HOUSTON (CBS HOUSTON)The 4-0 Minnesota Vikings are one of the league’s biggest surprises in 2016. Despite a season ending knee injury for quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, a torn meniscus for all time great running back Adrian Peterson, and limited contributions from first round draft pick wide receiver Laquon Treadwell, the Vikings are undefeated.
Incredibly, Adrian Peterson’s absence may be sparking it all.
“That’s the thing that’s kind of impressive about them,” said Texans defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel. “Right now they’re running the ball better than when Adrian [Peterson] was there. No disrespect to Adrian. But teams loaded up [the box to stop] Adrian. And now some teams are not loading up as much on these other guys, and these other guys are making plays.”
“I think they’ve become a lot more balanced,” said linebacker Brian Cushing. “When you have someone like Adrian you obviously try to get him the ball as much as you possibly can. But with him out, they’re spreading it around a bunch and getting it to a lot of different guys, which is obviously making it tougher for other teams.”
The stats back Crennel and Cushing up. Peterson had 19 carries for 31 yards in a week 1 win over the Titans, then 12 carries for 19 yards against the Packers before tearing his meniscus. Minnesota averaged a paltry 2.3 yards per carry then 1.4 yards per carry AS A TEAM in those two games respectively.
Things didn’t improve dramatically for the Vikings in their week 3 win over the Panthers (24 carries for 58 yards, a 2.4 yard per carry average), but they did against the Giants. Jerick McKinnon’s 18 carries for 85 yards and a TD helped the Vikings run for 104 yards as a team, scoring another touchdown and average 3.2 yards per carry. Not a great average, but it got the job done. And the Texans will have to stop it.
“Minnesota is going to run the football,” said head coach Bill O’Brien. “That’s part of what they do. I think we’ve practiced really well this week, have had a couple good practices here. So, looking forward to the challenge of going to Minnesota and trying to do that.”
The Vikings offense has been quite impressive this season. Sam Bradford is at least one prominent football writer’s MVP. And he’s been with the Vikings for just a over a month!
“His accuracy [stands out] first of all,” said Texans defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel. “He spreads the ball around, and [his throws] are in the vicinity of the [receiver]. And the guys make the plays. They’ve got a big tight end (Kyle Rudolph). A couple guys who can run. And they have different ways to get them the ball.”
Bradford’s go to target is wide receiver Stefon Diggs. He’s 5th in the NFL in receiving with 25 catches for 372 yards and a score.
“He’s a good player,” said Bill O’Brien. “He’s got really good playing strength. Good obviously speed. Good hands. He’s a go-to guy for them. Definitely a guy that they’re trying to get the ball to in a lot of different ways. He’s a difficult guy to locate and definitely a difficult guy to defend.”
Combine Bradford’s accuracy, Diggs and Rudolph as receivers, and a suddenly above average running game with an offensive coordinator like Norv Turner, and you can see why Minnesota is 4-0.
“He’s probably one of the best coordinators in the history of the league when you think about it,” said O’Brien. “He was the coordinator of the great Dallas Cowboy teams. I think he knows a little bit about getting quarterbacks ready to play whether they’re veterans, rookies, in between, just got there a week ago, been there for two, whatever it is. He’s got a history of coaching quarterbacks and doing a great job with them.”
If the Texans want to beat Minnesota, they’ll have to keep that offense in check and get a takeaway or two. The Vikings have the league’s best Takeaway to Turnover margin: +10. We’ll see if they can make the Vikings look like we expected them to at the beginning of the season.
Paul Gallant hosts “Gallant at Night” – Tuesdays 9-11 PM, Wednesdays 8-11 PM, and Fridays 8-11 PM on SportsRadio 610. He also hosts SportsZone Unfiltered – Fridays at 10 PM – on The Kube: Channel 57. Get in touch with Paul via email or his facebook page.