You'll see this very scene on Sunday. - Brett Davis-US PRESSWIRE
If the Houston Texans want home-field advantage, they will need to stop Minnesota's Adrian Peterson.
Even though the Blueprint nailed the path to victory in last week's edition, I feel much more confident in this week's edition than that one. You see, faithful reader, I live right in the heart of Minnesota Vikings country and have for the past two years.
For two years, I have been surrounded by purple, gold, Adrian Peterson jerseys, Brett Favre jerseys, an eye-sore of a downtown stadium (especially compared to its lovely sibling), and Vikings-focused sports talk chatter. While I do watch the Texans on the ol' reliable laptop, the television will be playing another game, usually the Vikings due to broadcast rights. I see this team, I hear about this team, and it really is for this one game, with home-field advantage and TDC bragging rights on the line, where it pays off.
"TDC," the imaginary BRB reader asks, "What's the story with Christian Ponder?"
Well, you handsome or beautiful reader, the story is an incomplete one. It is hard to judge Ponder when the receiving corps cannot separate from defensive backs (hi, Michael Jenkins and John Carlson), is too young and green to contribute (hi, Jarius Wright and Stephen Burton), or is inconsistent (hi, Jerome Simpson). Losing Percy Harvin really sapped the offense of any downfield threat, not that offensive coordinator Ted Musgrave knew how to properly utilize Harvin or knows much about combination routes to beat man coverage.
Ponder can move with his legs, particularly in the red zone when Kyle Rudolph is covered, but he holds onto the ball too long while his receivers cannot get open and Ponder, rightfully so, does not trust those guys to force the ball to them. There is little reason to fear a passing game that has only had one game of 160-plus passing yards since the start of November.
"Okay, okay, well, before we get to You-Know-Who, what challenges does Minnesota's defense present?"
That is a good question, handsome or beautiful reader that I am pretending to talk to. The Vikings run a Tampa-2 style 4-3 defense, similar to what we saw from the Colts over the past decade. This means you have two safeties roam deep with a smaller, athletic defense that's about bending but not breaking. This is reflected by their ranking of 14th fewest points allowed per game, despite sitting 20th in total yards allowed per game. Minnesota's rankings generally sit in that middle of the pack, so they are not great at anything but they also are not horrendous at anything either.
While not awful, Minnesota tends to struggle more against passers. They sit in the bottom third of the league in terms of completion percentage against, passing yards allowed per game, and interceptions. Interestingly enough, their season totals (64.0% complete against, 3,422 yards allowed, 24 touchdowns against, and 10 interceptions) are remarkably close to Matt Schaub's season totals (64.7% complete, 3,555 yards, 22 touchdowns, and 10 interceptions). If you buy into the theory of DVOA, Schaub should have a very Schaub-like game, especially if Houston's offensive line can continue protecting him at the rate they have, which is good enough for the second-fewest sacks allowed in the NFL.
Houston should be able to move the ball, primarily through the air on slant routes to Andre Johnson, Kevin Walter, and Owen Daniels, but the key, as John Madden would say, is scoring touchdowns and breaking the defense. We will get back to this in a second because I know what you will ask next.
"Is it time," the handsome or beautiful reader asks, with great timing, "To talk about All Day Adrian Peterson?"
Great timing and yes it is. He is great and has strong offensive line in front of him. Peterson should be the hands down Comeback Player of the Year. This is a man who had questions surrounding his ability to start. There were rumors of a snap count in September. Now he is chasing Eric Dickerson's 2,105 rushing yards record down and getting stronger by the week.
However, despite averaging 171 rushing yards over the past five games, the Vikings are only 3-2. The record is just 2-2 when AD tops 170 rushing yards in a game. Peterson may be All Day, but he is not a One-Man Team and can be neutralized.
For starters, Houston needs to think twice about stacking nine in the box. That is not to say that they should not key in on the run. They should think run nine out of ten times, but they should think about playing the linebackers a yard or two deeper to allow them a better shot at reading and diagnosing a play. Safeties should not be cheating around the line, but playing back at normal depth like deeper linebackers. Houston should seek to create multiple waves to throw at run gaps and Peterson, as opposed to one giant clog that he needs to fight through, because that is how he has been hitting those 50-plus yard tears.
Also, Houston needs to jump out to an early lead and force Minnesota to throw more. The Vikings will not be able to lean on Peterson if Houston jumps out to a two or three score lead. This means Houston needs to convert in the red zone. The best defense will be an efficient offense.
"Anything else we should know about the Vikings, TDC?" the handsome or beautiful reader asks in a helpful and guiding manner.
Blair Walsh, who was selected after Randy Bullock in April's NFL Draft, is awesome. He has gone 29-for-32 on field goals, including a NFL-record-tying eight-for-eight on kicks over 50-yards. He also has a touchback percentage of 64.3%, third-best in the NFL. In a sense, Joe Marciano really kittened the pooch on this talent evaluation thus far.
In general, the Vikings' special teams, even without Harvin, have been really stout. They have two return touchdowns to their credit and sit in the top-10 in yards per kickoff return (26.3) and defending punt returns (allowing only 7.7 yards per punt return). The field position battle is one where Minnesota can really push special teams deficient Houston.
If Houston lets Minnesota hang around, Peterson and those special teams could really make a difference and prevent the Texans from locking down home-field advantage. Houston has to come roaring out of the gates and force Minnesota to have Ponder play catch up. Until that point, the Texans need to resist stacking the box and come at Peterson in waves. They cannot get tricked into giving Peterson one wave to crack. If Houston does all of this, they should be looking forward to spending January at home.
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