The 12-2 Texans face the 8-6 Vikings in a rematch from the last preseason game of the year, which already seems like last year. Of course, this game has many more implications – a win for the Texans and they seal home field advantage throughout the playoffs. This game also features MVP candidate Adrian Peterson, who missed the preseason while recovering from knee surgery. The Vikings are in the playoff hunt and Peterson has the season rushing record in his sights (he needs 294 yards in two games), so a huge challenge stands in the Texans' way. Vikings' all pro defensive end Jared Allen was quoted this week as saying, "This is a playoff game for us."
The matchup the entire world will be watching is Adrian Peterson versus J.J. Watt, the two MVP candidates. Peterson wants the ball on every play to break the rushing record and Watt wants to tackle Peterson for a loss on every play – that's their motivation.
Texans to Watch: Defense
This week's matchup is a classic display of strength versus strength. The Vikings rank 4th in rushing and they’re featuring the NFL’s best RB, Adrian Peterson, in his best season. The Texans boast the NFL’s 5th-ranked rushing defense and they’ve allowed the fewest rushing TDs in the NFL this season. On Sunday, something will have to give. There’s one angle that favors the Vikings. Houston ranks just 12th in yards per attempt allowed (4.1), teams run the ball just 22.5 times per game against them, and they’ve seen an opposing team run the ball 30+ times against them just twice. Meanwhile, the Vikings rank 1st in yards per attempt (5.5), they’ve averaged 29.1 rushes per game and they’ve run the ball 30+ times on 5 occasions this season.
Adrian Peterson needs just 188 yards to eclipse 2,000 yards and 294 yards to break Eric Dickerson's record. When asked about Peterson, Wade Phillips said, “Adrian Peterson. He’s having an amazing year, obviously. Great talent. Good guy. He’s a Texas guy that stayed, a Texas guy, but a real talent. Everybody is amazed, and I think you have to be, that he came back from injury like that. I saw him in the Pro Bowl that one year where nobody could tackle him – he looks like that now again. You put on the game film from almost any week, but really the last six or seven weeks, and you take out each play he ran the ball and it looks like a highlight film rather than just a game film. It looks like you made up a highlight tape of some guy. That’s how good he is.”
This week's player to watch is the entire linebacking crew against Peterson, especially the leader inside Bradie James. If the Vikings can occupy the defensive front and Peterson gets to the second level, the inside linebackers will be counted on to make the stop. If they fail, Peterson could have a huge day. Sharpton, Dobbins and Ruud will also be factors and probably used in a rotation to keep the group fresh. Outside linebackers Connor Barwin and Brooks Reed/Whitney Mercilus will also need to set the edge and force Peterson back into the teeth of the defense.
Texans to Watch: Offense
The Texans' offense had its failures in the red zone last week versus the Colts and produced anemic numbers on 3rd down. It appears the play calling is not keeping the opposing defenses off-balance and the offensive line isn't executing. A combination that results in a poor performance every time. As mentioned throughout the year, the Texans' offensive formula is consistent every week – establish the run and utilize the play action pass to move the ball down-field in bigger chunks. This week will be no different.
However, there are some younger players that this week's Texans to watch will focus. Brandon Brooks, the massive offensive lineman, has been used more and more and could be a big factor down the stretch. When asked about Brooks, Kubiak said, "He’s very athletic for a big, big man. He’s very athletic. We play a lot of people from that standpoint. You’re looking for people who are stout inside so you don’t get pushed around. You look at a couple situations in short yardage last week, he was a difference-maker in us staying on the field, so it’s encouraging.”
The other player to watch this week is wideout DeVier Posey. Last week, Posey made a clutch catch in traffic but it is his run blocking that has improved drastically. He appears to understand the entire game and what Kubiak is trying to do on every down. Kubiak was asked about Posey this week and said, “He’s been coming all year-long. I think over the course of the last month, I just think the lights kind of went on for DeVier. He doesn't have to work so hard when we put in-game plans and new stuff comes his way. He understands things, so his talents have really started to take over. He played some special teams, did some good things for (Special Teams Coordinator) Joe (Marciano) and then he got sat down a couple of weeks, too, just because of numbers. I just think he got real hungry. He’s earned an opportunity. We gave him a chance to make some plays and he's stepped up and done that and will continue to. It’s just nice to watch some of these young guys grow up as we get down the stretch here and move into January, because that’s what gives you a chance to get better.”
The team with the most depth of experience and home field advantage throughout the playoffs has a great chance of going all the way to the Super Bowl. A win this week will seal the deal for the Texans and then allow Kubiak's younger players to play next week in Indianapolis to gain the depth of experience advantage.
Houston just needs to focus on being 1-0 this week.