As the Texans gear up for training camp, excitement for the 2008 season continues to build. Here is an in-depth look at each of the team's regular season games with some insights from SportsRadio 610's Marc Vandermeer.
Teams: Texans @ Minnesota Vikings (Sunday, Nov. 2)
Game Preview: The Texans will have to shake off the rust from their bye week and get ready to go "All Day" when they take on Adrian "AD" Peterson and the Vikings in Week 9 at the Metrodome. Minnesota finished last season 8-8, but this year they could contend for both the NFC North crown and the NFC title thanks to a major acquisition on the defensive line and the sudden dominance of one of the league's youngest running backs.
Peterson ran for 1,341 yards and 12 touchdowns in his rookie season before grabbing MVP honors at the Pro Bowl. When he hits a seam, the second-year pro is virtually unstoppable. Peterson also has an excellent offensive line blocking for him. Left tackle Bryant McKinnie, guard Steve Hutchinson and center Matt Birk are proven run-blockers. McKinnie, however, could be suspended due to legal charges stemming from a February incident outside of a Miami night club. Regardless, the Texans' defensive line is going to have to plug the middle and try to keep Peterson from making break-away plays.
"When you talk about Amobi Okoye – a name we haven't mentioned a whole lot doing these previews – but that's a player you want to see take that large leap that players often take between their rookie year and year two in the league," Vandermeer said.
"You talk about Travis Johnson and Frank Okam and how these guys can be defensive tackles who can plug those holes and stop the run and allow DeMeco (Ryans) to come up and make tackles at the line of scrimmage, slow down that running game. That's key against a team like Minnesota because if Adrian Peterson gets a seam, he is AD, 'All Day,' and it's not a good feeling to watch him go for big chunks of yardage."
The Texans would rather see the Vikings pass the ball - it's how opponents beat Minnesota last year. Quarterback Tarvaris Jackson threw 12 interceptions and just nine touchdowns, posting a quarterback rating of 70.8. There were rumors this offseason that the Vikings wanted to replace him with Texans quarterback Sage Rosenfels, but Houston held on to their prized backup. The Vikings did acquire former Chicago Bears wideout Bernard Berrian to give Jackson a better target than Bobby Wade, who led the team in receiving yards with 647. But Berrian never has recorded a 1,000-yard season or totaled more than six touchdowns in one year. The Texans' secondary should be able to rack up some interceptions in this contest.
On offense, things won't be so easy for Houston on the ground. The Vikings have put together a strong defensive line, signing defensive end Jared Allen, who notched 38 sacks in the past three seasons. Defensive tackles Kevin Williams and Pat Williams helped the Vikings allow the fewest rushing yards in the NFL last year, and defensive end Ray Edwards had a solid five-sack season in 2007.
The Texans certainly will have to find a way to get things going with their run game, but they should be able to exploit the Vikings' secondary with the passing game. Madieu Williams, who isn't known for being a big hitter, has replaced Dwight Smith at free safety, and safety Darren Sharper could have trouble keeping up with Houston receivers like Andre Johnson and André Davis. Pounding the ball on the ground and then making long-yardage plays though the air will be the key to a successful Texans' offense.
"You are in the dome, so you have to get some big plays on them," Vandermeer said. "And if you are able to get some yards on the ground and pick up some first downs and keep the crowd quiet, that only helps your cause.
"They want to run the football. They want to run it early and they want to run it often with this Alex Gibbs system and get those bootlegs going, get all those Denver-like plays."
Key Matchups: Defensive tackles Travis Johnson, Amobi Okoye and Frank Okam squaring off against running back Adrian Peterson. Third-down back Steve Slaton providing a change of pace against the Vikings' massive front seven.
Vandermeer's pick: "Close game, but I'll go Texans. We are handing out victories in June and July!"