We’re two days away from the first place Minnesota Vikings hosting the first place Houston Texans at US Bank Stadium. The two franchises have only played each other three times in the regular season, so chances are you might not be as familiar with the Texans as other teams across the league.
So what better way to get to know more about the opponent than talking to someone that writes about them every day? Brett Kollmann of Battle Red Blog (and who also works at NFL Network) was kind enough to share some knowledge about how Texans fans feel about the current state of their team and how he sees the game playing out on Sunday.
Daily Norseman: Like the Vikings have done twice already this season, the Texans are dealing with the loss of a marquee player. Unlike the Vikings, there's no chance of finding a suitable replacement for J.J. Watt. How different does the defense look without him in the lineup? Has it been slightly easier for the team to adjust since Watt was obviously hobbled to start the season?
Battle Red Blog: The main difference is that Jadeveon Clowney is now a full-time 5-technique defensive end rather than an outside linebacker. He's not your "typical" 5-tech because he is only about 265-270 pounds, but he has such immense natural power that he has been able to stuff the run as if he weighs north of 300 anyway. He is not the pass rusher that Watt is, obviously, but he still manages to make several "wow" plays every single game that seem to hint at what he will become.
Behind Clowney are two very good linebackers in Brian Cushing (returned from injury) and Benardrick McKinney (explosive tackling machine) that have made life a bit easier on the defensive line. With or without Watt, it will still be difficult to run the ball on this squad. The real question is if they can finally start getting to the passer like the good ole' days.
DN: While the Texans are off to a nice 3-1 start, the performance of new quarterback Brock Osweiler hasn't been the greatest. What do Texans fans think of their new QB so far? Are they just happy to have someone that resembles an NFL quarterback, or are they left wanting more after the Texans paid Osweiler so much in the offseason?
BRB: Most of Osweiler's troubles seem to be stemming from miscommunications with DeAndre Hopkins. Several interceptions have been simply from putting the ball on a different shoulder than Hopkins expected, or in one instance the ball was literally ripped straight from Hopkins' hands after he already made the catch. Once those two get on the same page and start reading defensive back leverages the same way, those seemingly errant throws should go away. As for if Texans fans are happy that Brock Osweiler is our quarterback, yes we are. He's still already miles better than what we had in Brian Hoyer, and that's good enough for us.
DN: The addition Will Fuller has proved to be great for the Texans offense. How has Fuller burst onto the scene and become so effective right away? (And yes, we're asking because our own first round wide receiver has barely seen the field yet.) Are defenses keying in on DeAndre Hopkins and leaving Fuller open, or is he already proving to be a special player?
BRB: Funny you should ask, because I did a video breakdown on that very subject a few weeks ago after Fuller shredded the Bears in his first career game. In short, Fuller is just flat out faster than everyone else on the field. If he gets a clean release off the line of scrimmage, it's over. The Patriots are the only team to double team him for an entire game so far, and coincidentally that was the one game where Fuller hasn't put up a big stat line. He's on pace for 1,300 yards and double digit touchdowns this year, and both of those numbers would absolutely shatter all rookie team records. He's a great route runner, has a high football IQ, and most importantly has the natural physical gifts to make defenses pay for leaving him one on one. Special kid, and a special player.
DN: This is only the fourth meeting all-time between the Texans and Vikings, so there isn't exactly a whole bunch of familiarity for these teams. Give us one player on offense and one player on defense that Vikings fans might not know about but could have a big impact on Sunday's game.
BRB: On offense we should get to see a bit more of Braxton Miller this Sunday. He has been bogged down by a hamstring injury in the past two weeks, but reports are that he's now fully healthy and good to go for this game. Electric as a YAC threat and reliable as a chain mover, Miller has looked like a seasoned veteran at the position so far in his young career despite just barely transitioning to wide receiver a year ago at Ohio State. He could finally provide Houston the slot weapon that they have lacked for virtually their entire franchise's existence...as long as he can beat a good nickel corner in Captain Munnerlyn, that is.
DN: Finally, who ya got? Do the Vikings remain undefeated or do the Texans come in and steal a win in Minneapolis?
BRB: I personally think neither offense will score in this game; both defenses are too good to let that happen. 10-7 Vikings, with those touchdowns coming from pick sixes by both teams.
Thanks again to Brett for some excellent insight. If you haven’t checked out Brett’s excellent film breakdowns before, I highly encourage you to watch them. You can follow Brett on Twitter @BrettKollmann.