations going into the 2012 NFL season. The Minnesota Vikings, coming off of one of the worst seasons in franchise history, were expected to be a non-factor this season. Yet, as we approach this afternoon's game in Houston, there are post-season implications for both teams.
With a victory over the Vikings, the Texans would lock up the #1 overall seed in the AFC playoffs and ensure that the road to the Super Bowl runs through Reliant Stadium. A victory for the Vikings would give them a huge boost in their quest to reach the NFC playoffs. Either way, things will be made significantly clearer for Minnesota after Sunday's action.
The big focus, outside of the playoff picture, will be on Vikings' running back Adrian Peterson. The all-world running back is at 1,812 rushing yards on the season, leaving him just 188 yards short of 2,000 and 293 behind Eric Dickerson's all-time single-season mark of 2,105 yards set in 1984. The Texans have the fifth-best rushing defense in the National Football League, giving up just 93.2 yards/game on the ground. However, facing top rushing defenses hasn't been that much of an issue for Adrian Peterson this season. Below is a list of the rush defenses Peterson has faced this season, and how he's fared.
|Opponent||Rush Defense Rank||Carries||Yards|
|Tampa Bay Buccaneers||1st||15||123|
|San Francisco 49ers||3rd||25||86|
|Chicago Bears (2 games)||12th||49||262|
|Green Bay Packers||14th||21||210|
|St. Louis Rams||16th||24||212|
|Detroit Lions (2 games)||18th||48||273|
The games that are at the bottom of the list, where he faced some of the league's worst rush defenses, are when Peterson was putting up some of his worst games. The game against the Cardinals in Week 7 is the game that touched off his current run of eight games of 100 yards or more, when quarterback Christian Ponder started dropping off from his early-season pace and Peterson started looking like he was finally "over" the knee injury he suffered one year ago Monday.
That's what made Peterson's streak, and his season as a whole, so remarkable. Defenses know that the Minnesota Vikings have exactly one threat, at this point, that needs to be accounted for. . .and, for the last eight weeks, nobody has been able to do it. Are the Texans the team to slow Peterson down?
Well, they come into this game with the guy who, in my opinion, is the NFL's Defensive Player of the Year in defensive end J.J. Watt. Watt has been an absolute monster this season, having put up 19.5 sacks (tying him with San Francisco's Aldon Smith for the NFL lead in that category) as well as 15 passes defended, a nearly unheard of number for a defensive lineman. The Texans' defense is pretty solid across the board, ranking 7th in the NFL in both points and yards allowed. Watt lining up across from either Charlie Johnson or Brandon Fusco/Geoff Schwartz is the match-up that should scare the heck out of every Viking fan this week.
The Texans' offense isn't bad, either, as they're the third-highest scoring team in the NFL and 6th in yardage. They have one of the NFL's best running backs in Arian Foster, one of the best receivers in Andre Johnson, and a very able signal caller in Matt Schaub. The Texans are going to move the ball against the Minnesota defense, and it will be up to the Vikings' much-improved defense to attempt to create opportunities and hold the Texans to as few points as possible.
Vikings fans probably aren't going to want to hear this, but the play of Christian Ponder is probably going to play a huge role as to whether or not Minnesota wins this football game. After hitting rock bottom at Lambeau Field a few weeks ago, Ponder has started to re-assert himself a bit over the past couple of weeks. Adrian Peterson's going to get his. He's Adrian Peterson. That's what he does. With all the focus on Peterson, Ponder and his. . .ahem. . .receiving corps(e) are going to have to take advantage. If they can do that, the Vikings stand a chance of pulling off what would be a pretty significant upset.
If the Vikings want to win this one, they need to play mistake-free football and get off to a fast start. We pointed out how big the turnover stat was last week, and it held true again as the Vikings were on the plus side of the takeaway/giveaway ratio against the Rams. Just as important for this team, however, is the chance to play while they're ahead.
In seven of their eight victories this season, the Vikings have gone the entire game without trailing. The only game they lost where they fell behind for a portion of the game was the season opener against Jacksonville. . .and in that game, they trailed for all of 27 seconds before Blair Walsh hit a 55-yard field goal to send the game to overtime. In their victories over San Francisco, Detroit, Tennessee, Arizona, Detroit (again), Chicago, and St. Louis, the Vikings scored first, and never found themselves any worse than tied after that.
This is a game that very few people expect the Vikings to win, and with good reason. On paper, the Texans are a better team than the Vikings are. But, to trot out the old cliche, games aren't played on paper. Can the Vikings rise up and do themselves a big favor in the pursuit of an unlikely post-season appearance? We'll find out in Houston starting at noon Central.