Reporting Paul Gallant
The Texans clinched the AFC South last week with a win over the Colts. This coming Sunday, they’ll have a chance to clinch home field against the Vikings (assuming the world doesn’t end on Friday).
At the beginning of the season, this looked like an easy W. But Minnesota has surprisingly clawed its way to an 8-6 record. That’s good for second in the NFC North. So how tough will this week’s test be for the Texans? Let’s take a look.
Adrian Peterson Is Above Average. Probably.
Back to reality. Peterson has a very real chance to break Eric Dickerson’s single season record from 1984 – 2,105. He’s got 1,812 yards on the year. That number is ABSURD, because his season kicked off with a comparatively slow start.
Through six games, AP had 499 yards. Not bad…especially for a guy who shredded his knee just a year ago. But in the past eight games, Peterson has done what the rest of the NFL’s best took a 14 games to accomplish.
Adrian Peterson Week 7-14: 1,313 yards, 7.46 YPC, 9 TD
NFL’s Next 5 Leading Rushers Through 14 Games:
- Marshawn Lynch: 1,379 yards, 5.1 YPC, 10 TD
- Alfred Morris: 1,322 yards, 4.7 YPC, 9 TD
- Arian Foster: 1,313 yards, 4.0 YPC, 14 TD
- Doug Martin: 1,250 yards, 4.6 YPC, 10 TD
- Jamaal Charles: 1230 yards, 4.9 YPC, 4 TD
Peterson’s big play ability has a lot to do with what has happened. He has 20 rushes of 20+ yards this season. No one is even CLOSE to touching that number (Buffalo’s C.J. Spiller is next with 11). And he has a whopping 7 carries for over 50 yards. Only one other player in NFL history has had that many in a season. His name was Barry Sanders (1997).
How could I possibly make those stats even more impressive? The Vikings were without their best target – Percy Harvin – for the last five of those games. And…he’s taking hand offs from Christian Ponder – who isn’t quite Blaine Gabbert terrible, but is damn close. With him under center, defenses can gamble…putting 8, even 9 guys in the box to stop AP.
For this game, you’ve got to accept that the Texans defense can’t stop this guy. Especially after seeing Colts running back Vick Ballard gash the “Bulls On Parade” for 105 yards behind a bad offensive line missing two starters. I’d expect between 125-150 yards from this guy.
The craziest part? Even if he gets beyond that mark, the Vikings could still have a hard time winning. Why?
…Because Christian Ponder Is Garbage
The good news for Christian Ponder? He married Samantha Steele on Monday. Well done sir.
The bad news? Everything else. Ponder is absolutely terrified of throwing the ball downfield. He’s averaging a pathetic 5.95 yards per attempt, which is second to last among all QBs with over 200 tosses this season. Part of that has to do with the loss of speedster Percy Harvin. And it certainly doesn’t help that outside of tight end Kyle Rudolph (48 receptions, 434 yards, 8 TDs), the rest of his targets are incompetent. Still, it’s clear that most defenses don’t respect the Vikings’ ability to pass. Imagine Adrian Peterson’s stats if Minnesota had a passing game that forced defenses to play honest!
Ponder’s struggles and his weak supporting cast could be a major confidence builder for the Texans’ secondary, a group that has been victimized by big plays over the past five weeks. Houston had allowed 20 passing plays of 20+ yards in the four games leading up to the Colts, and then a 61 yard TD reception by Indy’s T.Y. Hilton. It’s safe to say that will not happen on Sunday. The only mistakes to fear are Brandon Harris penalties.
Vikings defensive end Jared Allen’s 2011 (22 sacks) was a lot like Watt’s 2012. This year hasn’t quite gone as well. He’s still been productive (9 sacks), but has been playing with a torn labrum throughout the second half of the season. His toughness certainly can’t be questioned.
The same can be said about the rest of Minnesota’s front seven, a physical bunch that will definitely be a challenge for the Texans O-Line. Defensive tackle Kevin Williams isn’t quite what he was a few seasons ago, but he knows how to occupy space and take on double teams. He, along with fellow tackle Letroy Guion, end Brian Robison, and pass rushing specialist Everson Griffen from a deep D-Line.
The linebackers are a solid group too. Strong-side linebacker Chad Greenway is a tackling machine (140 tackles, 1st in the NFL), and will be sure to challenge Arian Foster on stretch plays. Jasper Brinkley in the middle and Erin Henderson on the weak side complete the unit.
The Secondary? Meh
The Vikings secondary doesn’t give up big plays, only allowing about 10.4 yards per reception (4th best in the league). But quarterbacks are remarkably efficient against the unit, completing 64% of their passes (26th ranked in the league). They just don’t cover very well. That’s fantastic news for Matt Schaub, a quarterback who’d rather dink and dunk than air it deep.
Outside of veteran corner Antoine Winfield (14th season), Minnesota’s secondary is a young unit. Winfield is a good tackler and can be moved to the nickel position. Harrison Smith is another guy to keep an eye on. When he gets his hands on the ball, he tends to make big plays (3 picks, 2 returned for TDs).
Based on the last couple of weeks, you should bet on Andre Johnson having another big game. The real question is if DeVier Posey, or another one of the young Texan wide-outs (Looking at you Lestar Jean and Keshawn Martin) has a statement performance.
Kicker Blair Walsh may in fact be the best kicker in the NFL. He’s only missed three field goals (29-32, 90.6%) and is the most accurate kicker in the league from 50 yards + (8-8). He’s a great security blanket for the Vikings when they get to the opponent’s side of the field.