Here we are, week 16, the final 2012 game against an AFC North foe (unless… Super Bowl, anyone?) This time, the Houston Texans face the Adrian Peterson led Minnesota Vikings for a Sunday noon game at Reliant. The Vikings are not entirely unknown to the Texans as the interconference opponents met in the final week of the preseason. Of course that was a long time and many injuries ago – and before a couple of each team’s players emerged as potential NFL MVP candidates. Where’s the fun in this particular game? Only watching Adrian Peterson grind it out in attempt to set a new single season rushing record against a 5th ranked Texans rushing defense and the potential for J.J. Watt to add to his 19.5 sacks, closing in on the 22.5 sack single season mark set by Michael Strahan in 2001, against the Vikings who allow 2.14 sacks per game. No big deal. Yeah, right. History could be re-written this Sunday. Add in that Minnesota is legitimately, and somewhat surprisingly, fighting for a playoff spot and the Texans are trying to lock up a first round playoff BYE with a victory. This game is kinda a big deal.
To dig into the inner workings of the Minnesota Vikings, we bring in Mike Wobschall, writer for the actual NFL Vikings website, www.Vikings.com. Mike, @Wobby on Twitter, is so close to the situation in Eden Prairie, MN, we could scarcely get more accurate information than if we asked HC Leslie Frazier himself. Mike dishes on QB Christian Ponder’s progression in his second year, the clamor regarding Peterson for MVP and Jared Allen’s integrity. We get strong insight into a team with whom we in Houston are none-too-familiar. Ladies and gents, check out what the Minnesota Vikings are bringing to Reliant this Sunday.
@TXBobbumman How do you see the matchup of Texans DE J.J. Watt vs Vikings LT Matt Kalil (R) playing out?
If these two do indeed matchup, wow! What a battle that will be. We’ve hit a homerun with Matt this season. From Day 1 of the regular season, he’s been a dominating presence on Christian Ponder’s blindside, and save a few moments this season, his opponent has been a virtual non-factor each week. But Matt has not faced a player the caliber of J.J. Watt this season. I can’t recall seeing a player with a better all-around game having a better all-around season than what Watt is doing in 2012. What a treat to watch.
@MSawyer4 Is DE Jared Allen a “dirty player” after two questionable hits against Texans QB Matt Schaub in their last meetups?
No, Jared cannot be fairly characterized as a dirty player. There have been unfortunate incidents in which he’s been involved in the past, such as his illegal block against Bears OL Lance Louis earlier this season, but in each instance he’s cleared the air afterward and insisted there was no ill intent. In fact, Jared’s been the target of cheap shots (Lions OL Gosder Cherilus attempted to take him out at the knees several seasons ago) in the past and has been out-spoken about how that kind of conduct has no place in the NFL.
@The_abman_mon How will the Vikings attack the Texans defense vs 8-9 in the box?
The same way they’ve attacked it every week of the season – with power. Adrian Peterson is having his best season, and he’s running behind a road-grading offensive line and one of the NFL’s best fullbacks (Jerome Felton). The Vikings “22” personnel (2 TEs, 2 FBs) has been able to block any scheme put in front of it, and then the Vikings have also done a nice job with other run schemes to diversify the attack. The key will be our passing game’s ability to collect a few completions in clutch situations, capitalizing on Houston’s willingness to play man-coverage while stacking the box to stop the run.
@Aggs03 What is the Vikings fanbase thinking regarding RB Adrian Peterson for Comeback Player of the Year versus MVP?
It started off as “The MVP award would be great, but a QB will probably win it so Comeback Player of the Year is a nice consolation prize.” Now, the momentum is there for Adrian to win the MVP, and my sense is that the general public would vote Adrian as MVP by an overwhelming margin. But the general public does not get to vote. I’m not sure which way the voters will ultimately go, but I think one would be hard-pressed to make a case for someone other than Adrian. He’s averaged 161.1 rushing yards per game over the last 8 contests. Texans RB Arian Foster is in the midst of another great season (1,313 yards), and Adrian has the same amount of rushing yards in his last 8 games. On top of that, the Vikings are 8-6 and in position to qualify as a wild card team in the NFC, just one season removed from being 3-13 and having the #3 overall pick in the draft. Adrian is the impetus behind this improvement and he’s leading the charge less than a year from tearing the ACL and MCL in his left knee.
@the_halbyHeard (rumor of) Fran Tarkenton wanting the team to take the training wheels off the offense and unleash Ponder. How likely is that?
I think it’s likely, but not until the offseason. The winning formula for this team right now is to lean heavily on the ground game and strategically pick spots to strike in the passing game. Last week’s game plan against St. Louis was cleverly-crafted. The Rams came in knowing they had to stop the run, so on our first series of the game Offensive Coordinator Bill Musgrave mixed in a series of play-action bootleg passes, including the first play of the game. Ponder was sharp in his execution, going 3 of 3 for 38 yards on the opening drive. This eventually caused St. Louis to alter their strategy, and the result was 212 yards on the ground for Adrian after opening the game with 8 yards on his first 8 carries.
Since WR Percy Harvin’s injury, who has stepped up as Christian Ponder’s preferred target?
We’ve had a variety of guys step up since Percy left the lineup. TE Kyle Rudolph and WRs Jarius Wright, Michael Jenkins and Jerome Simpson have all led us in receiving since Percy’s injury. To be honest, the passing production hasn’t been gaudy enough to really identify a single player who’s stepped into Percy’s role as Ponder’s top target. It’s been more of a group approach with several individuals stepping up at various times to complement our dominant ground attack.
Who should Texans fans keep an eye out for on offense and defense that we may not be aware of?
Offensively, I’m wondering if this will be a big Kyle Rudolph game for the Vikings. I expect Wade Phillips and that stifling Texans defense to crowd the line of scrimmage with 8 defenders on a consistent basis, and then to feature lots of man-coverage behind that bulked up front. I have great respect for members of Houston’s secondary, specifically with their ability to guard receivers in one-on-one scenarios. But I’m not sure anyone will be able to blanket Rudolph. If the Vikings can protect Ponder long enough for him to find Rudy in those scenarios, I think the Vikings can strike through the air on occasion.
Defensively, Harrison Smith has played the safety position like no one we’ve seen in Minnesota since Darren Sharper. In fact, I think Harrison is a better tackler and is better against the run than Sharper was for us. A veteran like Matt Schaub may be able to trick Harrison a few times, but I will not be surprised to see the rookie safety make a splash play or two on Sunday. He already has a pair of TDs on INT returns, and we may need a defensive TD to keep pace with Houston on Sunday.
Great stuff from Mike Wobschall and a big thank you to him and www.Vikings.com for providing this intel to fans of the opposing Houston Texans. As always, get your questions in for Week 17 versus the Indianapolis Colts whenever YOU are ready by tweeting me @TheClaireBear23 and including the hashtag #KnowYourOpponent.