There's an old saying that misery loves company. Well, if that's the case then the Texans and Vikings will arrive at NRG Stadium completely understanding each other's plight. They're sort of like that Spider Man GIF that makes its rounds on social media. You know the one...pointing at one another as if to say "hey, you're just like me". Both teams' head coaches are in year seven with their respective teams. Both teams were 10-6 and made the 2019 playoffs. Both won exhilarating wild card round playoff games last season. Both teams are 0-3 at the moment. Both teams lost to three teams with a combined 8-1 record. So, yes, this one has more than an undeniable hint of desperation, and similarity, as the Vikings fly to Houston for this week four matchup.
After a completely dismal showing at Indianapolis in week two, the Vikings restarted the offensive machine last week at home against the Titans. The Kirk Cousins-led offense accounted for 464 yards, rushing for 226 and throwing for 238. Outside of that performance at Indianapolis, the Vikings offense has averaged 32 points per game and run the ball as well as any team in the league. But, the turnovers have been costly as Cousins has thrown six interceptions this year, including two to the Titans (one to the Packers and three to the Colts). On the other hand, the Texans defense hasn't generated a turnover, so something will give when those two units are on the field.
The mystery, in some sense, is the Minnesota defense. A few seasons ago, the Vikings had one of the best overall units in the league. However, personnel losses (Linval Joseph, Xavier Rhodes etc…) combined with injuries (Anthony Barr, Danielle Hunter), have left the Vikings vulnerable on the ground and through the air. Star edge rusher Yannick Ngakoue is starting to get a bit more comfortable, finishing with a sack in each of the last two games. Furthermore, the former Jacksonville Jaguars star is a pain-in-the-backside nuisance for the Texans, historically.
So, let's get to Know The Texans Week 4 Foe - the Minnesota Vikings.
2020 Schedule (0-3)
L, Green Bay Packers 43-34
L, @ Indianapolis Colts 28-11
L, Tennessee Titans 31-30
Vikings OFFENSE (in 2020 regular season)
Rushing Yards Per game - 146.7 ypg (8th in the NFL)
Passing Yards Per game - 193.7 ypg (28th)
Total offense per game - 340.3 ypg (22nd)
Turnovers lost - 7 (6 INT, 1 Fumbles lost)
Expected Vikings starting offense for Week four
QB - Kirk Cousins
RB - Dalvin Cook
FB - C.J. Ham
WR - Adam Thielen
WR - JUSTIN JEFFERSON
TE - Kyle Rudolph
LT - Riley Reiff
LG - Dakota Dozier
C - Garrett Bradbury
RG - DRU SAMIA
RT - Brian O'Neill
Other Key Offensive pieces
TE - Irv Smith Jr.
RB - Alexander Mattison
RB - Mike Boone
OB - EZRA CLEVELAND
WR - Chad Beebe
WR - Bisi Johnson
TE - Tyler Conklin
Bold - Rookie
ALL CAPS - New to team in 2020
Keys to winning v. the Vikings Offense
- GAP INTEGRITY - I hate using all caps, but it's time to make my point loud and clear. The Vikings will gash the Texans all day long if the Texans don't maintain gap integrity throughout the day. They have to swarm to the football, but the one time any one guy jumps out of his gap, running back Dalvin Cook is headed to the house.
- SET THE EDGE - I hate using all caps, but it's time to make my point loud and clear, part two. The Steelers excelled in the second half of last week's game by winning on the edge and doing so repeatedly. The Texans have been tremendous over the years setting the edge, defending the run, and that's been a major reason why they've excelled on that side of the ball. That didn't happen against the Ravens or the Steelers and if it doesn't happen this weekend, running back Dalvin Cook is going to set fantasy football records on Sunday.
- TURN THE VIKINGS OVER - I hate using all caps, but it's time to make my point loud and clear, part three. Quarterback Kirk Cousins has thrown an interception in every game this year, so he's clearly in an interception funk. Cook fumbled the ball last week on a seemingly innocuous tackle against the Titans. The Vikings will spit the bean out on the field and it's time for the Texans to take advantage...or else.
- BE PHYSICALLY BETTER - I hate using all caps, but it's time to make my point loud and clear, part four. This one does need some help from the offense such that the defense is not on the field facing 2.5x as many plays as the Texans offense runs in the second half. With some help from the offense, I won't worry as much about this aspect, but when the D is on the field, it must be the aggressor from jump.
- Repeat steps 1-4. Rinse. Lather. Repeat
Vikings DEFENSE (in 2020 regular season)
Rushing Yards Allowed Per game - 147.7 ypg (26th in the NFL)
Passing Yards Allowed Per game - 292.3 ypg (30th)
Total offense Allowed per game - 440.0 ypg (30th)
Turnovers generated - 2 (2 INT, 0 Fumble recoveries - Vikings are -5 in TO margin)
Expected Vikings starting defense for Week four
DE - Ifeadi Odenigbo
NT - Shamar Stephen
DT - Jaleel Johnson
DE - YANNICK NGAKOUE
LB - ERIC WILSON
LB - Eric Kendricks
Nickel - KRIS BOYD
CB - Mike Hughes (Inactive due to injury last week)
S - Harrison Smith
S - Anthony Harris
CB - JEFF GLADNEY/CAM DANTZLER (inactive due to injury last week)
Other Key Defensive pieces
DT - Armon Watts
CB - Holton Hill
DE/OLB - D.J. Wonnum
DE - Jalyn Holmes
DT - Hercules Mata'afa
LB - Hardy Nickerson
Bold - Rookie
ALL CAPS - New starter in 2020
Keys to winning v. the Vikings Defense
- Start the drive fast - the Texans had six three and outs against the Steelers and averaged NEGATIVE 1.5 yards per first down play. On the Texans scoring drives, it wasn't much better, but at least the drive starter was a positive output, 2.7 yards per first play of the drive. They averaged nearly 4.2 yards per drive start more on the first play of a scoring drive than on the first play of three and out drives. I know I just threw a ton of math at you, but you get the point. (Side note: on the whole, the Texans totaled -2 yards on their drive starters against Pittsburgh)
- Win first down - On those three and out drives, the Texans averaged NEGATIVE 1.5 yards per first down, obviously the only first down on that drive. On the Texans scoring drives, the Texans averaged 7.9 yards per first down play, skewed heavily by the end of the half drive. Regardless, the Texans must attack Minnesota on the first play of the drive and keep the drives going with success on following first downs.
- Deal from a different deck - What can the Texans show this Vikings defense that it hasn't seen thus far this year or any year? Find it and exploit them not having seen it.
- Know where 22 is at ALL times - 22 is All Pro safety Harrison Smith. He's a complete and total menace. Last week, he showed off his range as a middle of the field player for a pick against the Titans. He plays near the line of scrimmage and make tackles/make plays like a will linebacker. He blitzes effectively. He shows like he's playing in the box and on the snap, he sprints through the MOTF to close that area of the field. He's always been the key to the Vikings defense and this week is no different.
- We meet again...don't let 91 wreck the game - We've seen him seven times over the past four years and will see Yannick Ngakoue again. The former Jaguar star edge rusher made NRG a second home for himself over his career. In the three games at NRG Stadium as a Jaguar, he registered 4.5 sacks, 5 quarterback hits, two forced fumbles, one fumble recovery and one pass defensed. He can wreck the game ala T.J. Watt (Steelers) and Frank Clark (Chiefs), two players the Texans have faced thus far this year. HE CANNOT WRECK THE GAME - DO NOT LET HIM.
Check out some photos from the Houston Texans practice.